Essays For Pastors And Deacons
Zack Meaders Guess
This book is a collection of essays I have written over the course of several years. I did not write them with the intention of making them into a book. Therefore there is some repetition. However, I have decided to just let the essays stand as I originally wrote them. Some of them were written just because I felt impressed to do so. Several of them were delivered at a meeting of ministers in the Philippines. One was given at a gathering of ministers at Cincinnati Primitive Baptist Church. I wrote some of them specifically to help young ministers who were apprenticing under me.
I have been an ordained Primitive Baptist minister of the gospel for almost forty years. If I live till April 9, 2007, it will be exactly forty years. It is amazing how fast time has passed. I thank God for calling me into the ministry and must echo the words of Paul in Eph 3:7-8, "Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…”
I have put in some hard labor in the ministry, but I wish I had been even more dedicated. I would like to encourage all ministers who read this, to give their very best to this wonderful work. I have had many joys and a few sorrows. I can state without reservation, that it has been more than worth it to engage in the ministry of the gospel among the Primitive Baptists. The world seems to be getting worse, but the Lord is still on His throne and is doing some wonderful things through the church that Christ Himself set up during His earthly ministry. Even as I write this, I am preparing to leave in less than a week on my eighth preaching trip to India. The Lord has done some amazing things in my lifetime.
I want to encourage my dear brethren who are fellow-laborers in the gospel. One of the qualifications that a man must meet if he is to please God is that he must be a “lover of good men.” (Tit 1:8). I believe that I really do love honest, self-sacrificing men whom God has called to preach. They have been and are my best friends. If I can be any help to them, I will be satisfied. Barnabas was nicknamed by the apostles “the son of consolation.” (Ac 4:36). That is exactly what I would like to be. The word translated consolation is paraklesis. It means “consolation, comfort, solace; that which affords comfort or refreshment.” I would like to fulfill that role in relation to my dear brethren in the ministry.
Even though you may already know all the principles contained in this collection, we all need to be continually reminded of the importance and vital need of the great work to which we have been called. This little work can either be read from cover to cover or the articles can be read separately in random order. Each essay stands on its own.
I have made several references to deacons in these articles and have devoted one entire essay to the office of the deacon. Deacons should work closely with pastors and should be their best helpers and dear friends. It would be good for deacons to also read these essays so that they will better understand the work that God has called the pastors to do.
Church members who are neither pastors nor deacons would also greatly benefit by prayerfully contemplating what is contained in these essays. I like the way Paul classified the people at Philippi. He wrote in Php 1:1, "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:" There were the saints, the bishops, and the deacons. Of course the bishops (pastors) and deacons were also saints, or those set apart by the Lord. These saints, bishops, and deacons are obligated and privileged to work closely together in defending and propagating the gospel. They should know as much about each other as possible in order to be able to work together.
My prayer is that we will see much sanctified teamwork in our day among the church members and their leaders in the wonderful cause of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who deserves more than our very best.
Zack Meaders Guess
Feb. 14, 2007
Building the House of God
We all know that God is omnipresent. He is “everywhere present, and nowhere absent.” However, throughout recorded Biblical history, He has often been pleased to manifest Himself in special ways in certain places. One of the first instances of this is recorded in Ge 28:17. Here, after Jacob had awakened from his vision of the ladder bridging heaven and earth, he said, “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” It is significant that this first mention of the house of God in Scripture speaks of His specially manifested presence. Later, the tabernacle was called the house of God. (1Ch 6:48). We know that the Lord was pleased to reveal Himself in the tabernacle in a very special way. Even later, the temple was referred to as the house of God. (2Ch 3:3). The Lord was manifested in the temple in a unique way. He chose to reveal His presence there in a way that He did in no other place on earth.
In New Testament times the Scripture makes plain that the Lord specially inhabits an entity which is also called the house of God. We read of this in 1Ti 3:15, where Paul speaks of the “house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Now this New Testament church is not a building. The church or ekklesia is composed of those individuals who have been called out from the world by the Holy Spirit and who have been assembled to corporately worship Him. I believe that these are the ones Jesus was referring to in Joh 4:23 when He said, “the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”
God, then, has chosen to manifest Himself specially today in the New Testament church. This special presence is what makes a church a church. This special, abiding presence is referred to as a candlestick in the book of Revelation. The Lord has revealed to us in Re 1:20 that “the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.”
When I am speaking, therefore, of “building the house of God,” I am speaking of building the New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory
At the very outset of our study we do well to emphasize what the Lord Jesus said in Joh 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” We very rarely realize how utterly dependent we are on the Lord. When we have a little success we are so prone to get lifted up in pride. It has been my sad observation to see several good, able ministers let a little spiritual prosperity go to their heads. They got to thinking they had “arrived” and that they had the prerogative to not only pastor their churches, but had earned the right to tell everyone else how to run their business. Even the meek Moses fell prey to this. In Nu 20:10 he said, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” He made a big mistake when he used the word “we.” Moses could have smitten that rock for a hundred years and not a drop of water would have come out of it without the power of God. A very safe course for us would be to give God 100% of the credit for anything good that happens in our ministries, and to accept 100% of the blame for anything that does not turn out right. We have a very good clause in one of the songs that we frequently sing: “All is vain unless the Spirit of the holy One comes down.”
We ministers of the gospel need to memorize and often quote to ourselves Isa 42:8: “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
One final Scriptural truth that we must constantly keep in mind is found in Ps 127:1 “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”
Having said all the above, however, I believe that we have the greatest reason to be optimistic and enthusiastic as we go about the task of building the house of God. While it is true that we can do nothing without the Lord, it is also true that, as Paul said in Php 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Another consideration that should set us on fire with encouragement and enthusiasm is the fact that we are actually laboring with God as we go about the work of the ministry. Speaking of himself and other ministers of the gospel, Paul said in 1Co 3:9, “For we are labourers together with God…” That is an incredible truth that you need to meditate on the next time you become discouraged. Building the church is the work of Jesus Christ. In Mt 16:18 the Lord Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He merely uses us as instruments in His hand. This sense of wonder that the Lord has chosen such sinners as we are as instruments to build His church should never leave us. Paul never got over being amazed that God would use such a one as he was in His work. The great but humble apostle said in Eph 3:8, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…”
We also need to remember that the Lord has never called us to be successful. He has called us to be faithful. He has told us in 1Co 4:2, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” If we are faithful we will be successful as far as the Lord is concerned, no matter what the outward results of our ministries may seem to be.
My prayer is that as we consider some of the mechanics of building up the churches where we labor, we will work hard because our heart is in the work. If we truly love God’s house, we will give it our best shot. We will have the attitude that King David expressed in 1Ch 29:3, “Moreover, because I have set my affection to the house of my God, I have of mine own proper good, of gold and silver, which I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house…”
I have been doing the work of a pastor for more than thirty years, and I have become increasingly convinced that if a church prospers spiritually, that prosperity comes as a result of teamwork. A church may have a powerful preacher, but if she does not have the other necessary gifts functioning as they should, she will not truly be a strong church. The pastor must be doing his job; the same holds true of the deacons and other members. The preaching of the gospel is the most important thing the church does, but the church is not a stage where the preacher is in the spotlight and “performs.” The propagation of the gospel is teamwork. The minister is the one who actually does the preaching, but the entire church is vitally involved in this work. This teamwork is pictured in the New Testament under the figure of the human body. A properly functioning body is a marvel of precision and coordination. We rarely appreciate how smoothly our bodies function until we have a stroke or some other aliment that prevents us from functioning as we should. Just to be able to perform the normal tasks of a day is a wonderful thing. It is amazing indeed to observe the tremendous coordination of a body which is engaged in an athletic endeavor. For the body to work as it should each member must do what it is specifically designed to do, and each member must work in coordination with the other members. This working of the church as compared to the human body is seen in Ro 12 and in 1Co 12. This is also spoken of in Eph 4 and one of the passages that most beautifully describes this is Eph 4:15-16, “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Another verse where this teamwork is mentioned is Php 1:27, where Paul says, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…” The word translated “striving together” is a very interesting word. It is sunathleo. This is a compound of two words: the preposition sun, which means “with, together with,” and athleo, a verb, which means “to strive or contend.” We get the English word “athlete” from this verb. Put the words together and the picture is that of an army or an athletic team working in close cooperation to win a battle or a contest.
Paul recognized the necessity of this teamwork in spreading the gospel. He thanked the Philippians for their “fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;…” (Php 1:5). The word translated “fellowship” is koinonia. This is a very rich word, and one of its primary meanings is “joint participation.” These Philippian “saints,” not just the bishops and deacons, were joint participants in the spread of the gospel at Rome where Paul was imprisoned as he wrote this letter. They participated by praying for Paul, by contributing to his financial needs, and perhaps in other ways. It would not have been possible for Paul to have done what he did without their cooperation and assistance. This was gospel teamwork.
If a church can get a vision of this teamwork they are in for some exciting times. In too many cases, the idea is that the minister, and maybe the deacons, are about the only ones that really have anything to do in a church. The church merely exists as a stage where the preacher can do “his thing.” If this idea prevails, there will not be much motivation in the pew. However, if you can convince your church members that each of them has a real and vital role in the spread of the gospel, your church will be a bee hive of godly activity. You must believe and you must convince those to whom you minister, that you cannot do your work to the fullest potential without their cooperation and assistance. A pastor that runs a “one man show” does not have the proper Biblical vision of how a New Testament church is designed to operate.
There is a beautiful passage which describes the inseparable relationship between the pastor and the church as they worship God together. In Php 2:17 Paul says, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” When Paul uses the words “and if I be offered,” he is referring to the drink offering. In many instances in the Old Testament sacrificial system a drink offering was offered in conjunction with the main or primary offering. The drink offering was poured out on or beside the primary offering. The primary offering was the principal one. An example of this can be seen in Nu 28:8. Paul is saying that the worship of the church at Philippi is the fundamental offering and that his worship and service is being poured out in association with theirs. The two offerings are so closely intertwined that they really become parts of the same offering. What a glorious picture this is of the closeness that should exist in the combined worship of a pastor and the flock that he oversees! If both pastor and people could get a vision of this what an inducement it would be for them to work closely together.
Relationship Between Pastor and Flock
Satan knows what tremendous spiritual power there is in a pastor and church loving each other and closely working together in the propagation of the gospel. He will do everything he can to hinder this. It saddens me to sometimes observe tension, resentment, and mistrust arising between a pastor and those to whom he ministers. We must work hard to educate ourselves and our people to the relationship that our Lord intended to exist between pastor and flock. I have experienced it both ways. There have been occasions in my ministry when I have sometimes dreaded going to church, especially to business meetings! For the past two decades, however, it has mostly been a great joy to preach to and lead the flock that God has made me the overseer of. It takes constant prayer, study, and work to maintain this relationship. The results, however, are more than worth the effort.
The pastor is the one who has to take the lead in this relationship. First, he has to have a great love for the people he pastors. This will not always be easy, because God’s people do not always act like they should. The pastor must always remember that he is shepherding sheep that the Lord loves and has shed His own precious blood for. As Paul instructed the Ephesian elders in Ac 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” We must never make the mistake of becoming sinfully angry with the Lord’s people, no matter how much they may provoke us. Moses made this mistake only one time and was not permitted to enter Canaan because of it.
We must love the people and we must let them know we love them both by our words and by our actions. Paul constantly used terms of endearment when he wrote his epistles. An example of this is in Php 4:1, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” Not only did he tell the people how much he loved them; he proved this love by his actions. He said in 1Th 2:7, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children…” He said in verse 11 of this same chapter, “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children…”
This last-quoted verse brings to mind the God-ordained relationship that God has designed to exist between pastor and people. A pastor must be a kind of father figure to his people. This is clearly taught in 1Ti 3:4-5, where Paul is giving the necessary qualifications for a bishop. He says that a bishop must be “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity.” He then asks that “if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”
A good father must not be a weakling nor a pushover. He must have the respect of his children. He must provide them with direction and incentive. On the other hand, he must not be an unreasonable tyrant. The pastor must also provide this balance. On the one hand, he must be willing to take “the oversight of the flock.” He must not shirk his responsibility in this. Some pastors are so weak and timid that they are afraid to step out and take the leadership. They are willing to turn this responsibility over to the deacons or to other men who have strong personalities. This will never do. A man once wisely told me that if a person in a position of responsibility failed to exercise in that capacity a leadership vacuum would be created. He said that invariably the least qualified person would try to step in and fill that void. This sadly happened to me one time when I failed to assume my God-given responsibility.
However, in exercising this strong leadership, neither a father nor a pastor must be a dictator. They must personally model the proper behavior to those who are under them. Much of their leadership must be by example. As Peter instructed a group of elders in 1Pe 5:3, “Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” This is true of pastors of all ages, but it is especially pertinent to young pastors, who must earn the respect of the people they lead. Paul instructed his favorite young preacher in 1Ti 4:12 to “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” A wise old preacher once told me, “If you have proved to the people you preach to that you really love them, you can come down hard on them with the Word of God, and they will accept it. However, if they do not know you love them, they won’t take it.”
This entire question of pastoral leadership is thrown clearly into the light by an analysis of Heb 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” The word “obey” is peitho. In the middle voice which is used here it means “to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey.” W. E. Vine says “The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion.” We must persuade our people to do what is right by skillfully, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, presenting the Scriptures to them. The word “rule” in this passage is hegeomai. The primary idea in this word is “leading by going before.” The English word that comes from this is “hegemony.” It can mean “leadership, predominant influence.” That is the way that New Testament pastors rule. If a pastor is leading like he ought, the sheep should be happy to follow him. This will be a very dedicated and hard-working pastor. This is indicated by the word translated “watch” in the clause “watch for your souls.” The word is agrupneo, and means “to be sleepless, keep awake, watch.”
I realize that this is a daunting task. It is not easy. A realization of this should drive us to our knees in prayer. When God offered Solomon his heart's desire, the king made a very wise request. This is recorded in 1Ki 3:7-9, “And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” Brethren, if we will ask our God for this wisdom, He will surely give it to us. He has promised us in Jas 1:5 that “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
One of the best practical ways that I have found for a pastor to watch for the souls of those God has placed under his care is to regularly pray for them. A very good way to do this is to daily pray for a few names on the church membership list. It should be a reasonable goal even in a good-sized church for the pastor to pray for each of the members at least once a week. As you are praying for the members, you will be compelled to think about their spiritual condition and about their various needs.
There is another side to this coin. The people of God have a sacred duty to love and support their pastors as long as these men are leading them according to the Scriptures and are preaching to them from the word of God. God’s people need to be taught this responsibility from the Word of God. If, according to Tit 2:4, the younger women should be taught to love their husbands and their children, then the people of God can and should be taught to love and esteem their pastors. Just as a wife does not instinctively know how to love her husband and children according to Biblical standards, neither do church members know instinctively how to Biblically love their pastors. This must be taught from the Scriptures. We live in a day of rebellion and of wide-spread disrespect for authority. Children are often disobedient to their parents. In many instances employees do not treat their employers with the deference that is demanded by Scripture. This attitude sometimes raises its ugly head in our churches. As I have already indicated, pastors are not to be tyrants. However, they are supposed to exercise strong leadership. If the pastors will not lead, or if the people will not follow, it is impossible for a church to be healthy and well-pleasing to God.
According to the Scriptures, it would be very difficult for the members of a church to esteem their faithful pastor too highly. Scripture has some very strong things to say about this. One of my favorite passages on this subject is 1Th 5:12-13, which says, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”
The word translated “know,” according to the Online Bible, means here in 1Th 4:12, “to have regard for one, cherish, pay attention to.” How rich this meaning is! When you have regard for someone, you show respect and concern for that person. When you cherish an individual, you treat that person as dear and care tenderly for him or her. When you pay attention to somebody, you consciously mentally concentrate on what they are saying. To pay attention to a person is to show consideration for what he is saying. If God’s people would “know” their pastors in the sense of this text, our churches would be in a position to move mightily forward in the work of the Lord.
The expression “esteem them very highly” is a powerful one indeed. The word “esteem” here means “to consider, deem, account, think.” “Very highly” is the same expression translated “exceeding abundantly above” in Eph 3:20. This is a grammatical construction called a double-compound superlative adverb. To attempt to show the great force of this consider that there are three degrees of intensity in adverbs. We might say that a man had done well. That is the positive degree. We might say that another man had done better. That is the comparative degree. We might say that still another man had done best. That is the superlative degree. There is a preposition which is attached to this adverb which intensifies its force. This is preceded by still another preposition huper, from which we get the English word “super.” It is obvious that the Holy Spirit here is very powerfully showing us that a congregation has a sacred obligation to hold their pastors in the very highest regard.
If we can get back to this: the pastors loving their people enough to die for them, and the people holding their pastors in the very highest esteem, and both of them loving the Lord Jesus Christ with all their hearts, we will see great things in our churches.
Plurality of Elders
This last part of the paper may be controversial, but I believe I can bring the New Testament to bear on the subject. I believe that in the early days of the church the common practice was that each church had more than one elder. In our day we have lost that in most places. There are many reasons why we have lost it. Sometimes men have been contentious and not able to get along. Sometimes, because of Scriptural ignorance, we have not been aware of God’s pattern for His church. Some of us may have meant well, but have not known how to go about it.
I believe that, properly practiced, a plurality of elders can be a great blessing to both the church and the elders themselves. Let me make it very plain that I am not talking about the practice of co-pastors. I do not believe that this is Biblical. I believe that each church ought to have her own pastor (I will support this from the Bible a little later on). The “buck has got to stop” somewhere. I do not believe in Presbyterianism with its “ruling elders” and such like. However, I do believe the Bible clearly teaches that in an ideal situation there is more than one elder in a church.
Of course, we must go to the Bible to make our case. I will make the bold statement that in each church in the New Testament in which the number of elders is revealed, there is always more than one! Most of our Scriptural data will be found in the Acts of the Apostles. It will be well to establish, first of all, that in the New Testament the terms “elder” and “bishop” are referring to the same person. This can be clearly seen from Ac 20:17 where Paul called for the elders of the church at Ephesus. He gave them a powerful charge, and in doing so he mentioned in verse twenty-eight that the Holy Ghost had made them “overseers” of the flock. The word translated “overseers” is episkopos. This means “one who looks over or superintends.” This is the same word which is translated “bishop” in 1Ti 3:2. Paul called these Ephesian elders overseers or bishops. Probably the word “elder” refers more to the dignity of the office, while the word “bishop” refers more to the function of the office.
A plurality of elders is indicated in Ac 11:30 where the love-offering from Antioch was carried by Paul and Barnabas to the “elders” of the church at Jerusalem. It is plain that the Jerusalem church had more than one elder. That this is so is also plain from considering Ac 15:2,4,6,22-23; 16:4; 21:8. In each of these verses the Jerusalem church is under consideration and the number of elders is plural.
We have already seen from Ac 20:17,28 that there was more than one elder in the Ephesian church. Titus was commanded to go to Crete so that he could “ordain elders in every city.” It is very likely that in each city that he went to in Crete there was only one church, so he was ordaining elders in every church. If anyone would dispute this he needs to carefully consider Ac 14:23 where it is said that Barnabas and Paul “ordained them elders in every church.” Incidentally, a comparison of Tit 1:5,7 shows conclusively that the bishop and elder were the same person.
Other Scriptures which use the word “elder” in the plural are Jas 5:14 and 1Pe 5:1. All of this seems consistent with the way the Lord Jesus sent out His followers personally while He was here in the days of His earthly ministry. He sent two disciples to do a job in Mt 21:1. It says of Jesus in Mr 6:7 “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two…” Later He did the same thing as is said in Lu 10:1 “After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.”
I realize that the Old Testament Scripture which I am about to quote has nothing to do directly with how many elders there should be in a New Testament church, but I think an important principle is taught here, nevertheless. Ec 4:9-12 reads “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
I mentioned previously that I do not believe the Bible supports the idea of co-pastors. I believe the Scriptures make it plain that we are correct in the concept of one man who is properly called “pastor.” The primary proof I will give for this is the church at Jerusalem. We have already seen that this church had more than one elder. However, it is very plain from a look at Acts that James was the spokesman and principal leader of this church. This is true even though some of the apostles were members of this church. In Ac 15, when the church at Jerusalem was the scene of a great council meeting involving primarily the Jerusalem church and the one at Syrian Antioch, Peter arose and made a speech. When he was finished, James spoke, beginning in verse 13. It is obvious that he held a position of respect and leadership. When he was finished speaking the apostles and other elders were pleased with what he had said and acted on it. Another indication that James was the primary leader at the Jerusalem church occurred when Paul returned to Jerusalem after a long absence. When he did this it is written in Ac 21:18 “And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.”
Most commentators think that the “angels” of the churches mentioned in Revelation, chapters one and two, are the pastors. Each church had only one angel.
I do not have all the answers on this concept of the plurality of elders, but I do have a few thoughts to offer. First, I have been blessed in most of my ministry to work in situations in which there was more than one elder. When I was first ordained there were three young preachers who were in the same church with our father-in-the ministry, Elder Hassell Wallis. Looking back, these were some of the happiest and most fruitful days of my ministry. Brother Wallis was a wonderful pastor and a powerful preacher. We learned from him as we heard him preach. He constantly charged us to study and to be honest and godly ministers. He set the example of sterling integrity. We visited the hospitals and homes of members with him and learned how to deal with delicate situations. We did not know it at the time, but we were being trained for the ministry according to the Biblical path. Paul told his favorite young preacher in 2Ti 2:2 “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
We were also a blessing to Brother Wallis and the church. Everyone knew who the pastor was. We would not have dared to usurp his authority or to be disloyal to him. We backed him up in what he taught and did. He always had a Scripture to support what he said. He let us preach when he could. We had some powerful services, sometimes with more than one sermon. We did not have to wait for a special meeting to have a wonderful spiritual time. For several years, almost every time we met we had a special meeting.
Later, fields of labor began to open up for us and we began to go where God opened doors for us. For several years I labored without the help of another elder. In time God called me to Grace Chapel. That has been almost thirty years ago. In all that time it has been my great blessing to work with a plurality of elders. I will not say that it has always been easy. There have been times when we have had to work out differences. However, we have done this prayerfully and we have done it privately, without disturbing the flock. As I have said earlier, a church has to practice team work. Everyone has to prayerfully seek his place and then has to be content to labor in that place. One advantage we have at Grace Chapel is that we meet three times each week. We meet on Sunday, morning and evening, and we meet on Wednesday evening. After preaching on Sunday morning, it is a great blessing for me to get to hear some able preaching on Sunday night.
One of my fellow elders and one of the best friends I have ever had is Elder Bobby Poe. Brother Bobby is older than I am, but he constantly supports me in the pastoral role in which God has placed me. He publicly supports me in the primary leadership role. This support gives me great strength. On the other hand, I greatly respect him and treat him accordingly. Brother Bobby was the founding pastor of Grace Chapel. I moved out of Memphis to start a new church. When I came back after several years, he resigned Grace Chapel and suggested that they call me as pastor. I was shocked. However, after much prayer, I felt that the Lord would have me to accept that call. He and I labored together for several years. He left for awhile to help some struggling churches get on their feet, and then, to my great joy, he came back. In the meantime there have been several other men with whom I have been blessed to work.
I have found that when the Lord is in the matter, the ministries of several men in a church greatly benefit each other. There are certain gifts that I don’t have that other men have. Some men are more gifted in leadership than are others. Some men are more dynamic preachers than are others. Some men excel in visiting in the homes. Sometimes I have been blessed to do what might be called “team counseling” with the help of one of my fellow elders. It is beautiful to me the see the Lord mold the gifts of different men in such a way that they supplement one another. It is a great blessing to pray with and to seek counsel from fellow laborers when difficulties arise in the church. I believe we should pray that the Lord would teach us to work with other men in the oversight of the flock.
If you are given to jealousy and feel that other men are a threat to you, you will never be able to enjoy the blessing of working in a close relationship with other men. I will offer a word of caution to those of you who may be in a church with another minister who is the pastor. Give that man your strong support. Do not undermine him, either publicly or privately.
One thing that will help men work together is that they pray together. For approximately twelve years now, some of the men of Grace Chapel have faithfully met together for prayer on Tuesday mornings. These have been some glorious occasions. When ministers sincerely pray together on a consistent basis, God will show them how to work together. It is very significant that, according to Ac 13:1-4, when several leaders of the church in Antioch of Syria, began to fast and pray together, the Lord opened up a great door of evangelism on the European continent.
Brethren, we have a great work ahead of us. Our Master has given us everything we need to get the job done. It is our inestimable privilege to be engaged in the greatest work on earth- that of building the house of God! The task is great, but it is worth our very best effort. Let us remember back into Old Testament times when another people had a formidable task of building. They had to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. There were many skeptics and critics who said that the job could not be done. However, with the help of God, they completed the task in just fifty-two days! When Nehemiah called the leaders of the people together he said “…come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.” Then he told them how the Lord had been with him in the planning and preparatory stages. The people were encouraged and they said “Let us rise up and build.” It is finally said in Ne 4:6 “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.”
Brethren, let it be so with us!
Zack Meaders Guess
Four Vital Considerations
A Lack of Power
Often our sermons do not seem to have the power that we desire for them to have. We preach, but the people do not seem to be moved. We may be puzzled. We have studied; we have given an accurate meaning of the text to the best of our ability. The manifest results, however, are just not there. We justify this by saying, "Well, we are living in cold times. There is a falling away. I must be faithful and preach the truth. I must be instant in season and out of season. However, I am not going to get my hopes up. I am not going to expect very much."
Now, it is possible that all of this is true. We obviously live in an apostate age. Iniquity is abounding, and the love of many is waxing cold. We must be faithful even if we do not see one convert. We must preach the glorious, inspired word of God, no matter what. However, I do not believe that we ought to have such low expectations. The preached word has been mightily used of God in days gone by. The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation. We must have a great hunger to see the word of God have a great effect on the lives of those to whom we preach. What a thrill it would be to say as Paul said two thousand years ago, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." (1Th 2:13)
How wonderful it would be if we could see in our day the same thing that was seen in ancient Ephesus, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." (Ac 19:20)
Where Does the Blame Lie?
Why is there such a lack of power in our pulpits today? Is it indeed because we are living in the end times, and there is not much we can do about it? That may be a possibility, but should we not examine ourselves and see if the blame may at least partially lie at our feet? It is certainly true in Old Testament times that the God of Israel often blamed the leaders for the dismal condition the people were in. To give just one example of this, "For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered." (Jer 10:21) We pastors need to examine ourselves. Are we seeking the Lord as we should? Are we feeding God's little lambs the proper food and, are we setting the proper examples before them? Remember what the Lord has said to His pastors, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1Pe 5:2-3)
If we truly examine ourselves, I believe that most of us will find that we come far short of the mark. We must neither despair, nor face the situation with indifference. What we must do is repent before the Chief Shepherd, and turn to His word for instruction in how to properly conduct ourselves before His flock. He has graciously given us many Scriptures which point out the way. He has equipped us to be the men we ought to be. The solution is not easy, but it is plainly laid out before us in the Holy Scriptures. My dear fellow servants, are you willing to pay the price to become the pastor you ought to be? Do you know what kind of pastors God is looking for? He plainly tells us in Jer 3:15. "And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." We must be spiritually and intellectually equipped to feed God's children. I believe if we are diligent in what God has called us to do, there is a great possibility that we may see power in the gospel we preach that will astound us.
The remedy is mentioned in the Old Testament. The remedy that I believe the Lord has shown me is a four-part remedy. That is why I have titled this article Four Vital Considerations. The remedy is found in Ezr 7:10, "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments."
Too often we preachers think that all we have to do is to spend some time with our Bibles, concordances, commentaries, and computers. We do that, get in the pulpit, deliver our lesson, and think we have done our job. How mistaken we are! We must do much more than intellectual preparation. We are not called to be good speakers who can deliver a clever and entertaining message. We are called to be heralds of the gospel. We do not speak of ourselves; we are ambassadors of Christ. We are to bring an authoritative message from a far country. We are not to fear the faces of men. We are not to preach only those things which the people want to hear. To do this requires a lot of diligent intellectual preparation, but it also requires a great deal more than that.
Preparation of the Heart
The first thing that Ezra did was to prepare his heart. Before he did anything publicly he made preparation privately. Before he did anything outwardly he did some hard spiritual work inwardly. There is a lot said about the heart in the Bible. I believe here that the reference to the heart is to the deepest and most basic aspect of our being. Our deepest motivation is under consideration. We have to be very careful about our motives. We may honestly think we are motivated to seek the glory of God, when really we are out for self-glory. After all, we have been told by Jeremiah that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" We may deceive ourselves, but we cannot deceive the God who has called us into the ministry. When God chose a successor to King Saul, He did not look on the outward appearance. God told Samuel that "man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart." Dear brethren, that is still true today, and a consideration of this should make us fear and tremble before the All-seeing God. We must recognize that our outward actions flow from inner principles that come from deep in our souls.
We must not be just religious. We must be truly spiritual-minded men. Religious men who have not been truly spiritual have been a curse to the church down through the ages. These are the kind of men the Savior accused in Mt 15:8, when He said, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me."
What must we do about all of this? First, we must seek repentance for the cold and divided condition of our hearts. David at one time had had an undivided heart for God. God had said of him: "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will." However, he had grown cold-hearted, and as almost always happens in such cases, the condition of his heart had led to disastrous outward actions. David sinned against God grievously. When God convicted him of this, he diligently sought repentance and forgiveness. He prayed in Ps 51:10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." He was desperately seeking God. He was not half-hearted about this. We will never be close to God by using half-hearted measures. Our God has plainly told us in Jer 29:13: "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart."
As we seek God properly, we can be encouraged by the gracious promises and exhortations of Jas 4:8, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded." The fear of being double minded should encourage in us the prayer that David prayed in Ps 86:11, “Unite my heart to fear thy name."
In short, we must do a great deal of soul-searching prayer and Bible reading to keep our hearts in tune with God. This is not easy to do. We must confess that many times we had rather read some other religious material than the Bible, because Bible reading makes us search our hearts. We often would rather engage in some outward religious activity, than to engage in fervent prayer. Prayer causes us to face God and to face ourselves.
As we pray we may find it useful to sing songs that are actually prayers to God. I have been greatly blessed in singing the following two songs to my Lord:
Holy Ghost, with light divine, Shine upon this heart of mine. Chase the shades of night away, Turn my darkness into day.
Holy Ghost, with pow'r divine, Cleanse this guilty heart of mine. Long hath sin without control, Held dominion o'er my soul.
Holy Ghost, with joy divine, Cheer this saddened heart of mine. Bid my many woes depart. Heal my wounded, bleeding heart.
Holy Spirit, all divine. Dwell within this heart of mine. Cast down ev'ry idol throne. Reign supreme and reign alone.
Purer in heart, O God, help me to be. May I devote my life, Wholly to Thee. Watch Thou my wayward feet. Guide me with counsel sweet. Purer in heart, help me to be.
Purer in heart, O God, help me to be. Teach me to do Thy will most lovingly. Be Thou my Friend and Guide. Let me with Thee abide. Purer in heart, help me to be.
Purer in heart, O God, help me to be. That I Thy holy face one day may see. Keep me from secret sin. Reign Thou my soul within. Purer in heart, help me to be.
When God grants us repentance and renews our hearts, what must we then do? We absolutely must keep a constant guard over our hearts. As Solomon said in Pr 4:23, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
Only when our hearts are in the proper condition are we able to do the next thing that Ezra said must be done.
Seeking God's Law
We very often go to the Bible without any preparation of heart, and then wonder why we get very little from our Bible reading!
Another mistake that preachers often make is to go to the Bible to look for sermon material, rather than in devotionally reading the Word of God to get food for our own souls. However, Ezra here was not reading the Bible in order to be able to teach it or preach it to others. The teaching would come later, but he first wanted to "seek the law of the Lord" for himself. He wanted God to speak to him from His word.
We must remember that we are Christians first and then preachers. We need the spiritual food from consistent devotional reading of the Word of God just as much as do those to whom we preach. We are not "professionals" like doctors or lawyers. If we are truly men of God, we have been called into the ministry by the Spirit of God.
As we seek God's law in our reading, we must do so prayerfully, realizing that we cannot really understand what we are reading unless God is pleased to reveal it to us. David prayed fervently in Ps 119:18 "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." If we will consistently pray like this we will be amazed at what the Divine Teacher will show us in His own Word.
We need to so exercise ourselves in prayerful reading of the sacred Word that we will want to be in it all the time. After all, if we behave as did the ministers in the early church, we must "give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." We will diligently guard our time and our activities so that nothing will rob us from our time in the Scriptures. Notice the intense desire that David had as he said in Ps 119:131: "I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments." When he did get into the Bible and the Lord showed him some wonderful truths, he said in Ps 119:162 "I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil." Peter paints an unforgettable picture of the eagerness we should have for the law of the Lord when he exhorts us to "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby. . ."
Every preacher is familiar with the words of Paul in 2Ti 2:15,"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." The word translated "study" here is spoudazo. It means to "Use speed; i.e. to make effort; be prompt or earnest; be diligent, labor." It is obvious that anything less than a very diligent and strenuous study of the Word of God is not enough for the sincere servant of Christ.
Obeying the Word
Our text says that after Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, he was to "do it." In other words, he was not only to know what the Scriptures taught, he was to obey them. This is where many Christians and many ministers of the gospel fail. They know more than they walk. They do not practice what they preach. This is a shame and greatly hinders our Christian witness. Satan deceives us into believing that if we know and preach the Word of God, that this is enough. However, this is not true. If we are to be truly effective in our ministries we must be examples to God's children of obeying the Word of God. We must not only teach them how to live; we must also show them. Paul told Timothy, "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." Peter said that we must not be lords over God's heritage, but we must be "ensamples to the flock." Paul was so conscientious in obeying God's Word that he could say to the Philippians, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you."
We wish to emphasize how deceived we are when we think that merely teaching the Word without living it is enough. In the Sermon on the Mount, both the wise man and the foolish man heard the sayings of Christ. What made the difference between them? The wise man heard and did what Christ taught; the foolish man only heard what He taught but did not do what he heard. James says that if we are hearers of the Word and not doers, then we are deceiving our own selves.
Paul was so serious about this that he went to great lengths to ensure that his ministry would not come to a sad end. Any preacher of the gospel who seriously reads 1Co 9:24-27 should be filled with a godly fear. The apostle did not want to be one who preached the gospel, but who failed to live it. He exercised the fruit of the Spirit of self-control. He did not want to have the sad ending to his ministry of having "preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
There is a wonderful verse in Ps 86:11 which beautifully sums up this matter of obedience to the Word of God: "Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name." There are two prayers here and a commitment. The first prayer is "Teach me thy way, O Lord." What a glorious truth that we have the assurance that God answers prayer. We often do not know what to do. We need wisdom. We ask God and He has promised to answer us. However, we must realize that when God shows us His way we have a sacred obligation to do what He has shown us. Then the psalmist made the commitment: "I will walk in thy truth." This commitment must be made, but anyone who knows the power of indwelling sin, will not make this pledge hoping to keep it in his own strength. Since David knew to some extent the power of his sinful nature, he uttered a second prayer after he had made his promise. He prayed, "Unite my heart to fear thy name." He knew that his heart was sometimes divided between allegiance to God and loyalty to his fleshly desires. He walked in prayerful humility before his God. That is the only way any of us will be able to live a life of consistent obedience to the law of the Lord.
These are sobering thoughts, but I would like to give a word of motivation and encouragement. There is tremendous power in the life of a minister of the gospel who practices what he preaches. Not every minister has a great gift of oratory or a tremendously attractive personality. However, every minister has the influence of the Holy Spirit to enable him to live a godly life. I have been preaching for about thirty years, and I have seen men who were less gifted in speaking and even in mental ability have much greater lasting influence than others who were more gifted. What made the difference was their godly lives. However, this is not done overnight. People are both consciously and unconsciously watching us. They are weighing our words to see if they are in line with our practice. They watch us as we age and go through the various stages of our lives. They see how we react to trouble and disappointment. Our lives before them will not be complete until they have also seen how we die.
We have already seen the great desire that Paul had to not be a castaway. He wanted Christ to be "magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death." (Php 1:20). It is wonderful to note that he was able to accomplish this by the grace of God. At the very end of his life he was able to write, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. . ." My dear fellow-laborers and fellow-soldiers, may God grant us to live and die like this!
Teaching and Preaching
We have finally arrived at the last point. Sadly this is the first point for too many ministers. They just teach and preach. They have done no preparation of heart. They have not sought the law of God for their own lives. They have been rather indifferent about consistently obeying the Word of God in their daily walk. However, they feel fully qualified to get in the pulpit and tell others how to live their lives. Some such men may have temporary outward success. They may be very popular and think well of themselves. However, they will not please God, and will have to give an account to Him some day for the way in which they have used their ministerial gifts. That will be a sad day for them indeed.
However, for one who has diligently tried to search his heart, to seek the law of the Lord, and to practice the Word in his life, the teaching and preaching take on great significance. We must have great confidence in the teaching and preaching of God's Word. After all, the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. . ." Timothy was encouraged to "take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou both save thyself and them that hear thee."
The minister of the gospel should look for every opportunity to teach and preach the gospel of Christ. He should look for both public and private opportunities. He should emulate the example of Paul who said in Ac 20:20 that "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house. . ." It was the constant practice of the Lord Jesus to teach and preach the Word of God everywhere He went. Mr 10:1 says “The people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again." The expression "as He was wont" means "as He was accustomed or used" to do. Dear reader, is it your custom to be constantly teaching everywhere you go? If not, why not?
We would do well to answer the questions when, where, what, why and how as we consider this matter of teaching. The "when" can be answered by saying whenever we have an opportunity. The "where" is wherever in His providence God places us. Many a mighty sermon has been preached behind prison walls. The "what" is very important. The answer is given by Paul in 2Ti 4:2, when he said, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." The "why" can be given many answers. The only one we really need is that God commanded us to do so. Preaching glorifies God and builds up the saints. The Word of the Lord is a "lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
The "how" is also very important. We must be careful that we do not allow some defect in our delivery or attitude to detract from the preaching. We must be clear in our presentation of truth. To be a true, God-called minister, one must be "apt to teach." A man may have a great desire to preach, but he has not been called by God unless he has this qualification. Men who have not been truly called of God have caused great harm to the cause of Christ. There is a very beautiful passage in Ne 8:8 that describes the kind of clarity that every preacher of the gospel should strive to attain to. "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."
Attitude is also very important. A sermon may be technically correct, but may provoke the wrong reaction because of a bad attitude on the part of the one who delivers it. In Eph 4:15 Paul refers to “speaking the truth in love. . ."
It is also possible to discourage the hearers by preaching too long. This seems to be the besetting sin of especially some young preachers. However, even older preachers are sometimes guilty. When there are two or more men speaking on the same occasion, each should be mindful of the other brethren, and to not take up an undue amount of time. We can control ourselves. After all, Paul said that "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets."
Brethren, let us so conduct ourselves in the great work of the gospel that we will not be ashamed when the Chief Shepherd appears!
Zack M. Guess
July 16, 1997
The Closet Life of a Pastor
It is assumed in the New Testament that pastors will be men of prayer. Ac 6:4, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” Jesus taught that we would have a closet prayer life. Mt 6:6, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
Jesus Christ, the first pastor of the church, set the example of closet prayer: Mt 14:23, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.”* Mr 1:35, “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”* Lu 6:12, “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”* Lu 9:28, “And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.”* Lu 11:1, “And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”** Lu 5:16, “And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.” **See Mt 26:36-44 for His intense prayer in Gethsemane and His high-priestly prayer in Joh 17.
There is a song in the Old School Hymnal, He Prayed, which beautifully depicts the prayer life of our dear Savior.
Jesus went upon the mountain that He might commune with God,
He prayed, He prayed,
On the hills of old Judea which my blessed Savior trod,
He prayed, He prayed.
All alone while in the garden where His sweat appeared as blood,
He prayed, He prayed,
“Not my will, but Thine be done, my Father,” was His prayer to God,
He prayed, He prayed.
When upon the cross of Calv’ry in His agony and pain,
He prayed, He prayed,
That the Father might forgive them who the Son of God had slain,
He prayed, He prayed.
He prayed, He prayed, Jesus prayed unto the Father ev’ry day;
From the manger to the cross, not a moment’s time was lost,
Jesus prayed unto the Father all the way.
The eminent apostle, Paul, was a man absolutely given to prayer: He prayed for churches and he prayed for individuals. He prayed for people he was acquainted with and he prayed for people and churches he had not yet met. Even in Acts he is seen as a man of prayer: Ac 16:16,25. His epistles abound with his prayer life. See Ro 1:9; 1Co 1:4; 2Co 13:7; Ga 6:18; Eph 1:16; Php 1:3-4; Col 1:3; 1Th 1:2; 2Th 1:3; 2Ti 1:3; Phm 4.
He also prayed some of the most wonderful prayers recorded in the Bible. In fact, one of the best ways to learn to pray better is to study the prayers of Paul. One of my favorite books on prayer is, Gleanings From Paul: Studies in the Prayers of the Apostle, by Arthur W. Pink. In this book he examines thirty-two passages in Paul’s writings which are prayers. I have memorized several of these prayers and prayed them myself to my great edification. I have memorized the prayers recorded in Php 1:9-11; Eph 1:15-23; 3:14-21. I would suggest a study of the prayers of Paul as a wonderful way to enhance your own prayer life and that of the people you are ministering to.
There is not very much information about Epaphras in the New Testament but what is revealed about him is very exciting. He was a minister of the church at Colosee, and he assisted Paul while the Apostle was imprisoned at Rome the first time. All that we know about the behavior of Epaphras is included in Col 4:12-13, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.” All the men who surrounded Paul must have been men of prayer. For Paul to have singled out Epaphras and to have so commented on his praying must mean that this man was unusually given to fervent prayer.
It is first said of Epaphras that he was a “servant” of Christ. The word “servant” is doulos and refers to one who is actually a bond slave to another. The recognition that he did not belong to himself, but to the One who had purchased his salvation with His own blood, had a great motivating influence on his prayer life. “A servant of Christ Jesus is one who has been bought with a price and is therefore owned by his Master, on whom he is completely dependent, to whom he owes undivided allegiance and to whom he ministers with gladness of heart, in newness of spirit, and in the enjoyment of perfect freedom…receiving from him a glorious reward.”
This servant of Christ is “always labouring fervently for you in prayers…” As we indicated in the introduction, these are very powerful words. They are the words that induce us to refer to Epaphras as a “prayer warrior.” Epaphras was constant in prayer. He prayed “always.” Night and day he had the Colossian saints on his heart before God. He was also fervent in prayer. He agonized in prayer. He strove in prayer. He wrestled in prayer. His mind, will and emotions were all involved in his prayers. There was nothing haphazard or indifferent about his prayers. He put all his heart and all his might into his prayers. As John Gill describes this intensity of prayer, Epaphras “strove with God for them, even to an agony, as the word signifies; he wrestled with the Lord as Jacob did, nor, as he, would he let him go without a blessing for this church; he was incessant, importunate, and fervent in prayer for them…”
What did Epaphras want for these Colossian saints? That they might “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” He wanted them to “have a perfect knowledge of the revealed will of God, both as to doctrine and practice, and be enabled to act according to it.” It is remarkable that he did not pray that they might have riches or comfort or freedom from persecution. He prayed for something much more important than for these things, significant though they may be. He prayed that they might know the truth of God and that they might live it, propagate it, and defend it. When Satan attacks the church he wins if he can get her to deviate from the truth in either doctrine or practice. We who pray must strive in prayer that the churches of Jesus Christ with whom we are intimately acquainted be sound in faith and practice. It often happens that churches get entangled in traditions and place them before the word of God. Sadly, many times churches lose vital elements of truth for several generations. Incredibly, in Old Testament times, the chosen people of God once actually lost the word of God! Sometimes when the people of God encounter error they overreact and “go into the ditch on the other side of the road.” Sometimes churches emphasize certain truths and simultaneously de-emphasize others. This is truth out of balance. Truth out of balance becomes error. As has been said, “A text without its context becomes a pretext!”
The Colossians were not the only ones that this prayer warrior was praying for. He also had a great zeal for “them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.” These were churches that were located in nearby cities in the Lycus Valley region of Asia Minor. It is commendable to see Epaphras not only praying fervently for his home church, but for sister churches as well. This reminds us of the prayer life of the apostle Paul, who ceaselessly prayed for all the churches he had visited and even for those he had never seen face to face.
Concerning the value of a prayer warrior, particularly a pastor who prays incessantly for the flock over whom the Holy Spirit makes him overseer, John Daille beautifully says:
Think not, Christian, that he who prays for you contributes nothing to your welfare, and that his prayers are but words and voices cast into the air. It is the best part of your battles; you have no succor more active than the repose of a man of God, who prays for you with faith and perseverance. It is he who, as Moses formerly, standing on the mountain and rapt up in spirit into the heavenly sanctuary, defeats Amalek, your spiritual enemies; and by the uplifting of his hands draws down the blessing of heaven upon your arms. He oftentimes even takes those rods out of the hand of God which he is about to lay upon you; and courageously wrestling with Him, after Jacob’s example, quits him not until he has obtained his demand. Such is the combat that Epaphras fought in the behalf of his Colossians, being night and day in prayer for them.
This reminds us of the exceedingly fervent prayers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture says of Him in Heb 5:7, “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears…” Our dear Lord was the Mighty Prayer Warrior in Gethsemane. It is said of Him in Lu 22:44, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly…”
It is certain that we will never be in the agony that He was in. He was carrying the weight of all the sins of all the elect on Him. He carried this stupendous burden all the way to the cross, where he got rid of it by satisfying the wrath of God against the sins of His people. However, we desperately need prayer warriors in our day who will agonize for the languid condition of many of the people and churches of God.
There are other great men of prayer whose lives bear scrutiny. I would suggest the following passages to study to enhance your own prayer lives:
The prayer of Daniel in Da 9.
The prayer of Nehemiah in Ne 1:4-11.
The prayer of Abraham in Ge 18:23-33. Study the skill which Abraham used in his approach to God. I believe that Abraham knew when he had asked for all that he was supposed to ask. Even though Abraham may not have gotten exactly all that he asked for, his prayer was certainly effectual. This is plain from Ge 19:29, “And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.”
There have been Christians who have known how to really labor in prayer. One of these was David Brainerd. This young man had an intense desire to preach the gospel to the indigenous Indian population of New England in the 1740’s. This was very difficult work, and so impaired his health that he died at an early age. During the course of his work he engaged in an unusually intense prayer life.
A. J. Gordon has written: “David Brainerd did his greatest work by prayer. He was in the depths of the forests alone, unable to speak the language of the Indians, but he spent whole days in prayer.” No doubt this is the reason Brainerd prayed with such intensity. He knew that his task was hopeless without the enabling grace of God. Much of the time most of us may theoretically acknowledge our absolute dependence on God, but this truth does not really grip our souls. Fervent and truly sincere prayers are born out of a desperate sense of need. We really pray when we genuinely feel our utter weakness and helplessness without God.
Brainerd felt this need for absolute dependence on God. He wrote in his diary June 14, 1742, “I set aside this day for secret fasting and prayer, to entreat God to direct and bless me with regard to the great work I have in view, of preaching the gospel. Just at night, the Lord visited me marvelously in prayer; I think my soul never was in such agony as before…I was in such agony till near dark, that I was wet with sweat.
His dedication and intensity are revealed in this entry in his diary for April 20, 1743:
Set apart this day for fasting and prayer for the bestowment of divine grace; especially that all my spiritual affliction and inward distresses might be sanctified to my soul. Endeavored to remember the goodness of God to me in the year past, this being my birthday. Am now arrived at the age of twenty-five years. My soul was pained to think that I had lived so little to the glory of God. I spent the day in the woods alone, and there poured out my complaint to God.
One more reference to Brainerd’s diary, this one from July 21, 1744, shows plainly what it means to agonize in prayer:
In prayer I was exceedingly enlarged, and my soul was drawn out as ever I remember it to have been in my life. I was in such anguish, and pleaded with such earnestness that when I rose from my knees I could scarcely walk straight. The sweat ran down my face and body. I was wholly free from selfish ends in my supplications for the poor Indians…Thus I spent the evening, praying incessantly for divine assistance and that I might not be self-dependent…I continued in this frame all evening and night. While I was asleep, I dreamed of these things, and when I waked, the first thing I thought of was this great work of pleading for God against Satan.
We must stimulate our prayer lives by a constant Scriptural study of prayer. We must stir ourselves up to pray. This is what Israel should have done long ago as can be seen from Isa 64:7 And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee…”
Delivered May 3, 2001 at a Ministers’ Conference, Iligan City, Philippines
 Col 1:7; Phm 23. William Hendriksen gives reasons why the word “fellowprisoner” in Philemon should probably not be taken in a strictly literal sense, but should be taken in the sense that Epaphras “may well have volunteered to share Paul’s imprisonment, assisting him in every possible way.” William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Colossians and Philemon, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1964), p.187.
 Ibid., p.191.
 John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament , 2 vols. (London: William Hill Collingridge, 1853), 2: 539.
 John Daille, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Colossians, Reprint by The National Foundation for Christian Education, n. d., p. 674.
 Oswald J. Smith, The Lives of Brainerd and Fletcher, (London: Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1965, p.5
 Ibid., p. 33.
 Ibid., p. 42.
 Ibid., p. 55
The Shepherd Knowing His Flock
A good shepherd must have an intimate knowledge of the flock that has been placed in his care. The ultimate shepherd and the Perfect Example for all other shepherds, is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called that “great shepherd of the sheep” in Heb 13:20. He is called the “chief shepherd” in 1Pe 5:4. This Good Shepherd has a deep personal knowledge of all His sheep. He knows their strengths, weaknesses, fears, doubts, and all their needs. He knows them inside and out. This knowledge is an intimate and profound knowledge of love and affection. He “calleth his own sheep by name.” (Joh 10:3). He knows the name and nature of each sheep. This perfect example has said in Joh 10:14: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” This is a knowledge of experience and loving fellowship.
While it is true that no mere man can know the sheep that have been entrusted to his care to the extent that the Good Shepherd can, those who have been called to this holy calling must, nevertheless, do the best they can to follow this perfect example. The best way to do this is to constantly and prayerfully read the four Gospels and study the dealings of Christ with His flock.
That men have been called to this office of shepherding God’s children is plainly seen in Ac 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” This was spoken to the elders of the church at Ephesus. We can first see that it was the Holy Spirit who made these men overseers. The Spirit is omniscient and knows just which men will be suitable to oversee each particular flock. This is why both churches and pastors need to be very prayerful as to whom will pastor a certain church. This is an awesome responsibility because these men were to pastor the sheep of God who had been purchased at great price. A Christian pastor must never lose sight of this fact. Sometimes God’s children act in ways that could provoke a pastor to anger or discouragement. If, however, he realizes to whom he is ministering, he will be patient and tireless in his endeavors.
“Take heed” is prosecho-It means “to turn the mind to, attend to, be attentive.” The pastor is to be attentive to “all” the flock. He must not neglect certain ones because they may not be as prominent or influential as others.
“Overseer” is episkopos-It means “a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian or superintendent; the superintendent, elder, or overseer of a Christian church.” An overseer is not a dictator, but he must know everything that is going on. He must be “on top of” things. This is the same word translated “bishop” in 1Ti 3:2. From part of this word we derive the English word “scope.” When we use a scope, whether it is a microscope or a telescope, we are viewing something very carefully. A Christian bishop, overseer, or pastor should view each member of his flock in a very careful manner. He should be very observant and know the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of each of those under his watchcare.
The great English Baptist John Gill in commenting on this verse, wrote, “‘to feed the church of God’; with knowledge and understanding; and discharge the whole office of faithful shepherds to the flock, by feeding the flock and not themselves, strengthening the diseased, healing the sick, binding up the broken, bringing again that which was driven away, and seeking up that which was lost…”
In a very important portion of Scripture for anyone in the pastoral ministry, Peter said in 1Pe 5:1-4:
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
There is a New Testament Greek word translated “feed” which means primarily “to provide nourishment.” That word is bosko. That is not the word that is used here. “Feed” here is poimaino- It means “to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep.”
Commenting on this verse, John Gill writes “an acting the part of a bishop or overseer of it, as the word signifies; looking diligently to it, inspecting into the various cases of the members of the church; using diligence to know the state of the flock, and performing all the offices of a careful shepherd; as feeding the flock; and not themselves; strengthening the diseased; healing the sick; binding up that which was broken; bringing again that which was driven away, and seeking that which was lost; watching over them that they go not astray; and restoring of them in the spirit of meekness, when they are gone out of the way; and overlooking both their practices and their principles; admonishing, reproving them for sin, as the case requires; and preserving them, as much as in them lies, from wolves, and beasts of prey; from false teachers, and from all errors and heresies…”
“Taking the oversight” is episkopeo-It means “to look upon, inspect, oversee, look after, care for.” This is the verbal form of the word translated “bishop.”
Sometimes we can learn something that is positive by seeing its opposite negative. We can do that as we see God’s denunciation of some of the leaders of His Old Testament people. The Lord called these leaders pastors. New Testament pastors must also heed these solemn words as they consider their responsibility to the flock of God.
The Lord spoke these words by His prophet in Jer 23:2, “Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.”
The Hebrew word translated “visit” here is paqad. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, “The basic meaning is to exercise oversight over a subordinate, either in the form of inspecting or of taking action to cause a considerable change in the circumstances of the subordinate…” The word is translated “visit” 57 times in the King James Version. When it is translated that way it almost always has the idea of “making a visitation.” This visitation is for the purpose of making a change in the person visited. It is easy to see that the idea here is the same as that of the overseer, bishop, or pastor of the New Testament. God intends for His shepherd to “make visitations” to His people for the purpose of producing change in them. This scripture is very similar to Jas 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” The word translated “visit” here is episkeptomai. It means, “to visit in order to see how one is.”
There is a verse in the Old Testament that speaks of diligence on the part of shepherds and herdsmen. Christian pastors can learn much from this verse as they apply it to the people of God who have been committed to their trust. Pr 27:23 says, “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.”
Applying this verse to Christian pastors, John Gill says, “Then it must become the indispensable duty of pastors of churches to take heed to the flock of God committed to them, and to look into their state and condition, and provide for them, and feed them with knowledge and understanding.”
I would like to make a very practical suggestion as to how pastors can know the state of those under them in the Lord. I would suggest that each pastor pray over the membership list of the church he pastors at least once a week. As you go over the prayer list, bringing each member by name before the Lord, you will be compelled to reflect on each of their needs and conditions. Do not be in a hurry as you do this. Ask the Lord for wisdom and insight as you deal with each member of the flock. Take the time to write down what the Lord shows you. Think about each member at length and consider ways that you can help him or her to grow spiritually. Heb 10:24 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works…” The word translated “consider” is katanoeo. It means “to consider attentively, fix one's eyes or mind upon.” Pastors must employ this kind of diligent attention to each member of their flocks if they are to be effective. In this particular instance the pastor is to consider attentively how to motivate the particular brother or sister to love and good works. What may work with one person may not work with another.
There are many practical ways in which to gain an intimate knowledge of those to whom we minister. When we are talking with them we should develop the habit of really listening, watching body language, etc. We need to know what their worries and fears are and be acquainted with their specific prayer needs. When they give us specific information we need to write it down so that we will not forget it. This would include visits to the doctor, pending surgery, etc. We must make sure that we follow through with this information and that they know we are sincere in our personal interest.
We should take the time to talk with the children in our congregations. We should ask them questions, and really listen to ascertain where they are in their walk with God. We need to ask them about their Bible reading habits, their memorization of Scripture and related matters.
All that we have considered is very serious. To be an effective shepherd of God’s flock, a man has to be very diligent and hard working. The Bible often refers to Christian pastors as oxen. Instances of this can be found in 1Co 9:9-10, and in 1Ti 5:17-18. It is a great blessing when the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ have such men as pastors. When we do our best to be diligent, we have the confidence that the Lord will bless His people and give them a measure of spiritual prosperity.
David’s prayer for the people of God as expressed in Ps 144:14 was “That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets.” May that be our prayer today!
As we come to the end of our way may we be able to say with the shepherd, Jacob, as he expostulated with Laban in Ge 31:38-40, “This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten…Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.”
May we know our flocks well enough to be able to say again with Jacob in Ge 33:13 “… My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.” It is a wise pastor who knows how to lead his flock to green pastures, but who does not drive them at a pace which is beyond their capacity.
May we know our flocks well enough that we will consider their condition and skillfully deal with them as individuals. Some sheep need strong exhortation and rebuke. Some sheep need tender care and comfort. As Paul said in 1Th 5:14, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” The word translated “unruly” means “disorderly, out of ranks.” Such individuals are to be confronted and warned or admonished. The word translated “feebleminded” means “fainthearted.” They are to be comforted. They are to be encouraged and consoled. The “weak” are infirm or feeble, either in body or spirit. They are to be “supported.” The very rich word which is translated “support” means “to keep one's self directly opposite to any one, hold to him firmly, cleave to, paying heed to him.” In this case we are quite literally holding one up, and keeping him from falling. As shepherds of God’s people we must be “patient” toward those in every condition. The word translated “patient” here means “to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart.”
To know those we labor among we must find some time to spend with them, both at church and in other settings. Maybe we can meet the men for lunch on occasion. We need to be in their homes whenever possible. Several years ago my dear brother-in-law, Elder Jimmy Fulmer preached a very moving sermon he entitled 20/20 Vision. He used Acts 20:20, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house…” Much can be done at church. We see our people at least once a week if not more. It would be a good practice to try to have meaningful conversations with at least one member each time we meet. The telephone can be a very valuable tool for contacting members; so can letter writing. It would be a good practice for each pastor to call members or write letters of encouragement and instruction to them as the Lord brings their needs to mind while you are praying for them.
The number one incentive for us to be good shepherds is that we love and want to please our Chief Shepherd. Peter has written by divine inspiration to faithful pastors that “when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
Zack Meaders Guess
Grace Chapel, Memphis, Tennessee
October 26, 1999
Watching For Your Souls
I pray that consideration of the above verse will stimulate us to do what Paul told Archippus to do: "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it." (Col 4:17) We each need to reevaluate our ministries in the light of the Word of God. This is true even of the older ministers. We need to continually be upgrading ourselves. We need to spend a portion of the rest of our lives studying the work of the pastoral ministry. If we fail to do this we will lose our sharp "edge" for the work. There are things that we forget that we need to be reminded of. My father was a salesman. One of the slogans that his company used to promote was, "When you stop being better, you stop being good." If we aren't trying to be better ministers, we will find ourselves slipping back into mediocrity. I have always admired my father in the ministry, Elder Hassell Wallis, for continually trying to upgrade his ministry. Our great example is the Apostle Paul. In the very last letter he wrote, 2 Timothy, he showed that he was trying to upgrade his ministry. He wanted the "books and the parchments" to be brought to him. (4:13). There were still some things he wanted to learn even though he was an old man in jail and soon to face death. He had a tremendous zeal for the things of God right up to the time of his departure. May it be the same with each of us!
As ministers may we be inspired to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (1Pe 3:18).
There is one indispensable qualification that each minister must possess if he is to be a good and faithful minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. One time Christ, while in the flesh, commissioned a man to be a pastor. There was one thing Christ absolutely required of this man. Without it the man could not be an adequate pastor. This qualification was love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this love a man may stick it out for a little while by sheer will power. He may stick it out for a time, but he won't have the right attitude and, ultimately, he will fall by the wayside.
The man that Jesus personally commissioned to be a pastor or shepherd was, of course, Peter. What did Jesus ask Peter three times in Joh 21? He said "Peter, do you love me more than these?" Then He said "feed my sheep." A man is not qualified to feed the sheep unless he has a deep love for the Lord. Sheep sometimes smell very bad. They do not always act right, and they sometimes become sick. They cause you to lose sleep, and sometimes frustrate the shepherd in other ways. If we do not love the Lord Jesus Christ we will simply reach the end of our rope and get mad at the flock. Then we may do like Moses did and say "you rebels, shall we bring you water out of this rock?" We may say, "I am going to quit. I have had it. The people do not appreciate me and my work. I have given my life for this work. I have sacrificed. Nobody cares. I am through!"
But brethren, if we really love Jesus Christ we will keep on going. It is of utmost importance for us to diligently cultivate our love for the Lord Jesus. If we really love Jesus we will be good shepherds. If we love Jesus we will love His sheep. We must pay attention to our own personal relationship with Jesus. If we do not have a fresh and burning love for Jesus, we will just "go through the motions" in our ministerial work. God forbid that we become "professionals." However, that is just exactly what we will become if we do not enrich our love for our Lord. We must do this above all else. No matter how much Greek or Hebrew we may know, no matter how well we may be able to prepare a sermon-- all will be to no avail without a love for Jesus Christ. Everything we do will be devoid of the Spirit.
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."
"Obey" comes from the Greek word peitho. This word means "to persuade." What the writer is really saying to the people is that they should be willing to be persuaded by those who are over them in the Lord. The idea is that the pastor compels obedience by persuasion. We must be able to persuade people. Many young ministers, when they come to understand a truth, immediately demand that their followers put this truth into practice at once, and then become upset when they fail to do so! They may accuse their followers of not being born again or not being spiritual- minded. We must not become frustrated with people because they cannot see something the very first time we teach it. It is our duty before God to persuade people. It is true that if we diligently persuade people according to the Word of God and they continue to reject the truth, the blood will be on their own hands. However, if we do not do the work of persuading in a forbearing, long-suffering way, then the blood is on our hands.
How then can we persuade? 2Ti 2:24-26 says: And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."
We must be apt to teach, not only from the pulpit, but also in a one-on-one situation. We must learn how to read people's personalities so that we may be better able to persuade them. We may win an argument, but still be in the wrong spirit. If so, we may drive the brother further into the clutches of the Devil. If we do this we have failed. We must, therefore, persuade in the spirit of meekness.
We must also persuade with a sense of urgency. We must let the people know that it does make a difference what we believe and how we behave. We must be faithful to point out that there are consequences for our thoughts, words, and actions. It makes an immense difference what people believe and how they act. If we do not believe this ourselves, we will not be able to persuade anyone. Our people can tell whether or not we are in earnest. Speaking of the fact that "we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad," Paul said, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…" (2Co 5:10-11). This is not, therefore, a matter of indifference. If we see someone going down the wrong pathway, either doctrinally or practically, we must persuade them--with urgency. Does it make any difference whether or not we are obedient to the word of God? Sometimes, I fear, we get to the point where we do not really think it makes much difference. We say that it does, but we do not seem to really believe it. We see some brother or sister violating a Scripture, and we fail to go to the person and persuade him or her with urgency.
We must also persuade with wisdom. We must learn to "read" men and women. We have different kinds of personalities in our congregations. We would think a medical doctor to be rather stupid if he treated everyone with the same medicine, no matter what the nature of the illness. We make the same type of mistakes in dealing with people. We must learn to persuade with wisdom and with skill. We must know where they are coming from, and we must know where they are going. We must treat different people differently.
Paul recognized the need for this as he said in 1Th 5:14, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." He recognized that it takes much spiritual wisdom to know how to persuade people in these varying states and conditions.
The people we are ministering to also have a duty, of course. They must be teachable. They must want to believe what we are preaching and teaching to them. This does not mean that they must swallow "hook, line, and sinker" everything that we say. However, they must have an open mind and a ready disposition toward what we teach. They must accept what we teach unless there is a good reason not to believe it. They should not come to the house of God with a resistance to the things that are taught. The people must be like the Bereans who "received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." We do not want anyone to obey us if we deviate from what is in the Bible.
If we can have this combination--a minister who persuades meekly, urgently, and with wisdom, and a congregation who is ready to be persuaded--we will have a profitable situation. Elder Hassell Wallis wrote a young brother in Texas and said, "When you've got an Old Baptist church that has a good preacher that is trying to lead the people to follow the Lord, and some people who are trying to follow him, you will not find a better situation on earth than that." If you lack either one of these you've got some problems. If you have a minister who is not willing to persuade, you are in trouble. Moreover, if you have some people who are not willing to follow, you also have some serious problems.
The next word in our text is "rule." This word is hegeomai and means "to lead." In fact, George Ricker Berry in his Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, translates the expression, "Obey them that have the rule over you…" as "Obey your leaders…" Among our people today, we have a greater need for pastoral leadership than we do for anything else. We have heard some great preaching in our lifetimes. However, even great preaching will not get the job done in and by itself. We greatly need leadership ability to lead the Lord's people in the paths of Biblical truth. How do we rule? We rule by leading. We must be good leaders. A good way to translate what we have looked at so far would be "Be persuaded by them that are leading you."
A good leader must be someone who is setting a proper example. He must be willing to take risks. George Washington was a great leader. He has been called the indispensable man in the American colonial effort to achieve freedom from Great Britain. He was not the most brilliant colonial leader, but he was the most dependable. He inspired confidence in the men he led. He was a man of character. He worked and suffered with his men. He was not too good to get his hands dirty. He helped a group of soldiers boost the highest log into place on a cabin they were building during the terrible winter at Valley Forge. Their corporal had been standing by the side and yelling at the men. Washington quietly helped them and then rebuked the corporal. What a leader! How the men loved him!
General Douglas MacArthur was a great leader of men. He continually risked his life on the front lines. His men willingly followed him. We must be willing to lead our people. This is how we are going to be able to effectively rule those the Lord has placed in our care. We will be much more effective by leading them than we will by "beating them over the head." We must say, "Come on. Let's go. I'm going out in front."
One of the qualities of a bishop or pastor is that he "ruleth well his own house." (1Ti 3:4). The word translated "rule" here is prohisteme. It means "to stand before." That is how we must rule our children. It is true that we must discipline them on occasion. However, if we discipline them while not living right before them, they will become bitter. If, however, we are fair with them and set a good example for them, they will tend to accept the discipline with the proper attitude.
In like manner, when we husbands are living as we should, our wives usually will not have much trouble submitting to our leadership. If our wives know that we are dedicated to them, that we would give our lives for them, and that everything we do is for their benefit, then they will usually gladly obey us.
Similarly, if we ministers will prove to the church members that we love them and are willing to sacrifice for them, and that our only desire is to help them to the glory of God, they will follow us unless they are not born again or are in a very backslidden condition.
The word "submit" means "to yield." Submission is a state of mind. Obedience is an action. The people need to learn to submit to us, to yield to us. They need to think the following about their pastors: "I believe this is the man that the Holy Ghost has placed over me. He is not perfect, he is a sinner, but the Holy Spirit has made him my overseer. I am going to yield to him. I may not always agree with him. Our personalities may clash, but I am going to yield to him unless he tries to get me to do something contrary to the Word of God." If a church can come to this point, they are in for some great blessings!
This little word "for" is one of the most important words in the passage. Why should people submit to their pastors? Now we are getting down to the meat of the study. Why should the people obey? "For" or "because" of what follows. They should obey because the pastors "watch for your souls."
If a man is not going to watch for the souls of God's people they have no obligation to submit to him. This safeguards the people from religious tyranny. If we will not watch for the souls of God's people, we must not demand their obedience. We must be willing to watch for their souls and then we have the right to claim their submission and obedience.
When the people find that the office of bishop is of divine institution and that it is designed for the good of their souls, then they will be disposed to that obedience and submission which is required of them.
We must tell the people that we love them, and we must show them that we love them.
Ps 144:14 says "That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets." In the Scriptures the minister is often compared to an ox. (1Ti 5:18; 1Co 9:9-10). This Psalm says that if our oxen are strong to labor there will be no complaining in our streets. If we have complaining church members, let us look at ourselves first and see if there are any deficiencies either in our characters or in our work. Let us be strong to labor.
For They Watch For Your Souls
This one word translated "watch" is worth the entire study. It is a word which instantly grips the attention. The word is agrupneo. It literally means "to be without sleep; to be sleepless; to keep awake; to watch." The word was sometimes used to speak of the arduous work performed by shepherds. In speaking of the hardships that he endured as a faithful shepherd, Jacob said, "Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. (Ge 31:40). Brethren, if we are not willing to do this for the flock of God, we are not ready to be shepherds.
We must stay awake at night in prayer and study. We must be willing to be called at any hour of the night. It is similar to when you have a new baby in the house. The parents just cannot sleep soundly for awhile after the baby arrives. They listen to their breathing and wake with a start whenever there is the slightest irregularity. There is no real rest for the new mother. There is also no real rest for a pastor who cares anything about the sheep. It is not wrong to take an occasional vacation, but it is wrong for a pastor to live a vacation lifestyle.
How do we watch for souls? Number one is by prayer. I do not believe that most pastors exercise the kind of prayer life that they ought to. The shepherd should be preeminently a man of prayer.
If we do not watch in prayer none of the other ways we watch is going to be effective. Prayer is our first line of defense. Fail here and we fail everywhere else. No matter how hard we work, if God is not in the matter all our efforts are to no avail. David said in Ps 127:1, "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." We must pray. We must say, "Lord, it makes no difference how well I preach; it matters not how well I counsel; it counts not how skillfully I may lead--I must have You to open the hearts of the people. I must have You to give me wisdom. You must keep the Devil out." If we could actually see the dangers that lurked around our sheep today, and could also see our weakness in face of these dangers, we would be driven to our knees in fervent intercessory prayer. We would truly be prayer warriors.
Eph 6:18 is a very powerful verse concerning prayer. Many sermons could be preached from it. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints…" All Christians should pray this way, but especially should pastors do so.
The very reason that deacons were first set apart was so that the gospel ministers could "give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." (Ac 6:4). Prayer has to be first-then the ministry of the word. We cannot effectively minister the word unless we first pray. We must pray even when studying. We should be like Epaphras, a member, and no doubt a minister, of the church at Colosse. He visited Paul while Paul was imprisoned at Rome. Paul observed this man's prayer life. This is what he said about him in Col 4:12: "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." The word translated labouring" is agonizomai. We get the English word agony from it. Epaphras was agonizing in prayer! He was not interested in praying only for his home church at Colosse. He also labored in prayer for the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis, which were in close proximity to Colosse. This man loved the cause of Christ and supported this noble cause by prayer. Christ knew what it was to agonize in prayer. On at least one occasion He labored in prayer with "strong crying and tears." (Heb 5:7). We cannot just work up this strong emotion, but we can pray that God will grant it to us. Let us beg God to place the burden of prayer for the advancement of truth on our souls. We need to just be obedient and spend much time in prayer even when we do not feel particularly burdened to do so. Very often we are blessed in the deed.
In the Old Testament we find that this same burden of fervent prayer was characteristic of God's servants. The Lord said in Isa 62:6-7: "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth."
Jerusalem today in not a praise in the earth. We love the cause of Christ but must admit that it is less and less visible in our secular society. We seem to be in the day of small things. We must watch in prayer. We all should desire to see a mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God. If this does not happen in our lifetime, we must continue to pray. We must pray diligently--we must never keep silent before God in this matter so long as there is life in our bodies!
We also watch individually. We must know the needs of our people intimately, and we must pray for each of them by name. We must have the personal touch. The Lord Himself does this. In Joh 10:3 the Lord Jesus "calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out." We need some kind of system to make sure we pray for each of those in our care by name on a regular basis. Paul must have had some kind of system because he told many individuals that he prayed for them. This means that he had some sort of prayer list, either memorized or written down. Paul was apparently quite specific in his prayers. He prayed for Philemon. He prayed for Timothy. He prayed for many, many other individuals.
If we have a fairly small membership list, it is a shame if we do not memorize it. We need to go over this list in our minds. We ought to think about the individual members, their children, and their particular needs. We need to be aware of their level of spiritual growth and maturity. We must go over this list in prayer quite often. We must ask the Lord for insight as we pray for individuals as to how we can best minister to them.
We also need to watch for the souls of those the Lord has placed in our care by thinking about or being mindful of them. This is closely related to praying for them, but is not exactly the same thing. Heb 10:24 says, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works…" The word translated "consider" is katanoeo. It means "to think about, ponder." The preposition attached to it makes it intensive in force. Brother Wallis told me one time that he does a lot of pastoring in his chair. This does not mean that he is lazy. Far from it. He sits, rocks, and thinks about his people. He thinks about how he can lead and motivate them.
We need to ponder or think about our members in order that we can provoke them unto love and good works. We must think through the situation. We must think about how we can approach particular individuals in order to obtain certain results in their lives.
Publicly, and From House to House
A vital part of our ministry is the pulpit ministry, but we must also watch for souls in a more personal way. In Ac 20:20 Paul said that he had taught the Ephesians "publickly and from house to house." This takes time and dedication. The home is where people are more likely to pour their hearts out to you. After you have had a little time to establish rapport, perhaps after sharing a meal, then people are more apt to open up and share their concerns and problems. They may also tell you of their temptations, sins, fears, and prayer requests.
We must watch for the souls of our people doctrinally. In 1Ti 4:16 Paul told Timothy to, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." Doctrine is vitally important. I would like to illustrate this point with a particular situation. I very much love some people from another part of the country. However, these particular people have had some serious doctrinal problems. This is because several generations of ministers failed to teach them the doctrine pertaining to the church--that which is sometimes known by the appellation of "church truth." They were easily misled into thinking that some organizations which did not consistently preach the doctrines of grace were true churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of them have subsequently joined religious orders that are in great doctrinal error. We must watch for the souls of our people doctrinally so that they will not be ensnared by false doctrines and by religious organizations that are in basic error.
When I was younger I heard a lot of doctrinal preaching and almost no practical preaching. Now the pendulum has swung and I am fear that some of us may not be preaching as much basic doctrine as we should.. We must be very careful to maintain the proper balance. It makes a great deal of difference what we believe. It makes a great deal of difference which church a person becomes a member of. We believe that we are true churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is absolutely imperative that we teach our young people why we believe this.
We believe that the essence of the truth of salvation by grace is contained in the so-called Five Points of Calvinism. We therefore need to repetitively go over those points again and again with our people. We are all Arminians by nature and must be constantly drilled in the doctrines of grace until they become a part of our very fabric.
Often I will question children and ask them such a question as, "What do you have to do to be saved?" They will usually answer by saying, "Do good" or "Pray" or "Go to church" or some other work. These answers sometimes come from children who have sat under sound preaching all of their lives! It is just a graphic demonstration of how Arminianism is an intrinsic part of our sinful nature. It takes diligent, constant pastoral effort to pull out these weeds of false doctrine. Do you know where your people stand on these and other issues? Have you ever questioned them about it? Do you just take these things for granted?
Extremes of "time salvation" along with the denial of perseverance has crept in because some pastors failed to watch for the souls of their people doctrinally.
We must not shun to preach much on doctrine because we think it has already been taught. We must remember that we have children and new converts who have never heard these things. As good stewards, we must continually bring truths both old and new. As the apostle said in 2Pe 1:12: "Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth."
We must also watch for the souls of our people practically. We must insist on godly living. Too often we are content with preaching on a subject without trying to make sure that our people are practicing what we preach. This would be analogous to a father teaching his children right principles of living but making it optional whether or not his children obey his teaching. We, as watchers for souls, must realize that fleshly lusts war against our souls. (1Pe 2:11). We need to continually and on a very practical level, warn our people of the dangers of television, lurid videos, and like things. I read recently that some of the primary consumers of "soft core" pornography were professed Christian middle-class men! They go down to the local grocery store, get a provocative video, go to the privacy of their homes and proceed to terribly damage their souls!
We need to warn our people against the humanistic philosophy which is being constantly pushed on television and other mass media. When your people spend a great deal of time in front of the T. V. instead of reading their Bibles and praying, they become spiritually dry. They lose their zeal and become cold in their spiritual lives. We must watch for the souls of those entrusted to our care in these practical ways, and if we detect a specific fleshly lust which is warring against them, we must have the love and courage to go to them and insist that they cease such activity.
With Care and Affection
As we go about this business of watching for souls, we must do it in the proper way--with great care and affection. It will take the grace of God for us to be able to love our people as we should. We must love them with the love of a tender-hearted father. There are not many such fathers in the ministry today. There never have been. There are plenty of preachers— plenty of men who like to teach others. We ought to enjoy the pulpit ministry. However, we must go much further than that. Too many men just like to teach and let it go at that. As Paul said in 1Co 4:15: "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." We have plenty of instructors in Christ today, also! However, we do not have many fathers. What do you think about when you consider the attributes of a loving father? Is he vitally interested in his children, or does he only have a casual interest? Is he very concerned about how his children ultimately grow and mature? Is he there with a word of encouragement when it is needed? Does he provide constructive criticism when needed? Paul had a fatherly concern for those in his spiritual care. He said in 1Th 2:11 that "… ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children…" If we saw one of our sons or daughters get involved in taking drugs or in some other gross sin, we would not be able to sleep. If one of us became aware that our son was being pursued by an evil woman, we would be greatly stirred. We would be like an old mama bear, robbed of her cubs. Brethren, sometimes we have to come out fighting mad against the devil in defense of our church members. We must warn those under our pastoral care. We must charge them. We must exhort them. We must beseech them.
We must not only be like a loving father- we must be like a gentle, caring nurse. To do all this we must have a continual supply of the grace of God. Paul said in 1Th 2:7-8: "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." There is a tremendous amount of godly affection revealed in these two verses. I challenge you to study them.
We must also agonize for those under our pastoral care as a mother in labor in delivering her child. I have actually seen ten of my children born. One reason I love my wife so much is because I have seen what she has gone through to have my children. She had to undergo intense labor pains. She agonized. Paul referred in Ga 4:19 to "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…" We need to pray for God to give us this kind of zeal. We need to learn to travail. We give up too easily when our members begin to walk in sin. Even if one has completely strayed from the path of godliness, God can bring him back. Furthermore, if a brother or sister has gotten into the grossest form of error, God can correct it. These Galatians had gotten into the worst kind of the error of works salvation. Paul was travailing for them. We, too, need to agonize and travail when one falls by the wayside.
We need to have the same concern for the souls of our people as a father has for a virgin daughter. We want our girls to be virgins when they marry. If we see some young man with wicked designs on our daughter, we will be greatly affected. We might be tempted to pop him on the nose! We greatly hope that when our daughters walk the aisle they will be as pure as their white dresses represent. This is how pure we want our church members to be. When we see our church members whoring after this world it ought to grieve us. We cannot feel all these deep pastoral emotions except by the grace of God. We must pray that our ministries will be deepened until we experience these heartfelt feelings for our flock. Paul said in 2Co 11:2, "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." We must have a passion to present our church members as chaste virgins to the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to become jealous if we see the world moving in on them. As spiritual fathers we are responsible to see that they maintain their spiritual chastity. Just as a designing man is very subtle in his methods when he is trying to seduce a chaste girl, so the devil is very tricky when he is trying to seduce one of God's children. He gains the confidence of his victim. He gets the intended prey engaged in conversation. He shows the bait but hides the hook. He pretends to be friends. He talks smoothly. However, he is after the precious soul.
We must beg God to make us so interested in the spiritual welfare of our people that we will seek it with all our power, even to the point of being moved to tears. Paul said in Ac 20:31,"… remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears." He was moved to weep on occasion when he realized the gravity of the situation. In Php 3:18 he said, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ…" Paul was not given to cheap emotionalism. These tears were born out of a deep concern for the flock. We must learn to weep like this. How long has it been since you have thus agonized over God's people? The Lord Jesus Christ had this kind of compassion and concern. He wept over the city of Jerusalem.
With Compassion and Experience
Hebrews tells us that those who were high priests had to be taken from among men so that they could "have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way." (5:2). Sometimes those who are under our pastoral care will make mistakes because they are ignorant. Other times they will just be out of the way. To properly understand them we will have to call to mind experiences in our own lives when we have been ignorant and out of the way. We learn many things by personal experience. It is very easy to tell people how to rear their children if we have not had this experience ourselves. It is also easy to tell people how to deal with death and sorrow if we have never personally dealt with it. It is very easy to be hard on others. I have observed a number of young ministers who were very hard on others until they had been softened by having some difficult experiences themselves.
We do not only watch for souls from a position of head knowledge; we must also do so from the heart. We learn this from experience. One time I heard a very able young brother preach a great sermon on 1Co 13. The sermon was very well executed. He was very articulate in the delivery. The same night after he had finished preaching, he had an opportunity to practice charity. He completely rejected the opportunity and closed up his bowels of compassion. The young brother did not actually realize the significance of what he had preached—it was all in his head. How many times has something similar happened to us? Have we always practiced what we preached? Do we, for example, ever preach on forgiveness? Do we then always forgive?
The ideal way to prepare to shepherd God's flock is to have a seasoned older shepherd with some younger men discipling under him. We do not only learn from the Bible. We also learn from watching someone put the Bible into practice. Ministry is not to be learned from a seminary- ministry is to be learned in an apprenticeship. (See 2Ti 2:2).
The motivation that we have in watching for souls is the awesome fact that we are going to have to give account to God for the souls that are in our care. We need to give a daily account to God for the souls He has entrusted us with. We need to give this account in prayer. God does listen to the prayers of His servants. He hears the prayers of all His people, but, in a pastoral way, He has special regard to the prayers of His ministers as they pray for the flock. Why do I say this? One reason is that He said that if any of His people were sick he should "call for the elders of the church" for prayer. (Jas 5:14). There is something special about the prayers of a dedicated servant of God! If we are under shepherds of God, and we are working with Him Who is the Chief Shepherd, He will certainly hear our prayers. He will hear our agonizing. He Who has told us to watch for souls will surely help us as we obey Him. We are not priests anymore than is any other child of God, but there is something special about our prayers for the welfare of the flock. That is why Satan is continually trying to hinder our prayers. He knows that our prayers are effective!
Commenting on this daily account to God John Brown said, "Ministers ought to keep up a constant intercourse with their great Master. They ought to bear their people on their hearts before the Lord. If their work prospers, if the souls of their people seem to prosper and be in health, then they ought with joy and thankfulness give account of this to Him. And if, on the other hand, the souls of their people seem languid and diseased, then the Christian minister ought to pour out his sorrows to the Lord, giving his account with grief." Brown is right. We ought to be praying to God all the time. We ought to be talking to Him about our members. However, while this is true, I do not believe this daily accounting is what is under consideration in Heb 13:17. I believe that the writer is here talking about the last great account that we will have to render to God for the conduct of our ministries. I do not know just how all this works out, but I do believe it because the Bible teaches it. I believe that salvation is entirely by the grace of God, but I also believe that there is some way that in the future we are going to have to give an account of our ministries.
I remember hearing Elder Virgil Lowrance preaching at Ozias PB Church in Georgia many years ago. He was preaching from Php 2:16. He said that though he did not fully understand how, he was fully convinced that we would have to render an account to God for our ministries. The expression "give account" here in Heb 13:17 refers to stewardship. A steward is one who is taking care of another's property. A steward has to give an account to the owner of the property of how he has managed it. Ro 14:12 says, "…so then every one of us shall give account of himself to God…" When a minister fails to believe this he is apt to become very careless and indifferent in his ministry. This giving account of our ministries is much more serious than we realize. God is the owner; we are the stewards of His blood-bought property. He is going to call us to account for the way we have administered His affairs. God is going to audit our ministries. Will we come up short?
In Php 2:16 Paul wanted to rejoice in the day of Christ, that he had not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. We cannot lose our salvation, but, in the sense of this text, it is possible to run and labour in vain.
1Co 3 is speaking primarily of preachers. Some build wood, hay, stubble. Others build gold, silver, precious stones. The "fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." Some of the works will be burned up. Some of the men will suffer great loss. They will be saved "yet so as by fire." Whatever this means, it is not something to be taken lightly. A serious-minded minister will take heed to this warning and will be very careful how he conducts his ministry.
Paul says in 1Th 2:19: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?" I do not know just how this is going to be. Neither do you. Probably everyone has a preconceived idea of what it is going to be like to face Jesus and to give an account of our ministries. The important thing is to conform our ideas with what is taught in Scripture. According to the Scripture which has just been referred to, there is going to be great gladness on the part of faithful ministers of the gospel when Jesus Christ comes again. That gladness is going to include joy at the obedience to Jesus Christ which had been manifested by those to whom we have ministered.
1Pe 5:1-4 is a good commentary on Heb 13:17. Peter has told the elders that they must be faithful pastors. They must do this with the expectation that "when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." What a powerful motive this is for us to be very diligent in watching for souls!
Some Good Examples
I appreciate the dedication and good example of Elder H. D. Fulmer. He was called to preach when a very young man. He was very poor, living in eastern Arkansas. He would occasionally come over to Morris Memorial PB Church in Memphis, Tennessee to preach. My great uncle, Brother G. E. Rushing, was a faithful deacon. He would take notice of Brother Fulmer's condition and would sometimes buy him a suit. Brother Fulmer had such a burning desire to preach and pastor that almost immediately he tried to give his full time to the ministry. He fell on hard times and had to get a job. He tried to go full time again, and the same thing happened. That was for a long time the story of his life. He constantly tried to give himself to the ministry of the Word.
I remember one time he felt moved of the Lord to leave a large church in Georgia where he had been full time. He headed toward Arkansas. On the way he came to Grace Chapel, here in Memphis. He preached powerfully at our summer meeting. As he left I asked, "Brother Fulmer, what are you going to do for a job when you get to Arkansas?" He replied, "Brother Zack, that is secondary to me. I will do whatever I have to do to support my family. My primary concern is preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ." I praise the Lord for that answer and for that dedication. We may need to "make tents" many times during our lives, but the gospel of Jesus Christ must come first. If we tell our people to live by faith, how do we live? Do we make sure our position is completely secure and then devote what we have left to the ministry? Do we do this even if the acquisition of this security consumes the best and most productive years of our lives? We must take care of our families and pay our honest debts, but it is wrong to let luxurious living or excessive concern for financial security to keep us from being completely dedicated to the task of watching for souls.
When I first met Elder Hassell Wallis, he had just quit his job as a supervisor for the Mississippi Highway Department to devote his full time to the work of the ministry. He felt so burdened to do this that he quit his job just six months short of the time he must have accumulated in order to be able to receive a pension when he reached the age of sixty-five. Many people called him a fool. However, his dedication and zeal greatly impressed many young ministers, including myself. Several of these young men were able to follow his example. Even the ones who could not do exactly what he did, were favorably affected by the pattern which he had set.
If we really understood the seriousness of the account we are going to have to give to God for our ministries, we would all be more serious about it. In fact, we would even be reluctant to enter upon the work of the ministry unless we were absolutely certain that God had called us to it. Jas 3:1 says, "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." God's ministers will be judged by stricter judgment than will be those in the pew. It is foolish for a man to aspire to ordination who has not been called by God.
According to Heb 13:17, we are to be able to give our account with "joy, and not with grief." Grief comes from stenazo and means to groan or to sigh. The implication here is that if the people are not doing as they should, the faithful minister will be groaning and sighing. It will bother him to that extent. On the other hand, if the people under his care are living for the Lord, the godly pastor will be filled with joy. This is perhaps the greatest happiness that a true gospel minister has on this old earth. John says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. ( 3Jo 4).
I love my fellow ministers. I am awed and sobered myself by these Scriptural considerations. My dear colleagues, let us try to watch for the souls of God's people more diligently than we have done before. Let us pray that our Lord will raise up other men who will do likewise.
Then our people will prosper and God will be honored.
Zack M. Guess
October 31, 1997
Peter the Pastor
The Lord Jesus Christ was the first pastor of the church that He Himself established. He set up the church or more accurately, His “called out assembly” during His earthly ministry. After His resurrection, He gave instructions to His disciples as they were to carry on the work of preaching the gospel. More particularly, He gave some detailed instructions to the apostle Peter. These words of instruction are included in Joh 21:15-17.
It should encourage each of us that our Lord was even talking to Peter. Peter had denied Him grievously three times on the very night of His betrayal. He had even denied knowing Jesus. Now, in unspeakably gracious forgiveness, the Lord was appearing to him and commissioning him to pastor the flock He had purchased with His own blood. This should greatly encourage any of us who have failed the Lord in any way. Truly, we have all failed Him in many ways. When we do make mistakes, Satan comes to us and tells us that we can never be useful in His kingdom again. It is true that if we persist in known grievous sin, we can disqualify ourselves from serving God in a position of pastoral leadership. Paul knew this and very strenuously kept his flesh under subjection so that he would not find himself disqualified for the work of the gospel ministry. Paul said that he exerted himself to exercise stringent self-control so that as he expressed it in 1Co 9:27, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
However, when we fall into sin and are blessed to be repentant, there is every reason to hope that God will still use us. This was certainly true in the case of David. David sinned grievously. He was eventually brought to godly sorrow and genuine repentance. He was then used of the Lord to help others. David expressed himself thus in Ps 51:12-13, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee."
John Mark was another man who made mistakes but was restored and used of the Lord. He evidently became afraid and deserted the work of spreading the gospel at a crucial time. See Ac 13:13. Paul did not want to take him on his next evangelistic journey because of this. See Ac 14:28. However, in the last stage of his ministry, Paul considered Mark to be a valuable brother. See 2Ti 4:11.
Peter is the preeminent example of a forgiven sinner who is used of the Lord in a great way. He was the leading preacher on the great Day of Pentecost and he was very obviously one of the primary leaders in the early days of the church at Jerusalem.
To prepare Peter for this leadership position the Lord Jesus confronted him on one of His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples before His ascension. All of us pastors can learn much by studying this confrontation.
The Lord asked Peter some penetrating questions. He asked “Peter, lovest me more than these?” What Christ was no doubt reminding Peter of was his earlier boast that even if all the other disciples forsook the Lord, he would not. In reminding Peter of this, the Lord was teaching him a lesson that all preachers would do well to learn. That is the lesson of true humility and total dependence on God. In confronting Peter, Jesus used the most exalted word in the New Testament that is translated love. That is the word, agapao.
In his reply, Peter shows that he has learned some humility. He does not even answer the question whether he loves the Lord more than others do. He simply says, “Lord, you know that I love you.” In saying this he does not use the same exalted word for love that Jesus had used. He used the word phileo which means friendship or affection. In fact, George Ricker Berry, in his Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament, renders this, “Lord, thou knowest that I have affection for thee.”
Even on the basis of this confession the Lord gives him a blessed charge. He told Peter to “feed my lambs.” John Gill says these lambs are “the younger and more tender part of the flock, weak believers, Christ’s little children, newborn babes…” These are the ones that evidently should receive the first attention from God-called pastors. What is an absolutely essential ministerial qualification for feeding Christ’s lambs? We must have an affection for our Lord. It would do each minister well to cultivate his love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Our constant prayer should be, “Lord, increase our love for Thee.”
Jesus asked Peter a second question: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” He did not ask him this time if he loved Him more than others did. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him. Peter repeated his previous answer that he had affection for Jesus. Christ then told him to “feed my sheep.” The word translated “feed” here is different from the one so translated in verse 15. The word translated “feed” here in verse 16 is poimaino and it means to “shepherd or tend.” We see here that part of shepherding is feeding and part is tending or looking after. A faithful pastor must both teach God’s word and then show the people how to apply it in their lives. They must, in shepherding, protect the sheep from their many enemies. It is obvious that a man must have a great affection for God, if he is to have the stamina and motivation to consistently perform the duties of a faithful preacher and pastor over the course of a long ministry.
The Lord confronted Peter the third time. He asked him again if Peter loved Him. However, this time Jesus used the word that means affection. He was asking,. “Peter, do you have affection for Me?” Peter was grieved at this question, whether or not he even had affection for the Lord. No doubt this brought back the painful memories of the time he had denied the Lord three times. Peter had lost his self-confident attitude. He knew he could not walk in his own strength. He knew that he had let the Lord down many times. However, he also knew, deep down in his soul, that despite his many failures he had a great affection for the Lord. Therefore, he appealed to the Lord’s omniscience. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.” The Lord did not deny this. He did not rebuke Peter. He simply told him to feed His sheep.
The Lord was not being cruel to Peter. He was not upbraiding him for his past failures. The Lord never does that to repenting sinners. What the Lord seemed to have been doing was preparing Peter for further service, such as the role he played at Pentecost. Peter needed to do some self-examination. He needed to be reminded of how weak he was and how much he needed to depend on the Lord. He needed to reflect on how much he loved the Lord.
We present day ministers of the gospel need to face ourselves as Peter was forced to do. We need to be reminded of our absolute dependence on the Lord. We also need to frequently reexamine our love and affection for our Lord.
The glorious thing about this exchange between Peter and Jesus Christ is the fact that the Lord graciously permitted him to feed his sheep and lambs and to shepherd them. This is a glorious privilege for the Lord to confer on any man.
Much later in his life, Peter instructed some fellow ministers with these words from
1Pe 5:2-4: "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
What a weighty commission! What a glorious promise!
Paul also realized the seriousness of this work as he exhorted a group of elders in Ac 20:28, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."
Paul recognized what a privilege it was to feed the flock of God with the word of God and to tend them as a faithful shepherd. He showed this sense of utter dependence on the Spirit of God and the sense of wonder at being privileged to do so in Eph 3:7-8, "Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;"
Brethren, the work is great. There may be times in our lives when the Lord will have to confront us and make us face ourselves as He did Peter. This may be a painful process, but the results will be wonderful. Do not try to run from the Lord. Do not attempt to avoid these divine confrontations.
How to Develop Sermons
There are many ways by which we can approach this very important subject. We all have varied experiences, training, and background. What would work for one man may not work for another. Some men are more logical and methodical than others are. Some men have more access to books and other helps. Some men are familiar with the original languages of Scripture to one degree or another, while others are only familiar with the translations in their native tongues. Some men have been preaching for years and have a vast reservoir of Scriptural knowledge and life experience from which to draw. Some men have been preaching to a particular congregation for years, while others are newly come to a congregation. Individual congregations have different make-ups. Some may have many young families. Others may have a large percentage of older people. Some congregations are rural and some are urban.
Each man has to develop his own method of selection, preparation, and delivery of sermons as he prayerfully searches the Scriptures and seeks the face of God in prayer. It is better for each man to “be himself” rather than try to imitate others. This is not to say that we cannot and should not closely observe others and benefit by following good examples. But no man should slavishly try to imitate another. God has given to each of us unique gifts. This can be seen in 1Co 12:11, where, speaking of the distribution of spiritual gifts, Paul says, “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” The word translated severally is idios. This means, “pertaining to one's self, one's own, belonging to one's self.” As John Gill says about the dispensing activity of the Holy Spirit in this verse, “So his gifts, ordinary and extraordinary, are severally distributed, according to his sovereign will and pleasure.”
The knowledge of this should exclude jealousy and dissatisfaction from us as we preachers work together in preaching the glorious gospel of the blessed God. All the various kinds of true gifts of God are needed in His churches. One man, with a particular type of gift, may be able to reach someone that another could not reach. The reverse is also true. We should not exercise our God-given gifts in rivalry. Our gifts should complement each other. We must remember what is said in 1Pe 4:11, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
The man who is truly called of God and has an extensive formal education is needed. However, the man who does not have much formal schooling, but who has been gifted by God, also has a vital place in the work of the gospel. The Lord Jesus called men of varying backgrounds to preach. Many of them were fishermen, of whom it was said “that they were unlearned and ignorant men.” This does not mean that the apostles were stupid. They just did not have formal training in the schools of the day. According to Thayer, the word translated “unlearned” means they were “unversed in the learning of the Jewish schools.” The word translated “ignorant” means “a person without professional knowledge, unskilled, uneducated.” We must remember that our Lord Jesus did not have much formal education. Concerning our dear Lord, “the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (Joh 7:15). Commenting on this verse John Gill says, “that is, he had not had a liberal education, but was brought up to a trade; he was not trained up at the feet of any of their Rabbins, in any of their universities, or schools of learning…” On the other hand, some of the disciples were men of much formal education. Paul and Luke are two good examples.
In my opinion, in the matter of theological education there are two extremes to be avoided. One extreme is to put a premium on ignorance. Sadly, some Primitive Baptists have done that in days past. When we had the split with the Modern Mission Movement in the early 1800’s in the United States, we rightly took a stand against theological seminaries. There are simply no such seminaries in the New Testament. However, some of our brethren went to extremes and began to denigrate much education of any kind. Some of them virtually quit studying in any systematic manner and just preached whatever text happened to come to mind. Not every preacher was guilty of this, but this type of thinking was pervasive. Many men were guilty of not preaching all the counsel of God. Our people greatly suffered from this lack.
On the other hand, we have some people among us today who tend to overreact to this neglect of study. They don’t think a man can preach unless he has an extensive formal education. Some of them seek theological degrees from religious organizations that do not preach the truth about many Biblical basics. I believe that this is potentially dangerous. It would be very easy for a man to almost unconsciously imbibe subtle error from a persuasive and impressive teacher who is tainted with error. The Lord knew what He was doing when He did not set up formal schools of theology. If we try to “second guess” Him, we do so to our own peril. I am not against a man reading books written by those who are not Primitive Baptists. I am not against a man “gleaning” even from some formal theological study. I myself have studied New Testament Greek up through the intermediate level in two theological schools. However, I believe extreme caution should be exercised when a man pursues such a course.
According to the Scriptures, the church is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1Ti 3:15). Also according to the Scriptures, the New Testament way of training ministers of the gospel is the apprenticeship method. A young gift is to study under a man who has been in the ministry for some time. This is plainly taught in 2Ti 2:2, where Paul instructed Timothy: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” This was obviously to be done in the context of the local church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth. There is not a hint of a Bible college or a theological seminary in the pages of the New Testament.
I am thankful to see an interest in proper ministerial education in my day. I know several older, established ministers who are diligently trying to help younger ministers whom God is raising up in the churches they serve.
I believe that one reason the New Testament does not condone seminaries is because a seminary education, particularly a theological academic degree, can easily lead to pride and to the sense that a man with a degree is somehow superior to his brethren who are not so formally trained. I really believe that the Lord Jesus was referring to this sort of thing when He said in Mt 23:8-10, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” Speaking of the title of “rabbi,” John Gill said, “Do not be ambitious of any such title, fond of it, or affect it, or be elated with it, should it be given you…” I realize that Gill, himself, was awarded an honorary doctor’s degree by a university, but he said that he “neither thought it, sought it, nor bought it!”
We ministers of the gospel must ever keep in mind that according to Ro 1:1 we have been “separated unto the gospel of God” not elevated to it above our brethren.
The Bottom Line
When considering the development of sermons I believe that there are several basic things that should characterize each of us, no matter what is our background or level of education.
First, we should each do the very best that we can possibly do. There is no place in the gospel ministry for a lazy or self-indulgent man. When the Lord Jesus was exhorting the disciples to pray that God would raise up preachers of the gospel He said in Mt 9:38, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” Paul said in speaking of ministers of the gospel, 1Th 5:12, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you…” The word translated labour here is kopiao, and means “to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief).” This is the same word used referring to ministers of the gospel in 1Ti 5:17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Brethren, if we are not working hard at preparing to preach, we are not pleasing God.
Another basic is that we must live a life in close fellowship with God. We are not like Greek orators, who made a profession of making beautiful speeches. We are more like Hebrew prophets who come from the presence of God with weighty divine truths. Our words may be beautiful but they will lack power and conviction if our lives are not what they ought to be. We must be men of prayer. Only then will we have the assistance of the blessed Holy Spirit as we try to find the meaning of God’s Word to preach to His people. It is significant that prayer and preaching are brought together in Ac 6:4, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
We must not allow sin to dominate our lives. Paul instructed the young preacher in 1Ti 4:16, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
The final basic element in the development of sermons is that we must preach the Word. Paul made this plain in 2Ti 4:2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” We are not to preach contemporary politics. We are not to preach the latest ideas of sociologists, psychologists, or philosophers. We are not to preach our dreams or our own ideas. I love the way Peter expressed this. He said, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables…” Instead of these fables he had declared the “more sure word of prophecy…” (2Pe 2:16,19). No matter what our method of sermon preparation, our material must be none other than the all-sufficient, inspired word of the living God!
The Actual Development of Sermons
The Acquisition of Material
Important Practical Considerations
I almost entitled this chapter “Nuts and Bolts” because it contains a variety of things that are much more important than at first may meet the eye. It has been amazing to me as I have observed over the years the seemingly “little things” that have either greatly helped or have greatly hindered men’s ministries. Some men have had great gifts to preach but have not been very effective because of personal habits, mannerisms, etc. which have caused the people to whom they preach to disregard much of what they have preached.
I am not asking any minister of the gospel to compromise truth to gain favor with the people. I am not asking them to try to avoid the “offense of the cross.” However, while not avoiding the offence of the cross, each preacher should assiduously avoid the “offence of the preacher.” Preachers should strive to have good manners, and to neither do nor say things that would needlessly detract from their message.
We should have sweet dispositions and should be easy to approach. In doing this we will be emulating our Lord and Master, Who said in Mt 11:28-30, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." If we have true wisdom we will be easy to approach. Speaking of this true wisdom, James wrote that that it is “easy to be entreated.”
Here I want to consider a miscellany of things to which we as ministers of the gospel should give consideration.
We need to be thoughtful as to the length of our sermons. I am not advocating cutting sermons short just to please the people. But we should use common sense and good manners when we decide just how long we should preach, especially in certain circumstances. Let me give you an example. Several years ago I attended a meeting in which six preachers were to preach in a single day. The two morning sermons went well. The brethren were blessed with good preaching liberty. We had lunch and two of us were scheduled to preach in the afternoon. The Lord had given me a subject and I was eager to preach. I was to share the pulpit with another brother who went first. He was blessed and I really enjoyed his sermon. However, after he had gone about 45 minutes I got impatient. He went on and on. He was doing well but was not having unusual liberty. He preached so long that after he was finished, I knew that it would not be expedient for me to preach a full sermon. I took about 15 minutes and sat down.
This brother had not been considerate of the congregation nor of his fellow servant in the gospel. In the congregation there were several mothers with young children. There were some very old people who had a hard time remaining alert. This brother’s message would have been much more effective if he had cut it shorter. He could have and should have used some wisdom and exercised some self-control. Speaking of something similar, Paul wrote in 1Co 14:32 "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets."
I have told many young preachers this, and it would be good for older preachers to remember it too: “Don’t be the kind of man people dread see going into the pulpit. It would be much better for people to wish you had gone on longer than to wish you had sat down sooner.” We must remember that there is only so much preaching that people can absorb on a single occasion. The Lord Jesus said "...The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. "
We need to be very careful how we conduct ourselves when we are not preaching in our home churches. I never advocate being a coward or in “watering down” truth. However, there are certain subjects that are very controversial and on which there are strong differences of interpretation. It is not appropriate to get on a subject like this when in another man’s pulpit, not knowing what he believes on the subject.
It is not right to contradict a man or to undermine him in his own pulpit.
There are certain men I feel very uncomfortable about when they come to the church I pastor. I describe them as unpredictable “loose cannons.”
No matter what subject we are preaching on we must be bold in the Holy Spirit, but this is not the same thing as being needlessly offensive. It is possible to preach against sin without being crude. Jesus Christ was never crude. It is very rare that sarcasm is appropriate from the pulpit. If we come across with a “mean spirit” we may turn off those who really need our message.
We should not be overly negative about the cause of Christ among the Primitive Baptists. This does not mean that we cannot or should not point out faults among the Primitive Baptists, but we should not be excessive in this. There is much that is wrong with many Primitive Baptists, but there is much that is right with many of them also. In accenting the positive we motivate people to do better and we foster hope.
Each minister of the gospel should cultivate a learner’s spirit. We should not appear to be a know-it-all and we should not be one in fact. We evidence a great insecurity, fragility, and perhaps a spirit of pride when we refuse to listen to advice and constructive criticism. Not all the criticism that comes our way will be warranted, but we should listen to it anyway. We can prayerfully weigh the criticism in the light of God’s word, and then either accept it and improve, or graciously reject it.
We should always be willing to learn from others. Sometimes when a man is very well educated, his pride may prevent him from thinking he can learn from a man who is less well educated. A few years ago, my dear wife and I had the opportunity of visiting in the church and home of a minister and his wife who lived a great distance away. This man had very little formal education. However, it was soon obvious to us that he was an incredible pastor. We gained many practical ideas from him and his good wife as to how to make our pastoral work more effective.
There is no area of your life that will more affect your ministry than your family life. Paul made that unmistakably plain in 1Ti 3. People are watching how we treat our wives. I was recently made aware of a fine young minister who greatly hindered his influence among a certain people, simply because he was not considerate of the needs of his wife, who has several very small children. This same young man does not have proper control of his children and people dread to see them come for a visit because of this.
We must not neglect our wives and children in the course of our ministries. We must live before them in such as way as to have their love and respect. This means that we must spend meaningful time with them. Having a happy and godly home is one of the most effective ways in which a minister of the gospel can enhance his influence.
I once knew of a large family who outwardly looked very good in the church. The father would often appear very moved by the preaching and would often weep during a sermon. Sadly, I later learned that his children almost despised him. He looked good in church, but his life was very inconsistent at home. Brethren, this should never be true of a preacher’s home!
If you are blessed to have a family there are many ways you can include them in your ministry. This is a win-win situation in which you, your family, and those to whom you minister will all be blessed. When you go into the homes of your members it is almost always good to have your wife and some of your children along. When you visit the hospital or the homes of the shut-ins, your family can help you carry a word of cheer and can help you as you minister to them in Bible reading, prayer, and the singing of songs. This is also a very good way to train your children to be unselfish and to think of others. This way, your children learn that true religion is more than theory. They learn the reality of what James wrote in Jas 1:27: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
My children have been greatly blessed in seeing the grace of God manifested as they have watched God’s children patiently and cheerfully bearing their afflictions. Many times some of the very old saints have imparted priceless words of wisdom to our children.
It is also good to open up your home to the people of God. We have often had a house full of visitors. This has entailed some sacrifice on the part of my family. They have had to give up their beds to others. They have had to help with cooking, clean up, and other things that have to be done when entertaining guests.
However, the blessings our children have received from helping to entertain guests in our home have far outweighed any sacrifice that was involved. They have had meaningful conversations, have gotten to know people on a deeper level, and have formed life long friendships.
I am sure that we could go on and on with profitable thoughts. I hope what I have written will trigger you to examine you own lives and will stir in you a desire to remove all actions and thoughts that would hinder your ministry.
While we cannot cover every nuance of life that would affect our ministries, there is one tool that we can use. This is what my dear father-in-law, Tony Machiavello, used to advocate. Brother Tony was a Spirit-filled deacon who had a lot of influence on others, including preachers. He went to be with the Lord almost ten years ago. However, at this writing [February 2007] he still has a great influence on me and on others. Brother Tony used to advocate that we use sanctified common sense. This is a very good expression for you to remember. Brother Tony was not saying that we should base our behavior on pure subjectivism and pragmatism. He was an avid student of the Bible himself. What he meant was that God has given us minds to properly apply the principles of Scripture in our daily lives.
Brethren, the prayerful exercise of that SANCTIFIED COMMON SENSE will stand you in good stead as you try to live in such a way that you will be truly effective in the work of your Lord.
Family and Worship
It is significant that when the Bible describes the role of pastor and uses comparisons to further describe that role, it uses the relationship of a father with his family to describe this role. A pastor is not compared to the CEO of a large business organization. This is interesting because in Christendom today, many think that what will make a man a good pastoral leader is that he has good business skills. In fact some “churches” resemble business organizations with all the machinery that goes with that.
The pastor is also not described in the New Testament as a military leader, with an elaborate hierarchy of rank, and one that exercises absolute, dictatorial authority.
The pastor is deliberately described in the Bible as a good father who has authority over his family which is based on love and respect. One of the best ways for a man to learn to be a good pastor is for him to learn to be a good husband and a good father! Rarely will a man be a good pastor who is not a good husband and a good father. A man may be a great preacher without these things, but he will not be a good pastor. The crying need in our churches today is for good pastors. I believe that the Lord is still doing as He did in the Old Testament when He said in Jer 3:15, “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
I have known many men who had great preaching gifts but who neglected their wives and children. Such men are usually on an ego trip. They enjoy being admired as great preachers and enjoy speaking to large, adoring congregations. Brethren we should not strive to be like this. We should strive to be good family men. There is a reason why God puts such a high premium on family. The family is the first social institution that the Lord set up. The Lord set up the family in the Garden of Eden before He set up a church or institutions of human government. The family is under great attack today in almost all nations. I read in one place that the family is the bulls-eye on Satan’s target.
One of the most effective ways that we can be good pastors to our people is to show by example how to be good fathers and husbands.
In 1 Timothy, chapter three, we have listed the attributes that must characterize a godly pastor or bishop. Prominent in this list of qualifications are those recorded in verses three and four, “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” Let us examine some of the words in this passage. First, the word translated “rule.” What does this mean? Does it mean to rule arbitrarily and inflexibly, with an “iron hand”? The word translated “rule” here is proistemi. According to W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words the word means, “to stand before, hence, to lead, attend to (indicating care and diligence).” The good father and the good pastor is a good leader. He cares for those he is leading. They follow him because they respect him and they know he cares for them. He is the man described in 1Pe 5:3,: “Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
This passage in 1 Timothy says that he must have his children “in subjection.” This word has a variety of similar meanings. Some of them are “to subject one's self, obey,” “to submit to one's control,” “to yield to one's admonition or advice.” It is obvious here that the father/pastor must have control of his children. As it says in Tit 1:6, “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.” Speaking of Abraham the Lord said in Ge 18:19: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” It is obvious that Abraham exercised authority in his household. But it was the authority of love and respect. There are two extremes to which we can go in our relationships with our children and with our congregations. On the one hand, we can be too lax. We can refuse to exercise our responsibility of leadership, and just let people do what they want to do. The other extreme is to exercise harsh and arbitrary authority. We must not yield to either of these extremes. We must be strong, but loving leaders. God will hold us responsible for instructing our children and our congregations to live according to the Scriptures. Let us pray that He will help us to walk so close to Him that we can maintain the proper balance.
The passage in Timothy says that this father will have to exercise this authority “with all gravity.” The word translated here is semnotes. It is a very interesting word. It “denotes venerableness, dignity.” It is “the characteristic of a thing or person which entitles to reverence and respect, dignity, majesty, sanctity.” Obviously the father/pastor must be a man who so behaves himself that he inspires respect. I do not believe that this means that he cannot laugh or be pleasant to be around. However, he must not behave foolishly or without dignity. He must be essentially a very serious-minded man. My father-in-the-ministry, Elder Hassell Wallis, is such a man. I always wanted to please him and obey him. I wanted to do this because I loved and respected him. I knew that he was interested in me and always had my best interests at heart. My own father-in-the-flesh was this sort of man. My dad was a very pleasant man, who had a good sense of humor. He laughed often and enjoyed life to the fullest. But he was also a very honorable man who took his responsibilities very seriously. We children loved him with great affection, but we also greatly respected him, his life style, and what he stood for. We, as fathers and pastors, must strive to be these kinds of men.
We must have no weaknesses, character qualities, or habits of speech or behavior that would cause those we lead to lose respect for us.
We are not perfect and we will make mistakes. We must learn how to acknowledge those mistakes and to ask for forgiveness when we have done wrong. Many men have the idea that it is a sign of weakness to admit wrong and to apologize. The opposite, however, is true. Those we are over and those we serve will respect us all the more when we acknowledge our weaknesses. Thankfully, both my wife and children respect me and treat me with honor. They do this knowing that I am prone to mistakes but that I am usually quick to acknowledge it when I am wrong.
Usually a pastor who has a happy home will have a happy church.
Another Scripture that shows the family-type relations that should characterize church members is 1Ti 5:1-2: “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.” Here it is plain that we should treat each older man in our congregations with the same respect we would treat our own father. We should treat each young man as if he were our own brother. We should treat each older woman with the same respect we would render to our own mother. We should treat each younger woman in the church as we would our own sister. And we should be especially careful to behave with absolute purity in our dealings with younger women.
One area in which pastors should be very careful is in the way they treat their wives. Some men do not treat their wives appropriately and blame it on the culture in which they live. Some cultures are harsher in their treatment of women than others. However, the Holy Word of God transcends all cultures! Those who believe the Bible must treat their women as God dictates in His Word. The Christian pastor must be a great example to the ungodly world about him as to the proper treatment of women. The Bible leaves no doubt about the attitude husbands should have toward their wives. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us in Eph 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it…” We must treat our dear wives like the Lord Jesus treats us. He is patient, kind, tender, and compassionate with us. He is vitally interested in our welfare. He takes time to communicate with us. He is always ready to hear of our fears and misgivings. His ear is always open to our cries. He is never too busy to talk to us. He knows us very well. Sometimes we men are ignorant of some of the emotional needs of our own wives. This is inexcusable and is a violation of God’s Word. He has told us in 1Pe 3:7, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
One besetting sin of men seems to be harshness toward their wives. We can become very impatient when our wives displease us and be very hurting in our remarks to them. I say that this must be a very common sin of husbands because Paul addressed it specifically in Col 3:19, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” The word translated “bitter” is pikraino. It comes from a root that means “to cut, to prick.” It means “to embitter, exasperate.” We should not behave in such a manner that our wives are exasperated at us. In fact, our wives should always feel safe and comfortable in our presence. They should not dread to see us come home. One of the most beautiful passages of Scripture is found in Ru 1:9, where Naomi wished for her daughters-in-law that, “The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband…” The Hebrew word translated “rest” is used 21 times in the Old Testament and is variously translated “rest, resting place, comfortable, ease, quiet, still.” We preachers ought to consider it our sacred duty before God to have the happiest wives in the world. After all we must remember that according to Eph 5 the relationship between husband and wife is to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church.
We have already alluded to this but more must be said. What kind of attitude are we to have toward our children? How are we to behave toward them? It is true that we are over them and must insist that they obey us and live proper lives before us. But we must do this in such a way that we encourage them and set the proper example before them. They must absolutely know that we love them and are willing to sacrifice our lives, if necessary, for their sakes. We read in Eph 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The parallel passage is Col 3:21: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” The word translated discouraged is from a Greek word which means, “to be disheartened, dispirited, broken in spirit.” When training a child we need to control his will, but we must not break his spirit. A father is a masculine symbol of authority but there is plenty of room for compassion and tenderness here also. Paul made this plain in 1Th 2:11: “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children…” The basic meaning of exhort is “to encourage, strengthen.” The word translated comfort here means “to speak to, address one, whether by way of admonition and incentive, or to calm and console.” The basic meaning of the word translated charged is “to testify or bear witness.” Here, the father is no doubt sharing with his children experiences from his own life. He is telling of successes, admitting failures, and testifying as to the great faithfulness of the Lord to him. All this implies that the father spends much quality time with his children.
A father who prayerfully deals in such a way with his children will usually be blessed to have obedient children who love and respect him. For a pastor, children like these will be a great asset to his ministry.
It is imperative that we worship God in our homes. Congregational worship is indispensable. Nothing, including the home, will take the place of the church. But home worship is also a necessity. Blessed, indeed, is the father who will take the time and effort to instruct his children in the things of the Lord on a daily basis. This home worship was emphasized already in Old Testament times. Speaking of the things of the Lord it was said in De 6:7-8: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” This home worship is part of what was under consideration in Eph 6:4: “And, ye fathers provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This is a daily task.
Many fathers, strangely even pastors, either dread family worship or feel inadequate for it. Others do not see the vital importance of it and deem it be a nuisance. We need to develop an enthusiasm for this activity and to plan for it. Satan knows how important this is and he will try to hinder in any way he can. Sometimes, especially when family worship is not properly done, the children, and maybe even the wife, begin to dread it.
We should strive to make family worship as
pleasant as possible. Families should spend a little time each day in praising God together in song. It is good to sometimes let the children choose some of the songs. It will be interesting for the family to learn some new songs together. Part of the family worship should be prayer. Family members should tell what some of their needs are. We should pray diligently for our church members and others who are in need of prayer. The father does not have to do all the leading in prayer. He can often let another family member lead. A good spiritual project would be for the family to memorize some portion of Scripture together. At the beginning of each worship session they can check to how the memory work is coming along. Entire chapters of the Bible may be memorized. Perhaps there is a distinct problem in the family that needs to be addressed in the memory work. For example, let us suppose that the family has been bothered by heated arguments among some of the family members. A very helpful Scripture to memorize would be Pr 15:1: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Maybe there has been a problem with unforgiveness. A very appropriate passage to memorize in this case would be Eph 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”
No family devotional is complete without some reading of the Word of God and some teaching and exhortation from it. The devotional will go a lot better if the father has put some thought and prayer into it. Sometimes it might be good to just read books of the Bible together as a family. A chapter or so at each session might be enough. There can be infinite variety as we have 66 books of the inspired Word of God to choose from!
The dad should take into consideration the ages of his children as he conducts the family worship. A longer time of family worship would be more appropriate for older children than for the very young. Some songs that would appeal to little children are good to maintain interest and teach Scriptural truths.
The family devotional, properly planned, prayed over, and carried out, should be among the most pleasant memories of children of godly homes. One of the best–known of Primitive Baptist ministers was Elder Sylvester Hassell, who lived from 1842-1928. His father was Elder C. B. Hassell. Sylvester, in commenting on the family worship times conducted by his father, said:
As far back as I can remember he was in the habit of assembling his family around the family altar every morning and evening to read a portion of Scripture, sing a hymn of praise, and to pour forth in the most humble and reverent manner his thanksgiving and supplications at the throne of grace. I can truly say that these were the most affecting, happy, and blessed seasons of my life. They are evergreen spots in memory’s waste, forming the nearest approach to Heaven that I have ever realized on earth. He sang well, and taught his children to sing. On Sunday morning, after prayers, he took great delight in instructing his children in Scripture history and the plan of salvation, and continually, both by precept and example, he strove to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I have often felt and said that I would rather have such a father than all the riches, honors, and pleasures of the world.
Dear brothers, it would be a crowning achievement on our lives and ministries if our children and our church members could speak this way about us. Let us prayerfully strive to so worship God in our homes and in our churches.
So, help us, dear God!
Delivered May 4, 2001 at Ministers’ Conference, Iligan City, Philippines
Do What You Can
Don't Despise Little
Too often, we will not do things because we think that they are not important. When we have what we conceive to be a task of major significance we become easily motivated. However, in the daily affairs of our lives, we usually fail to see any great importance in what we are doing. Consequently, we are prone to waste time and opportunity. After thirty years in the gospel ministry , I confess that this has been one of Satan's major and most effective weapons against me. I see how big the task is, and it is so overwhelming I am sometimes paralyzed into virtual inactivity. I see others who seem to be doing great things, and what I am doing seems to pale into insignificance in comparison of what they are accomplishing. I have had a great deal of trouble with these kinds of thoughts, but I have also had some victories in overcoming them. I would like to share with you some of the things that have helped me.
I ran across a quotation by one Sydney Smith. I do not even know who he is, but it has helped me a great deal. He said, "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only a little. Do what you can." This is a wonderful thought and reminds us instantly of what Mary, the mother of our Lord, told those round about her when they were at the marriage feast in Cana. She said, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." What did Jesus tell them to do and how did they respond? In Joh 2:7 we read, "Jesus saith unto them, ‘Fill the water pots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim." This filling up the water pots was a rather menial task, but they did their best at it. We can do no differently. It is usually impossible to accomplish a great task all at once; we must constantly and consistently chip away at it.
When the Lord drove the enemies of Israel out of Caanan, He did not do it all at once. We read in De 7:22, "And the LORD thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee." This is how we must work at our tasks—by little and little.
Too often we procrastinate because we do not think we have a period of uninterrupted time that is long enough for us to get the task accomplished. We think that eventually we will have a sufficient time of leisure to begin a certain job or to work on a particular goal. Usually this time will never come. We will always have daily responsibilities that claim our time and attention. We must learn to use relatively short periods of time on a consistent basis if we are to accomplish much in our lives.
I have been inspired and helped by studying the lives of several people who learned to use every opportunity that came their way to work toward goals they had set in their lives. I will share some of their experiences with you now.
Robert Dick Wilson
One of the greatest Old Testament scholars who has ever lived was Robert Dick Wilson, who taught at Princeton University and later at Westminster Theological Seminary. Wilson was an authentic genius. I am not a genius and most of the people who read this will not be, but the way that Wilson applied himself to his studies is a great example for all of us. I recommend that you read the account of his life recorded in Which Bible? by David Otis Fuller. Wilson was at home in over forty Semitic languages. At the age of twenty-five he could read the New Testament in nine different languages. He could repeat from memory a Hebrew translation of the New Testament without missing a single syllable. He could do the same thing with large portions of the Old Testament.
These are incredible feats. How did he do it? Let us hear from Philip E. Howard:
He tells us he used his spare time. When he went out for a walk he would take a grammar with him and when he sat down to rest he would take out the book, study it a little and learn what he could. He not only made use of little bits of time, moreover he had a plan which governed his life. If he had not had such a plan and set goals to accomplish it, he would not have been motivated to take advantage of each spare moment.
What was his plan? Let us hear from Wilson, himself. "When I got to Heidelberg I made a decision. I decided - and I did it with prayer - to consecrate my life to the study of the Old Testament. I was twenty-five then; and I judged from the life of my ancestors that I should live to be seventy; so that I should have forty-five years to work. I divided the period into three parts. The first fifteen years I would devote to the study of the languages necessary. For the second fifteen I was going to devote myself to the study of the text of the Old Testament; and I reserved the last fifteen years for the work of writing the results of my previous studies and investigations, so as to give them to the world. And the Lord has enabled me to carry out that plan almost to a year."
Brothers, my goals and yours may not be as ambitious as were Wilson's, but we still need to have some. How old are you? How long do you think you will live? What do you intend to accomplish with the rest of your life? Which Scriptural subjects do you plan to master? Are there any portions of Scripture that you plan to memorize? What books do you intend to read?
Speaking of this great man, Dr. Edward Young wrote, "It is men such as Wilson, men who have not feared hard work, who have not avoided difficult problems, and who have been willing to join battle with the enemy that God has used to build His church."
Solzhenitsyn is one of the best, most courageous and most prolific writers of modern times. He is a Russian who spent many years in the Soviet prison system and in both internal and external exile. His writings about the horrible conditions in the Soviet prisons did much to cause the dissolution of the USSR. Solzhenitsyn has written many, many books. However, due to the conditions in which he was forced to live for many years of his life, he would have written very little if he had not made the best of his situation and written when he could. If he had waited for the ideal time and for favorable conditions, he would have grown old with many of his goals not accomplished. He wrote an autobiographical book entitled The Oak and the Calf. In this work he described the conditions under which he lived and wrote. Many of his books were written in secret. The secret police were constantly watching him and would have seized his manuscripts if they had found them. Often he wrote late at night, hand writing his material in tiny letters on small scraps of paper. He would often have to hide these scraps, perhaps in a knothole in a tree. He seldom had long, uninterrupted periods in which to write. He wrote three gigantic volumes of The Gulag Archipelago under these conditions.
The point I am obviously trying to make is that much can be done, even under very trying circumstances, if one is determined, resourceful, and consistent. Solzhenitsyn is an old man now. He must certainly have a great feeling of satisfaction and gratitude that he did what he could when he could. He finally was exiled from the USSR and came to Vermont. There he continued to write. He had access to many books. He had a large room and many tables where he could lay out his manuscripts. He had research assistants. He got a lot of work done. However, much of his most important work, for which he was awarded many prizes and other honors, was done under very difficult circumstances.
Our work may not be the same as his, but we can learn much from his example. After reading this I pray that no one will complain that the time and circumstances are not right for you to do what God has laid on your heart. I pray that, with the help of God, you will find a way to do it.
Truly one of the heroes of modern times in conservative Christian circles would have to be Dr. Henry Morris. Dr. Morris began his career as a civil engineer. Very early in his career he became vitally involved in the creation/evolution battle. Most Christians had virtually capitulated to the theistic evolutionists who attempted to reconcile the Bible with some kind of evolutionary mechanism. Dr. Morris rightly considered this to be an unacceptable compromise. He went against the tide facing what seemed to be unconquerable opposition. He had few resources compared to those of his opposition. He wrote books, started colleges, made speeches, and engaged in many other related activities. How did he possibly do all this? He was motivated, organized, and consistent. He drew his motivation from his unswerving conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. He was organized in that he did not waste time but got the most out of each day. His consistency lay in the fact that he steadily worked each and every day. Lectures written for the classroom also became chapters in his books. Speeches became chapters in books or tracts and pamphlets.
He did not have a great deal of money or a large staff. His mother, who was a devoted Christian, typed many of his manuscripts. The volume and quality of work that this man has turned out has been amazing. Now that he is in the sunset of his life, he must derive great satisfaction and thanksgiving that he did not "nickel and dime" his time away, but he redeemed his minutes and hours for the service of his Master. Will you feel that way when you reach that stage in your life?
The Old Shepherd
One of the most inspiring true stories I have ever read was told by Karen Burton Mains in her book Making Sunday Special. She related a story which was originally told by a journalist in a nature magazine. This journalist had encountered a shepherd in a mountainous area of France. He spent the night with the shepherd in his hut. Right before bed time he saw the shepherd take some acorns out of a bag and closely examine and count them. Upon inquiring, he found that each evening the shepherd always counted out one hundred acorns with the aim of planting them the next day. He had done this each day for several years. It is easy to see that consistently followed this practice would lead to the planting of 36,500 oak trees in a year's time. Done for ten years this would mean the planting of 365,000 trees! The shepherd had been at this for a number of years and it was evident that things were beginning to change on the mountainside.
Several years later the journalist returned to the scene where he found the shepherd, who had become an old man, still consistently following his daily practice of planting the acorns. The reporter was astonished at the change which had taken place in the countryside. The trees had grown until they comprised a small forest. The root structure had provided for a watershed. Forest foliage had grown up under the trees and many animals had made their homes there. It was absolutely amazing what the consistent, tireless efforts of one man had done.
If this man had been spasmodic and inconsistent in his lifestyle, these astounding results would never have taken place. He did not plant the entire forest in a day or in a year. He just did a comparatively little bit each day. Over the years the cumulative results were absolutely amazing. Can you imagine the tremendous sense of satisfaction this simple old shepherd must have felt in the waning years of his life as he looked at the small forest on the hill side? How thankful he must have felt for each day's work over the past several decades. It would have been too late if he had waited until the last several years of his life and then had made an intense and frenzied effort to plant the hillside with trees.
God has probably not called on you to plant a forest, but he has called you out of darkness into light to do His work. Are you as consistent as this old shepherd was? This old man just let the world go by while he quietly and constantly did what God had called him to do. The results were amazing. The results of your life, consistently pursued, can also be amazing and God-honoring.
What about You?
What do you hope to accomplish in your ministry? What truths would you like to master from God's word? How many portions of Scripture, even whole chapters, would you like to memorize so that you could meditate and preach from them? Is there anything that you would like to share with God's children on the written page? Do you want to leave any of the results of your studies to your children and others of the coming generations? These are weighty questions which you should take time to think about. When you have reached some conclusions about what you should do, you should devise a plan. This plan may have to be altered from time to time, but if you do not aim at anything you are sure to hit it!
I do not have a lot to brag about in these matters. I have failed in many ways. Procrastination and discouragement have been two of Satan's most potent weapons used against me. As I look back over thirty years in the ministry, I wish I had done much, much more.
However, I have had some successes, and I would like to share some of them with you. I had to work my way through college. I went to school full-time and worked at least thirty hours a week. When I began to have some thoughts about the ministry, I wondered what I was going to do. Where would I ever find time to study? Would I just have to wait until I had completed my college work before I began to study my Bible in earnest? In my case I was blessed to have a job that did not require too much concentrated thought once I was trained to do it. I was an "order picker" at Sears, Roebuck, and Company. I soon memorized where all the catalog items were located and I could get them and process the orders almost on "automatic pilot." I began to carry Scriptures, written on index cards, in my pocket. I wrote down many of the Scriptures which were used as proof texts for our articles of faith. I would go over these as I went about my work. Even though my job was not a very pleasant one, I spent many happy hours as I worked while almost in a world of my own. My feet were at Sears, but my head and my heart were in heaven!
I became well-grounded in many of our cardinal doctrines in this way. After a Scripture has been well memorized then one can do a lot of meditating on it. As I began to memorize more and more Scriptures, I became aware of how one part of the Bible related to other parts. One passage would shed great light on others. Studying the Bible can be compared to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. When you begin, it is difficult to see the big picture. However, as you patiently and consistently put one little piece here and another little piece there, the picture begins to take shape. In Bible study as in many other things, the Scripture in Ga 6:9 is pertinent: "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
Over the years I have tried to develop many different plans to be consistent in my studying, memorizing, meditating, and related activities. Often I have had to revise my goals and methods, but I still glad I have had some methods or I would not have even accomplished what little I have done. I have chosen certain goals at the beginning of the year and monitored myself to see if these were accomplished. I have used driving time behind the steering wheel of an automobile to do a lot of meditating and review memory work. (I do not recommend driving time to memorize new Scriptures. You have to be too mentally involved in this kind of thing to be a safe driver. I had several close calls this way, until I finally learned my lesson.)
When studying, I have tried to commit my thoughts to writing, even if no one would ever see the writing but myself. There is something about writing that forces you to focus more intently and to clarify your thoughts. Never throw your notes away. File them according to some system where you can examine them later. Some things you think you will never forget you will find that you will certainly forget.
I would like to challenge each of you to determine to memorize several Scriptures with which to teach each of the cardinal doctrines that are most surely believed among us. Do you know ten passages from memory that teach the doctrine of Total Depravity? If not, shame on you! Get to work today. What about the glorious doctrine of Unconditional Election? What about the Biblical teaching of Particular Redemption? Do you know ten or so Scriptures from memory that teach the truth of Irresistible Grace? What about the Preservation of the saints?
Can you accurately define and illustrate from the Bible such words as justification, propitiation, redemption, etc. If someone were to ask you to teach immediately on the doctrine of the Resurrection, would you be able to do so? How much do you know about Bible prophecy? Can you defend your views on eschatology (the doctrine of the last things)? Do you even have any views on this subject?
What do the Scriptures teach about baptism? Could you defend yourself against a well-informed baby sprinkler? What do you know about the Lord's Supper? Are you well-informed on congregational church polity? Are you a good leader of God's people or do you just let the church drift along and do the best they can?
Are you well acquainted with church history, particularly Baptist history, and even more particularly with Primitive Baptist history? Can you distinguish between what is truly Biblical and which is merely traditional?
Get to studying, my brethren, so that you can hear someday, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Zack GuessAugust 29, 1997
SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUNG PREACHERS
I hope the thoughts I have put together here will be helpful to young men who may feel that God is calling them to preach. I do not consider myself to be some great standard. I was ordained to the full functions of the gospel ministry on April 9, 1967. It is hard for me to believe that. I have been engaged in this great work for almost thirty years. The Lord has been very good to me as I have tried to preach and to pastor. I have not always been as faithful as I should have, but I have never regretted devoting my life to this great calling. I feel as Paul expressed himself in Eph 3:8: "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."
My Call to Preach
I struggled for some years with my feelings about being called to preach. When I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, several able young preaching gifts began to be made manifest among the Primitive Baptists. These men were so gifted that there was no doubt in anyone's mind that they had been called by God. Two of these young men were Joseph R. Holder and Sonny Pyles. My brother Lewis and I spent some time in the summer with Joe Holder, who lived on a farm with his parents near Booneville, Mississippi. I was so impressed with how much time Brother Joe spent in the Bible. He read it in the morning. He read it while we were sharpening our hoes in the field. He read it at night when we got through with work. He talked about the Scriptures all the time. He was always thinking about Bible answers to questions. He was always asking questions of ministers and other older, more knowledgeable brethren. He had the advantage of being very close to two very able ministers in our area. One was his uncle, Elder J. D. Holder. The other was Elder J. M. Bullard.
I had a good mind and had been very interested in the things of the Lord ever since my baptism on July 18, 1954, when I was thirteen years old. Many people began to think that maybe I had a call to preach. They would put me up to what we called "introduce" the services. This practice consisted of calling on some brother to precede the preacher by reading some portion of Scripture, maybe commenting on it, and offering prayer. I did this a few times and people in general seemed to be edified by my efforts. In time I began to back off from this because I was shy about it, and was not sure I was called, and did not want to be presumptuous. In time, my pastor Elder E. C. Holder did not call on me as much. Now and then, over the course of the next few years, I would have urges that maybe I should be a preacher. Most of these urges were because of desires that I had to see the churches prosper in their service to God. I remember on one occasion I was in attendance on the Friday session of an associational meeting. This was the business session. There were not very many people in attendance, and the ones that were there did not seem to have any enthusiasm for what they were doing. They seemed to be just going about a routine. I became alarmed. The thought struck me that these dear people were in a spiritual slumber. I wanted so badly for someone to call on me to speak. I wanted to exhort them. I wanted to challenge and encourage them. I wanted to say something like this: “Brethren, we serve a great God. He has all power Let us diligently pray for Him to send us a revival. Let us wake up from our spiritual slumber, and serve our dear Lord with all our might." Of course, no one could read my mind. No one but God knew how I felt. No one called on me to say anything. This feeling soon diminished, but on several occasions I felt much the same way.
I began to go to college with the aim of becoming a schoolteacher. In the back of my mind, I believe that I had a suspicion that the Lord might yet call me to the work of the gospel ministry, and I knew that as a teacher I would at least have the summers off to devote to church. In these days it was very rare for any Primitive Baptist to believe in, much less teach, that a pastor should give his full time to the work of preaching and pastoring. One thing that I did in college I believe the Lord providentially led me into was the study of New Testament Greek. I took eighteen semester hours of Greek. I will say more about the study of Greek later, but it would be hard for me to overestimate the blessing it has been to have some knowledge of the language the Holy Spirit originally wrote the New Testament in! I believe the statement to be correct that "the best commentary on the English New Testament is the Greek New Testament."
As I went further in college, I proved to be a very apt student, and I loved the world of academics. I was very impressed with the study of history, and I was strongly influenced by several brilliant history professors that I studied under. I decided to pursue a Ph. D. degree in history and to become a college professor. All this time, however, I remained active in my church. Almost all my friends were church friends. An older cousin James Allen Rushing who subsequently became a Primitive Baptist preacher, was my best friend for several years. Most of my extracurricular activities were church-related. I remained very interested in the prosperity of God's church.
When I was in my early twenties, the group which became Raleigh Primitive Baptist Church began to meet. One of the leaders in this effort was the man who later became my father-in-law, Brother A.C. (Tony) Machiavello. The man who became the first pastor of this church, Elder Wiley Sammons, began to call on me to "introduce" services at the Friday night meetings which I almost always attended. Brother Tony encouraged me to study and prepare for the times when I would be called on to speak. When I would speak, Brother Tony would tell me that he had heard people say that what I had said edified them. I felt so inferior that I found this hard to believe, but this was encouraging to me. I began to study more and more. I began to think more seriously about the possibility that I was called to the ministry.
In my struggles about the call to preach I came across some material in A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity by John Gill. Gill wrote of the various elements that constitute a call to the ministry.
An internal call; which lies in gifts bestowed, and in the furniture of a man's mind, and in the disposition of it to make use of them in the service of God; for God never calls a man to any service, but he gives him abilities for it; which, when a man is sensible of, and is satisfied God has bestowed a gift upon him, he cannot be easy to wrap up his talent in a napkin, but is desirous of making use of it in a public manner; not by a mere impulse, through vanity of mind, and with ambitious views, and sordid ends; but from a principle of love to the souls of men, and to the glory of God; this is the internal call, of which a man's gifts are an evidence to himself and others.
When I read this, it set my soul on fire. This was exactly a description of how I felt. As I began to contemplate this call to preach, I completely lost my interest in being a college professor. I was engaged in writing a thesis in pursuit of my M. A. degree in history. I went to my major professor and told him that I was not going to be a professor, but that I was going to be a preacher. I told him I had lost interest in my studies. I requested that he let me drop the thesis, take two more courses instead, get my M. A. that way, and be through with my schooling. He graciously agreed, and I was free to devote all my mental powers and leisure time to the Word of God! I was thankful and thrilled.
I have related this experience in the hope that it may be of help to others. I am not saying that the experience of everyone the Lord calls to preach will be exactly the same, but I do believe there will be some common elements. The only reasons any man should desire to preach and minister the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is for the glory of God and for the good of His people!
A Father in the Ministry
It is very important for young men who hope to be gospel ministers among the Primitive Baptists to pray for the Lord to give them access to faithful older ministers who have learned vital things by study and by experience. Primitive Baptists, rightly, do not believe in theological seminaries. These institutions were not set up by Christ. The method that was established in apostolic times for the training of ministers was the apprenticeship method. Jesus, Himself, used this method. The apostles were His companions for the duration of His earthly ministry. They watched how He handled situations. They heard Him preach. They asked Him questions. He often taught them in private settings. They even learned from Him as they heard Him pray. It left such a mark on them that we read in Ac 4:13, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men. They marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus."
From a reading of the New Testament it is obvious that this apprenticeship relation between older and younger ministers was the one designed by God to train preachers. The Apostle Paul referred to this relationship as a father-son connection. He referred to Timothy, Titus, and others as his sons. When Paul knew that he would soon depart this life, he gave Timothy instructions on how to train the future generation of preachers. He said in 2Ti 2:2, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
All young men aspiring to the work of the gospel ministry should prayerfully seek out one or more older experienced men to help them in their preparation for this great work. They should watch the older man, maybe taking notes on their observations. They should ask him questions on what he believes about certain Scriptures, doctrines, and practices. They should ask him how he has or how he would handle certain problems. They should ask his advice on books to read, on methods of Bible study, etc. They should go with him as he does hospital visiting, visiting of shut- ins, and other pastoral work. They should ask him if there are any ways in which they might assist him. They should ask him if there are any mistakes that he has made, and that he would be willing to warn them to avoid. These are just a few suggestions on how a young minister could greatly benefit from the advice and example of an older minister.
I was blessed to have a very wonderful father in the ministry, Elder Hassell Wallis. I met Brother Wallis when I was about twenty-four or twenty-five years old. What I found in him was a servant of the Lord who was honest and dedicated. He did not indulge in ecclesiastical politics, as many ministers did. With him the bottom line was not how best to please men, but how to please God! He was a very controversial man and was more interested in being Biblical than in being traditional. He never asked me to do anything dishonest. He always reminded me that God was my final Judge, and that I needed to be careful to find out what His will was and to do it. He did not try to tell me what to do all the time, but he was always ready to give his best advice when I asked for it. We prayed together and visited the sick together
There have been several other men who have had a great influence on me and on my development as a minister of the gospel. You need to learn all you can from others.
I cannot emphasize too strongly the value of memorizing the Bible. There are several reasons why this is a good practice. For one thing, memorizing is good mental work. It guarantees that you will not become mentally lazy. Another good thing about this practice is that it forces you to examine every word of the Scripture you are memorizing in detail. As you do this, you will discover truths in the Scriptures that you would never have seen on a cursory reading. If you memorize, you will be carrying the Bible with you wherever you go. You will have the Bible in your mind, available for meditation, when you are driving, when you are bathing, when you are standing in line at the grocery store, when you are mowing the lawn, and on many other occasions.
Perhaps the greatest value to a preacher from memory work comes from the fact that when the Holy Spirit gives you preaching liberty on some subject, you can preach with much authority when you quote the inspired Word of God to prove what you are teaching. When the Lord Jesus Christ had finished the Sermon on the Mount, it was said of His teaching: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." We don't have any authority of our own: but when we accurately quote Scripture, we have behind us the full authority of the inspired Word of God. When quoting of Scripture is done under the leadership of the Spirit of God, there is great power in the sermon.
There are two primary ways of memorizing Scripture, and both should be done. Sometimes we should memorize entire books or chapters of the Bible. The first entire book I ever memorized was the book of Philippians. This was a wonderful experience. As I memorized this book, I studied it. I read it over and over and took notes on my reading. I looked up every word in the Greek. I read several commentaries on the book. I studied the circumstances surrounding the writing of this epistle. I did this by consulting conservative Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, Bible handbooks, etc. Eventually, I wrote a commentary of my own. I preached sermon after sermon from this wonderful book.
Since that time, I have memorized several other New Testament books, a number of chapters of Old Testament books, quite a number of Psalms, and other passages of Scripture. This has been a great blessing to me and I cannot recommend it too highly. I do not have a great facility for memorizing. For me it has to come by hard and constant work. I will sometimes work on one verse for an entire week! To memorize and stay at it you must set goals. For example, you must determine to memorize a certain portion each year. Carry the Bible with you at all times. Memorize every opportunity you get. Perhaps you can get someone to agree to memorize a portion of Scripture with you, and you can encourage and check up on each other.
Another type of memorizing that needs to be done is to memorize by subject matter. Some of these subjects should be doctrinal and some should be practical. Every young Old Baptist preacher should have an intimate acquaintance with the doctrines of grace. He should be ready at all times to give an answer when people ask questions about basic doctrines. Also, if you have memorized several passages of Scripture on a doctrine, you will be amazed as you go over these passages in your meditations, how much the Lord will reveal to you about this truth. I will give several lists of Scriptures on several subjects that may serve as guidelines for you. None of these lists is exhaustive, but each of them is just suggestive.
God's Sovereignty: 1Ch 29:12,12. Ps 103:19. Ps 115:1-3. Isa 49:9-11. Da 4:35. Ac 17:24-26. Eph 1:11. Ro 11:33-36. Re 4:11.
Total Depravity: Ge 2:16-17; 6:5. Job 14:4. Ps 51:5; 58:3. Pr 15:8. Jer 13:23; 17:9. Mt 15:18-20. Joh 5:25; 8:41-44,47; 10:26. Ro 3:10-19,23; 5:12; 8:7-8. 1Co 1:18; 2:14. Eph 2:1-3. Col 2:13. Tit 1:15.
Unconditional Election: De 7:6-8. Ps 65:4. Mr 13:20,22. Lu 18:7. Ro 8:28-30,33. 1Pe 1:2. Ro 9:10-13; 16:13. Eph 1:4. Col 3:12. 1Th 1:4-5. 2Ti 1:9; 2:10. 2Pe 1:10. Re 17:8. Php 4:3. Lu 10:20.
Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption: Mt 1:21; 20:28. Joh 10:12. Ro 3:24. 2Co 5:21. Ga 3:13. Heb 9:12,28. 1Pe 1:18-19; 2:24-25; 3:18. Isa 53:5-6.
Irresistible Grace: Ps 110:3. Joh 3:8; 5:25; 6:29,37,44,63. Ro 8:28-30. 2Co 4:6; 5:17. Php 1:29. Tit 3:5-6. 1Pe 1:21.
Preservation of the Saints: Php 1:6. Joh 10:27-30. Ro 8:38-39. Jude 24-25.
The Importance of Doctrine
I cannot stress too strongly the importance of becoming acquainted with the great doctrines of the Bible. To do this become acquainted with books on Systematic Theology. There are several good ones. The soundest one overall is The Body of Divinity by John Gill. You should immediately get this for your library, and begin to become acquainted with it. You should become familiar with great themes such as: redemption, propitiation, justification, sanctification, predestination, etc. You should learn of the great themes that concern the Lord Jesus Christ such as: exaltation, humiliation, His active and passive obedience, His mediatorial offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. As you can see, there is much to learn and to rejoice in and to teach and preach about!
If you would be a useful minister of the gospel, you must study very much! You must find the time to study. This often means you have to give up some hobbies and other recreations which deprive you of study time. You must "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2Ti 2:15) The people will be encouraged if they can tell you are growing in your knowledge of and devotion to the Word of God. You must "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all" (1Ti 4:15). As you study, make a habit of writing down what you learn, and filing it away for future reference. You will be surprised at what you will forget, if you do not do this. As the years go by and you learn more and more, your files will build up and you will have a rich source of study materials.
You should make it a habit of doing diligent study for your entire ministerial career; but now, at the beginning of your ministry, is the most crucial time of study. You are now building the foundation for your entire ministry. The Primitive Baptists have been plagued with too many men who were too lazy to study and who never became able in the Scriptures. A lot more could be said about study methods, but I won't go into that here. This is a great subject which deserves a paper of its own. Consult with other ministers about their study methods.
A workman needs tools to adequately perform his job. Some of the most important tools that a gospel minister needs are good books and other sources of information. You need to consult with experienced ministers about what you need. You should begin to build up your library now, because books are becoming very expensive. You will need Bible dictionaries. encyclopedias, and handbooks. You will need concordances. You will need biblical maps and atlases. You will need good commentaries. You will need good books on the history of Christianity. As a Primitive Baptist minister, it is absolutely imperative that you get as many books as you can which have been written by past and contemporary Primitive Baptist writers. This is just a suggestive list. Many more things could be said but just get started! Much information is available today on computers, and I would encourage any young minister to become acquainted with these useful tools We have several ministers who are very knowledgeable in what is available.
Primitive Baptist History
There is a shameful and alarming ignorance today among many Primitive Baptists concerning their heritage. This is a very dangerous state of affairs. If we do not know where we have come from, we will not realize the significance of the present, and will have no guidance as to how to prepare for the future. Every PB preacher should be thoroughly familiar with the London Confession of Faith, the Kehukee Declaration, the Black Rock Address, and with many other things that concern our past. We should even know of the mistakes and failures of our forefathers, so that we can avoid their mistakes. Every Primitive Baptist preacher should obtain and read The History of the Church of God by C. B. and Sylvester Hassell. Buy this book as soon as possible. There are some copies available now, but I doubt if it will ever be reprinted.
I mentioned earlier how great a blessing the study of New Testament Greek had been to me. Not only did I take eighteen hours in undergraduate school, later I took several courses on a more advanced level. There are many language helps available today, both in books and on computer, which make it possible to use a lot of Greek without having studied it, but there is really no substitute for actually studying the language. I will gladly recommend correspondence courses to any who may be interested. I would be willing to teach anyone either in person or by correspondence the equivalent of six semester hours of this wonderful language. It would also be valuable to study the Hebrew of the Old Testament. I once enrolled in a correspondence course in Biblical Hebrew from the University of Wisconsin. I learned some, but I never did finish the course. I regret that now. I do believe that Greek would be more valuable for most preachers than Hebrew, but it would be wonderful to study some in each of them.
You would actually have to do a little Bible study using Biblical languages to see how exciting and how valuable it is. Doing word studies, alone, opens up a treasure house of spiritual truth!
Some ministers make the mistake of cramming their heads full of Biblical knowledge, but it has little effect on their lives. This is tragic! God did not call you to be a lecturer; He called you to be a minister of the gospel. You must not only teach the gospel you must live it! You must demonstrate a sweet spirit. You must be humble. You must be forgiving. You must be easy to get along with. You must live a life of the utmost integrity. You must be morally pure. You must have a very active and warm private prayer life. In short, you must demonstrate to the people of God how to live a Christian life. The people must see that you walk with God!
Wife and Family
Every man needs a good wife, but you have got to have one! A minister's wife can either be a great help or a great hindrance to him. Not every good, Christian woman is cut out to be a preacher's wife. Most likely, if you are as dedicated as you should be, your wife is going to have to live on a lower standard of living than if you were engaged in some other life work. Some women are not willing to do this. If they are, they may not do it cheerfully. A minister's wife lives in a "glass house." She has to endure a lot of social pressures. In short, it is not easy to be a preacher's wife. You will have to ask God to give you a very dedicated Christian, who loves you and the cause of Christ, and the work you am doing as a minister, or you are going to be in big trouble! Any of you that know my situation knows that my wife is a great blessing to me. She constantly encourages me in my work. She is very hospitable. It is hard work to extend hospitality. Being hospitable means being willing to do a lot of extra cooking and house cleaning. It means burning a lot of "midnight oil." Many woman are not willing to do this.
If the Lord does bless you to marry and have children, then you must put a lot of work and prayer into being a good parent. Paul told Timothy that children of pastors are reflections on those pastors. The behavior of your children will either greatly strengthen or greatly weaken your ministry. This is another reason you need a good wife, who shares your Biblical ideas of rearing children.
When a man first begins to preach among the Primitive Baptists, it is very rare for him to be able to devote his entire time to the work of the ministry. Many of our churches are too small to provide full financial support to their pastor. Others could do this but do not, either out of ignorance or covetousness. You must be prepared to "make tents." Some dedicated ministers have to do this for their entire ministry. However, you should prayerfully strive to get to the point where you can devote all your time to "prayer and to the ministry of the word." To do this, you need to learn to have a more modest lifestyle than most people enjoy. You may have to rent or buy a more modest house. You may have to drive a used car. You may not be able to dress in name brand clothes. You may not be able to have a lucrative retirement plan. All this may sound a little sobering, but if you are not dedicated enough to the great work that you believe God has called you to, to make a few sacrifices, you are probably not going to have much of an impact on your generation. It is worth all the sacrifices you may have to make. Learn to live a life of faith, praying for God to meet your specific needs. Read the biographies of men who have lived such lives, men such as George Mueller.
This is one area that people do not want to talk about, but we must. Many ministers have made ship wreck of the faith by committing sexual sin. How sad to see a man fall because he succumbed to Satan's temptations. Never flirt with any woman. Do not compliment any sister in the church on the way she looks. Do not tell her you like her dress, or the way her hair is fixed. This is playing with emotional dynamite! Keep your conversation with the opposite sex on a very spiritual level. Be extremely careful when you may be called upon to counsel or advise some woman. Do not be alone with a sister when you counsel her. I would suggest that you talk this matter over with some experienced ministers and learn safeguards from them. [Since I first wrote this, there has emerged a new danger—the internet. It is so easy to receive pornographic material on our computers, that many ministers have fallen prey to this temptation. You must not allow this to happen. It will ruin your spirituality and could easily lead to the end of your ministry. We must remember what the Apostle wrote in 1Pe 2:11, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul…"]
Love the Sheep
Remember that God's children are called sheep. Sometimes they can do some exasperating things. They can be stubborn and unresponsive. Resist the temptation of getting mad at them and "chewing them out." Tell them the truth but do it in love. Prove by your constant pastoral care of them that you really do love them. Pray for them often. One of the best things that any pastor can do is to pray over the church membership list on a regular basis. A wise old minister told me many years ago that if you come down hard on God's people in the preaching, you had better make sure before you do this that they know you love them. Otherwise they will resist your ministry.
One of the most important parts of your work as a pastor will be in advising or counseling people from the Word of God. People often need help with real problems in their daily lives. Many ministers do not like to get involved in this work, because it is sometimes very difficult and time consuming. Most ministers feel inadequate for this work. Other ministers are willing to do it, but they read the wrong books and go about it the wrong way. Counseling is very popular in Christian circles today. The bookstores are full of books on "Christian" counseling. Most of them, however, are very unsound. They try to come up with some kind of mix with the Bible and one or more schools of thought from modern psychology.
Back in the early 1970s, I came across a book that I fully believe God directed me to in His marvelous providence. This book set me on fire and showed me the way how to counsel using nothing but the Word of God. The book was Competent to Counsel by Jay E. Adams. If you will read this book and if you believe the Bible, you will see why it had such an impact on me. It is extremely clear and self-explanatory. Adams has written many other works on counseling since then, and most of them have been outstanding. One of his books that I consider to be indispensable is The Christian Counselor’s Manual. You need to learn to do premarital and marriage counseling. You need to help people in their
daily living. One of the advantages to reading Adams' books is that you will get many ideas for sermons from them. We live in an ungodly age when the Lord's people desperately need instruction from the Word of God on how to conduct their daily lives. Much more could be said about this, but if you will start with Competent to Counsel right now and read a few pages a week, the Lord will lead you into further study. Elder Lasserre Bradley, Jr. is also a proponent of Jay Adams' work, and he has an album of tapes that would be very helpful.
Preaching is only part of a minister’s work. He must shepherd or pastor God's people. It is a sad fact that many able Primitive Baptist preachers are not good pastors. One reason for this is that pastoring is hard work. You must commit a lot of time and prayer to this work. It is not as stimulating or exciting as is pulpit preaching. But the work is absolutely vital if the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ are going to be built up. The best way to learn to pastor is to apprentice under an experienced pastor. Watch him. Go with him as he pastors. Pick his brain. A very good book on this subject was also written by Jay E. Adams. It is Shepherding God's Flock. Get this book now and begin to read a few pages a week in it. There are many ideas of how to take care of God's people in these pages. You will have to read the book with discretion because Adams is a Presbyterian and some of his ideas on church government are not correct. You can also get some good hints on pastoring from the practical section of The Body of Divinity by John Gill. You should make it a lifetime work of always sharpening your pastoral skills
Don't be a "prima donna." Some ministers think that they must always wear a suit and tie and that they are above doing a little manual labor. Do not succumb to this trap. Nothing draws men together faster than working together on a common project. When you are working and feeling close to each other, there is a good opportunity for a brother to “open up” and tell you of something that has been burdening him. I am not a good plumber, but a few years ago I spent a day as kind of a plumber's helper as we were working on a church related project. I handed him tools and helped in other ways. He had had some bad experiences with preachers in the past. I found out later that he had been moved by the fact that he knew there were some preachers who were “not afraid to get their hands dirty." I believe since that time that I have been of some spiritual benefit to him.
Of course, if God has called you to preach, this is the most vital part of your work. Do not be artificial. Do not try to copy someone else in your speaking style. Be yourself. But, be your best self. This has been one area of my ministry that I have not worked on hard enough. I usually speak too fast, and do not always enunciate my words clearly enough. Listen to yourself on tape with the intent of detecting and correcting weak points. Ask mature Christians to give you constructive criticism on your pulpit delivery. Always be trying to improve. Remember, however, that the best eloquence you will ever demonstrate from the pulpit will be when you are filled with the Holy Spirit. You need to spend much time in prayer that God will graciously fill you with His Spirit and that He will give you preaching liberty. You cannot store this up. You must be totally dependent on God each time you attempt to preach. If you must, use an outline or a few notes. However, be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit as you preach. As you gain experience in the ministry and gain a good bit of Biblical knowledge, you will be able to do more extemporaneous preaching. You will be able to be more flexible as you come to the pulpit.
One of the qualifications that you must possess as a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be a "lover of good men." (Tit 1:8) Do not undermine another preacher. Do not try to turn members of his church against him. Treat him as you would want to be treated. If he falls into error, do not be part of a "lynch mob" that gets behind his back and gets others to declare "non-fellowship" with him. Rather, go to him alone and try to help him. Do not become jealous of your fellow preachers. We have different gifts. All the gifts that God has given to His church are valuable if they are used the right way. We need each other. If you think that a brother can preach better than you can, there are two things that you can do about it: You can thank God for the gift that He has sent to His church, and you can pray for the brother! You can also start studying, meditating, and praying harder and then you will be preaching better!
Do not play ecclesiastical politics. This has been a curse to the Primitive Baptists. There is no office in the New Testament Church that is higher than the office of local pastor. The Bible does not give higher authority to associational moderators, church paper editors, and popular "traveling elders." There is no New Testament authority for a preacher or a group of preachers to meet and decide who may go preach where, who is orderly and disorderly, and similar questions. We have too many cowards and “yes men" among Primitive Baptist preachers who go against their consciences and their better judgments because they are afraid of offending some influential minister. Do not succumb to this. Be your own man before God!
There are a lot of jokes about the relationship between preachers and deacons, but they are inappropriate. There have been some clashes between deacons and ministers, but this is not how God designed it to be. Deacons ought to be a preacher’s best friends and supporters. The office of deacon was instituted to remove an unnecessary burden from the ministers of the gospel. You must help your deacons to study their Biblical qualifications and role. You must help them become filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom. I have had, for the most part, very good experiences with deacons. One good deacon brother even taught me how to baptize when the first three people in my ministerial experience made professions of faith! I did not even know for sure the best way to get them in and out of the water! Brother Will Ed Norton of Pine Hill PB Church, Falkner, Mississippi, spent the afternoon showing me how to do it. He had seen hundreds of baptisms, and he knew just what to do. Many times, some good deacon brother has discovered a need that I or my family has had and has caused the church to respond to that need. Some good deacons I have had the blessing of working with have been brethren Claude Ewing, Tony Machiavello, Kevin Poe, Keifor Beauchamp, and Herman Spicer. [Since I have written this I have also had the blessing of working with good deacons, Jarrett Atkinson and Noah Guess].
These are only a few guidelines. I hope they will be helpful. God deserves your very best. His sheep, for whom He died, also deserve your very best!
September 20, 1995
Teach Others Also:
Preparing Men for the Ministry of the Gospel
Historically, Primitive Baptists have been opposed to Bible colleges and seminaries in training men for the ministry of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not believe that these institutions are authorized in the New Testament. The brethren in 1832 stated objections to these institutions in the Black Rock Address. The writers of the Black Rock Address plainly stated that they did not object to a college education, but they did object to the necessity of such an education in training men for the gospel ministry. They specifically objected to theological seminaries and Bible colleges. Space does not permit here to consider all their objections, but I would encourage any interested party to read what our forefathers had to say on this subject.
I believe they were correct and Biblical in their objections. There is not a record of a Bible college or a theological seminary in the entire New Testament. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not trained in such an institution nor were His apostles. When Jesus taught on one occasion, the people were astonished at His knowledge and commented in the following fashion, “And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (Joh 7:15). Jesus Christ had been brought up to follow a trade and had not had a rabbinical education or formal theological training.
Peter and John also astonished some Jewish authorities with their boldness and ability. The Jewish Sanhedrin was amazed at these men and expressed this amazement in the following words: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Ac 4:13). This does not mean that Peter and John were stupid, incapable, or ignorant in the sense in which we usually use that word today. It simply means they did not have a formal, rabbinical education.
It is plain by both precept and example that the New Testament way of training men for the ministry was the apprenticeship method. An apprentice is one who trains and learns from one who has supposedly mastered a certain trade. The master does some formal teaching, but much of the learning process consists in the apprentice watching the master and gradually doing what the master does. The apprentice learns by observing and doing under the supervision of the master.
This precept is plainly set forth in 2Ti 2:2, where Paul told Timothy: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” This is a picture of a minister training ministers. The context is obviously in the setting of the church, which is the “pillar and ground of the truth.”
The examples of this in the New Testament are numerous. Paul constantly seemed to be on the lookout for gifted young men whom he took with him on his evangelistic journeys. The ultimate example is the Lord Jesus, who was the first pastor of His church. He trained the twelve by having them to be with Him constantly, as they learned from Him by watching and listening. This is beautifully set forth in Mr 3:14: “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach…” What a wonderful expression, “that they should be with him!”
Each pastor whom God blesses to influence young ministers has his own background, preferences, personality, and situation. There will some common elements in all ministerial training, but each situation will also be unique.
Each pastor must pray for wisdom for the proper way to train and influence the young man the Lord has placed under him. No one can learn it all. The longer most of us study the more we realize we do not know. However, each of us must be diligent in our studies for our entire lifetimes. We must “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” (2Ti 2:15).
The pastor will have to invest much time teaching his son in the ministry. There will be certain subjects he has studied and he will certainly impart this knowledge to the younger minister. There may be particular subjects the pastor has written on and he will have the young minister to read them. There may be sermon tapes he will have the young man listen to.
He may also supervise other areas in his education. For example, he may recommend that he take a correspondence course in certain subjects, for example, A Survey of the New Testament. However, he would have to closely monitor this, because not all the theology would be sound. There are correspondence courses in New Testament Greek and in Biblical Hebrew that could be very valuable.
There may be some Primitive Baptist minister who has studied a particular subject and has become very adept in it. It might be good to invite him to come teach both you and your son in the ministry on this particular subject.
There are a variety of ways in which knowledge can be imparted. The ministerial father or mentor must prayerfully seek God’s wisdom. In the final analysis, he is responsible for the young man the Lord has placed in his care, and he will answer to the Lord for how he discharges his responsibility.
It is also true that the older minister will no doubt grow very much as he trains the younger minister. When a man has to teach something, he must first have a thorough knowledge of it. In fact, the father in the ministry should provide a good example to the young minister as the older man continues to diligently study until the end of his life. Paul still wanted the “books and the parchments” while he was in prison in Rome awaiting execution. Even when he was an old man, my father-in-the-ministry, Elder Hassell Wallis, constantly studied God’s Word. When I would go to his study, he would have his Bible out and books piled all over the table.
Even though each situation may be unique, some things should be common to any proper theological education. There should be no branch of theology that is completely neglected. First, there should be a basic acquaintance with each book of the Bible. I have been blessed to have several fine young men train under me for the gospel ministry. I have required that they read the entire Bible through at least five times. I have also required that they write a synopsis of each book of the Bible. In doing this, they must read the book and outline it. They may use study Bibles, Bible handbooks, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and other helps. I have recently been reading the synopses of one of my sons in the ministry. I have been greatly edified and have learned much myself from his research.
In doing this, the young minister becomes acquainted with the entire Bible. I have been amazed and edified at some of the able preaching and teaching which have resulted from these studies.
In addition to a general knowledge of the Bible, the young minister should have a good acquaintance with each principal branch of theology. He should be acquainted with theology, proper, which concerns the nature of God. He should know something of apologetics, the defense of the faith. He should be acquainted with soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. I have required the young men who came up under me to memorize at least ten verses on each of the doctrines of salvation by grace represented by the TULIP. He should have some acquaintance with eschatology, the doctrine of the last things. It is essential that the young minister have a knowledge of ecclesiology, which is the identity, nature, and function of the New Testament church. There is a great deal of ferment on this subject today, and the young minister must know where he stands. The very identity of the church is being questioned by some today.
He should know something of pastoral counseling. I have been both amused and saddened at some of the controversies among our people concerning pastoral counseling. All pastoral counseling consists of is showing the children of God how to practically apply the principles of Scripture to their daily lives. This is easier said than done. To be a wise pastoral counselor requires much study, prayer, and experience. The best way for the young minister to learn this is by observing as his father in the ministry shepherds the sheep the Lord has placed in his care.
The young minister should have a good acquaintance with church history in general. He should also have an acquaintance with Baptist history in particular and with the unique history of the Primitive Baptists. Many of our brethren, sadly and detrimentally, know almost nothing of where our forefathers have stood on various issues.
It is easy to be overwhelmed when we see the responsibility the Lord has placed on us. There are many other branches of theology I could have mentioned. We must do the best we can to prepare our young men for the great work to which the Lord has called them.
If a man has been preaching very long, he has some books and other resources that have been a blessing to him. He needs to share this knowledge with the young preacher. Some books are very valuable. Some are practically useless, and some are downright dangerous. The older minister should help his son in the ministry develop the library which he will use for the rest of his life. He should help his student know who the soundest authors are.
Some things are learned formally, but many other very important things are learned in an informal setting. Some of the most valuable times I have had with my sons in the ministry is in having long talks with them. They have asked me questions, some of which I could not answer. I have told them of experiences I have had. I have told them of my successes and also of my mistakes and failures. These times of dialogue have been some of the most edifying and valuable experiences in the training of precious young men for the ministry.
Knowing God’s Word is not enough. We must apply it and make it real to God’s people. In other words, we must be diligent pastors. We must do what Paul told the Ephesian elders to do in Ac 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” We must do what the Lord Jesus Christ told Peter to do when He told him to feed and shepherd His sheep and lambs. (Joh 21:15-17). The best way for the young minister to learn to pastor is to watch his father in the ministry pastor and to help him in this task. He must spend time with the older man in this work.
Ethics has to do with standards of right and wrong. Some things are just right and some are not. No matter how much knowledge a man may have, it will not profit the cause of Christ unless his behavior is what it should be. The training of young ministers is not complete until they have been taught and had modeled before them proper behavior.
We must exhort our young preachers to live lives that are above reproach. There should never be even the hint of improper behavior towards the opposite sex. Many men have ruined their ministries by improper conduct in this area.
We must train our young ministers to be scrupulously honest in matters of handling money. They should be good stewards of the resources that God places in their hands.
Young preachers should have good manners. Many a man has damaged his ministry by not exercising proper social skills. As Jay Adams pointed out, we should not avoid the offense of the cross, but we should avoid the offense of improper ministerial behavior.
If a young preacher is married, he should strive to be a considerate, loving husband. If he has children, he must be a good father. He must be taught to set an exemplary standard before the flock in these areas of conduct.
Sadly, some ministers play ecclesiastical politics. They behave in a cowardly manner and are so afraid of falling out of favor with some influential minister, they base their behavior on expediency instead of on Biblical conviction. This is appalling. I thank God that my father-in-the-ministry, Elder Hassell Wallis, taught me both by precept and by his own example, not to do this. Brother Wallis counseled me to try to live in peace with all men. The bottom line, however, was to not fear men, but to be honest with God. I thank God almost every day for this sound advice.
There will be times in the life of each minister of the gospel that he will be put under pressure. He will be threatened with loss of fellowship or with the prospect of getting no preaching appointments. The older minister has the responsibility of warning the younger minister that these times will come. He must charge him to always be honest with God, no matter how high the price. He must point him to the words of the apostle Paul in Ga 1:10: “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”
It has never been easy to serve the Lord. This is particularly true for ministers of the gospel. In his dying words, Paul told Timothy to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” However, in that same epistle, Paul, who was facing death, was very encouraged. He had a clean conscience, and he was looking forward to meeting the Lord. Peter also gave great encouragement to men who had been faithful in the discharge of their duty as gospel ministers. He wrote in 1Pe 5:4: “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
This is a good time to be a minister of the gospel, and this is a good time to be a Primitive Baptist preacher. I am not proud to be a Primitive Baptist but I am thankful to be one. We are far from perfect, but we have a wonderful heritage. If God has called you to be a Primitive Baptist minister, He has been gracious to you.
We need to concentrate on the positive and there is much positive to concentrate on. In 1994, the Lord opened a door in the Philippines for the gospel as believed by Primitive Baptists to be preached. The growth there has been phenomenal. In 2000, He opened up a door in India. The growth among the Primitive Baptists in India is hard to keep up with.
We even have some churches in Africa. Two Primitive Baptist ministers have preached in Australia, and we may have a church there someday. Several of our ministers have visited and preached in Malaysia. Two of our ministers have preached in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. [As of this date, January, 2007, there has just been established Shekinah Primitiva Original Iglesia Bautista or Shekinah Primitive Baptist Church in Juarez, Mexico! Elder Donnie Halbgewachs is the founding pastor. He was assisted in the constitution services by Elders Billy Lawrence and Troy Barrington.]
Very encouraging to me is the fact that the Lord is raising up some dedicated and able young ministers among us. Anyone who is informed knows that there are many difficulties and controversies among the Primitive Baptists today. It could be easy to be discouraged. However, I was talking to Elder Bradley a few months ago, and he said that one bright spot that gave him much hope was the fact that the Lord was raising up a number of courageous and well-informed young ministers among us. He said that gave him hope for the future. I agree.
Let us do the best we can to Biblically and properly equip them for the great tasks that face them.
Explanation: A good Primitive Baptist preacher friend of mine asked me to write him a letter of recommendation to a university theological school. I wrote him the letter, but I also wrote him a letter asking that he not go there. I am including excerpts from that letter here. You will see in the course of the letter that I myself attended a seminary for a year. I did so to study Intermediate New Testament Greek. I had previously completed eighteen semester hours in Greek many years ago when I was in college. I wanted to advance my study in the wonderful language into which the Lord inspired the New Testament. I am not against such selective study for a specific reason. However, when I did this I had been preaching for many years and had a degree of maturity and discernment. I would recommend extreme caution for a young man with little ministerial experience doing this. If he did, it would be wise for him to have constant interaction with an older and trusted father in the ministry.
Dear Brother _______,
I have just completed the recommendation form for your application to _________. I gave you high marks, to which you were entitled. I also wrote a very positive letter to accompany the application.
Having said this, I still very much wish that you would reconsider and not go to school there. You are settling for second or third best. I don’t know what all your motives are and neither do you because according to Jer 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Part of your motive may be pride. I went through the same thing when I was taking Greek at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. I saw the catalog and thought how impressive the M. Div. or Th. D. would look with my name attached to it. I then thought of several Scriptures that pertain to such things. One of these is in Mt 23:8: “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” There is not a hint in the New Testament of Christ’s ministers having any kind of theological degree. This kind of thing did not originate in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Baptists borrowed these kinds of things from others. Brother Guna [of India] was very happy when he realized this.
Neither Jesus nor His disciples had anything that even approximated theological degrees. The Jews, speaking of our blessed Saviour, asked in Joh 7:15, “And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” Don’t you think He is the very best example to follow? The same was true of His apostles. It was said of them in Ac 4:13, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
Dear Brother ____, you have a magnificent library that God has blessed you with. God has also graciously blessed you to be a pastor again. You should cherish this opportunity that God has given you to shepherd His sheep. You need to engage in “20/20” ministry® Ac 20:20, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house…” In my humble opinion, you would be much better off if you would just spend much time alone with God in prayer as you study His Word, using the numerous study helps He has blessed you with. Why should you sit under men who don’t even preach what you believe?
Life is very short as I am becoming increasingly aware, as I grow older. Pray the prayer of Ps 90:12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” If you are to become the spiritual man you need to be, you will be wasting much of your time in travel to class, in preparation for class, etc. You will not have time to independently and prayerfully study the sacred Word on your own. You may have an intellectually impeccable lesson to present to the congregation at _____, but you will be serving them stale bread in comparison to the fresh bread of life that you could have gotten by prayerful, independent study on your knees before God, if you had just had the time you would have had, if you had not tied yourself down to the seminary program.
God did not call you to be a scholar. He called you to feed the flock of God, which He has purchased with His own blood.
Seminary professors did not make you the overseer of the flock. They also did not call you to preach. I call on you to ask God to give you a fresh vision of His calling. Paul did not pursue “formal” theological training after God had called him. He was just absolutely enraptured at the fact that the Ascended Christ had called him into the ministry. This is plain from looking at Eph 3:7-8: “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…”
Brother ____, we need more spiritual power from the pulpit, and that will not come from academic, classroom study. That will come from humble men of God, not looking for any kind of distinction, burning the midnight oil in the privacy of their studies as they pore over the Word of God, and frequently falling on their faces before God with fervent prayers pouring out of their hearts before God. Classroom instruction may have its place, but it is a poor substitute for private wrestling over the Scriptures.
You would much better spend your time with the activity described in Isa 62:1,6-7: “For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth… I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”
I will not annoy you and continue to speak with you on this subject. You must make up your own mind before God. However, as your old friend and one of your fathers in the ministry, I would be unfaithful if I did not share my strong feelings and convictions with you on this matter.
I pray that you will do what brought revival to the early church, and what the first deacons were ordained for so the men of God could do what was the number one priority® Ac 6:4: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
Your friend in His easy yoke,
Explanation: It is so easy for fallen sinners to be unbalanced and to go to extremes. Some people place a premium on ignorance and on poor speaking ability. In our Primitive Baptist past, there have been some men who gloried in their lack of education and in their lack of preparation. They just stood in the pulpit, without any adequate preparation, and spoke the first thing that came to their minds. I have even known men to glory in using poor English.
Thankfully this is an extreme that we do not see too much of today. Most of our ministers realize that we are being unfaithful to God if we don’t diligently study His Word and present it in the clearest and best way possible. Most of our ministers are fairly articulate.
However, it is possible to go to the opposite extreme and to look down on men who do not have much formal education and who are a little roughshod in their delivery. This is a great mistake. Our God is sovereign in whom He calls to preach. He calls some men who have formal educations and He calls some who do not. Our God is the one who ultimately prepares men for the ministry. We must not despise any truly God-called preacher, even though he may not fit our mold of preference. When Jesus Christ called the twelve some of them were fishermen, with no formal education. One was a tax collector. Jesus knew what He was doing then, and He knows what He is doing now.
Each of us who are called to preach should strive to do the best we can to develop the gifts that God has given us. We should respect each other and realize that God has called a variety of gifted men to advance His kingdom.
Below I am including a few excerpts that demonstrate that God is sovereign in whom He blesses to be effective in the glorious gospel of the blessed God:
“The doctrine of a crucified Savior, God manifested in the flesh, as the only foundation of a sinner’s hope of acceptance, and the only source of sanctifying grace; preached by ministers, frequently, of obscure birth and moderated abilities, and destitute of the advantages of eminent learning or eloquence; sometimes even homely in their appearance and address” (Thomas Scott) Quoted in Gleanings in Joshua by A. W. Pink
“When our Lord chose the men who were to be His apostles and ambassadors, He selected not those who occupied eminent stations in the world, nor those who had passed through the schools of learning, but unlettered fishermen and a despised tax gatherer… The gospel does not depend for its success on human wisdom—a fact lost sight of by the churches today.” A. W. Pink in his Gleanings in Joshua.
“Bunyan was but a tinker, yet his book Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into more languages, had a much larger circulation, and been used in blessing to a far greater number of souls, than all the writings put together of the learned Owen and Goodwin! Spurgeon had neither university nor college training, nor was he a graduate of any seminary! Though after God’s call to the ministry, each of them studied hard and long to improve himself! In proportion as the churches have made an idol of education and theological learning in their ministers, has their spirituality waned: that is a fact, however unpalatable it may be.” A. W. Pink in Gleanings in Joshua.
Delivered at Cincinnati Preachers’ Meeting
Caring for the Temple
Ministers should do everything reasonable to take care of their health. Our bodies are referred to as temples of the Holy Spirit in 1Co 6:19-20, Paul wrote, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
We are obligated to use our bodies in ways that glorify God. This certainly includes caring for our health. We are not to be lazy nor are we to pamper ourselves, but we should not do anything that would unnecessarily damage our health. There was a well-known young minister from Scotland, Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He drove his body to the point that he lost his health and died at a very young age. He lamented that the Lord had given him a message and a good horse to ride as he delivered the message. By the horse, he meant his own body. He said that he had killed the horse and was not able to deliver the message.
We ministers should set the example to our flocks by eating healthily and by not engaging in gluttony. We should do the best we can to get proper rest and exercise. We live in a mostly sedentary environment and do not engage in the physically vigorous lifestyles that most of our forefathers did.
I will give what I hope are a few helpful practical hints on exercise. I am blessed to be fairly physically vigorous as I write this at the age of sixty-five. I am a very busy pastor and do not have time to spend doing a lot of regular exercise, such as going to a gym. However, on most days I get in a significant amount of exercise. I will periodically get up from my desk and do a few push-ups or do a few repetitions with some light dumbbells that I keep handy. I might do a few deep knee bends. I have a chinning bar hanging from a stairwell in the church building and every time I pass by it I will do a few chin-ups. I will also do abdominal exercises a few times each day. At the end of most days, I have not had a significant amount of time to exercise in an uninterrupted exercise session, but I will have engaged in a substantial amount of exercise.
I think that this interspersing exercise into my daily activities is a much more efficient way of using my time than taking the time off to actually go to a gym.
One thing we all need to do, especially as we grow older, is to engage in aerobic exercise. My favorite is walking at a fairly fast pace. One of my very favorite activities is to walk outside in a pleasant environment. While I am doing this I am usually either praying or memorizing Scripture. In this way I am “killing two birds with the same stone.” Walking would also be a great time for married ministers to have a time of fellowship with their wives. How refreshing to engage in meaningful conversation with the one the Lord has given to you as your lifetime partner!
Being very busy, I don’t always have the opportunity to get out and walk. Most ministers spend a lot of time on the telephone. I often get in 30 or more minutes a day by walking while doing necessary telephone work. This is one of the advantages of technology with our cordless phones and cell phones. Of course I have to tell those on the other end of the phone conversation to not worry about my fairly heavy breathing! They are okay when I tell them that I am walking while talking to them.
Brethren, be sure to take care of your “horse” so that you can deliver your message!
I will give a word of caution. Please do not let anything I have written here give you a tendency to be lazy. Ministers, as well as other Christians, are supposed to work hard. Jesus said that we are to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth “laborers” into the harvest. Paul mentioned working night and day. Sometimes we must spend and be spent. What I am advocating is eating correctly, getting some exercise and doing the best we can to protect our health so that we can work vigorously in the glorious work of the gospel. Then we will be able, when called upon, to “go the extra mile” and lose sleep or push ourselves to do His work.
THE VITAL WORK OF THE DEACON
The Lord Jesus knew what He was doing when He set up His church! Since He has all wisdom, and since He designed the church, it could not have been done any better! Many times people have tried to improve upon what the Lord did, but they have always made it worse. The dear Lord set up His church with a wonderful simplicity. Satan is always trying to complicate things, and to make God’s church confused and ineffective. In fact, Paul warned the saints at Corinth that the Devil wanted to corrupt their minds “from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2Co 11:3).
As the Lord set it up, there are only two offices in the church, the offices of bishop and deacon. The bishop is the overseer or pastor. From a comparison of verses seventeen and twenty-eight of the twentieth chapter of Acts, it is evident that the terms, “elder” and “overseer” or bishop refer to the same person. The first term designates the dignity of the office, and the second term denotes the function of the office. Writing to the saints at Philippi, Paul referred to the “bishops and deacons.” (Php 1:1). In I Timothy, chapter three, when describing the qualifications of officers in the New Testament church, he mentioned only bishops and deacons.
Much has been written about the office of bishop. Everyone knows that there is no way that a congregation can adequately function without good leadership from a pastor. No church is complete without a pastor. But sometimes congregations think they can get along well with either no one fulfilling the office of deacon, or with the ones with the name of deacons merely serving as figureheads. This, however, cannot be true. We cannot “second guess” the wisdom of the Head of the church! While a church may “limp along” without a deacon, she cannot properly and fully function without one. John Gill expressed his opinion in his Body of Divinity that at least one deacon was necessary to form an organized church.
The Neglect of the Office
There are several reasons that this vital New Testament office has been neglected in recent years. One reason for this is the increasing role of the government in social welfare. The office of deacon was instituted in the church as recorded in Acts, chapter six. The apostles were having to care for the needs of those who were widows, indeed. This became a very time-consuming burden to them. They had to neglect their very important work of “prayer and the ministry of the word.” The deacons were to relieve them because it was not good for the apostles to “leave the word of God, and serve tables.” The deacons assumed these burdens and freed the hands of the apostles to do the primary work they were called to do. The results were wonderful! “And the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of priests were obedient to the faith.” If the office of deacon were really revived in the church today, perhaps we would see similar results!
However, since the government has taken so much of the dispensing of social welfare on itself, the church many times has let the office of deacon fall into disuse for all practical purposes. The deacons may take care of an occasional need, but the office is not seen as vitally important. I would like to issue a big challenge to the ones who read this. Is it too much to ask God’s people to try to return to New Testament practices? Could we not at least begin to try to be more Biblical in our approach to these matters? If we do, it will require great sacrifices on our part. We will have to contribute to the treasuries of our churches so that the deacons will have adequate funds to meet legitimate needs. The early Christians were very concerned with the welfare of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They very sacrificially shared their financial resources with each other so that those who were truly in need were taken care of. See Ac 2:44-45; 4:34-35. Some people have accused them of practicing a form of so-called “Christian communism” and have criticized them for this. However, there is not even a hint of criticism in the Word of God for this loving care and concern for each other. The implication is that this generosity and spirit of sacrifice and concern is one of the major reasons for the tremendous spiritual prosperity of the New Testament church in this period of her early history.
We might not be able to return to this wonderful New Testament practice all at once, but could we not prayerfully begin? We might be amazed at what God would do for us if we exercised the faith to be obedient. If we did this, our deacons would have plenty of work to do! Incidentally, the practice of the early church was not communistic. This is evident from the fact that in the twelfth chapter of Acts Mary, the mother of John Mark, had a house. This does not contradict Ac 4:34, where it is stated that “as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them . . . ” It is obvious that the meaning is that they sold extra houses or possessions and made them available for charitable work. They were not practicing communal living. They were merely sharing their surplus wealth for the good of the needy, instead of hoarding it all for their own use. We would have to have the same generous and unselfish spirit in the church today in order to be able to really return to the New Testament pattern. Do you think we are too materialistic and worldly-minded to do this?
Another reason that the office of deacon has been neglected in our day is that some pastors try to do the work of both pastor and deacon. Some men just seem to have a tendency to always be in total control. They feel that unless they personally do everything, that things will not be properly done. I know of a deacon in a church located in another state who is very discouraged. He is a very capable and conscientious man. He loves the Lord and the church. He has a great desire to express this love by faithfully serving in the office of deacon to which he was ordained many years ago. However, his pastor, a man with a very strong personality, has made him feel virtually useless. The pastor does all the things that the deacons are supposed to do, and makes all the decisions that the deacons are supposed to make. If there are any pastors who are reading this and recognize yourselves as having these tendencies, I urge you to prayerfully consider that you should begin to spend all your time doing what God has specifically called you to do, and to leave the deacons’ work to the men who have been set aside for it. You will find that God was, indeed, exercising His infinite wisdom when he set this office up. It has been a great relief to me to have good deacons who have freed my hands to spend my time in prayer and in the ministry of the Word. If you feel that your deacons do not know how to do their jobs, train them how to do them! Then turn them loose to do what they were ordained to do and pray for them.
If any of you brethren who read this are ordained as deacons, but you have not functioned properly in that office because of neglect or slothfulness, shame on you! Resolve to either do what God has called you to do, or resign from the office. Too many people consider the position of deacon to be an honorary position, but it is not. I know of another pastor whose heart just bleeds because some of the men who are deacons where he pastors do virtually nothing. They do not seem to have any idea of what they are supposed to be doing. This is a very sad situation. That church and pastor are greatly hindered in doing what they are supposed to be doing. The work of the deacons is a very necessary and important work. The church cannot properly function unless this work is properly done. We pastors are going to have to give an account to God for the way we have conducted ourselves in our offices. You deacons are going to have to do the same!
There is one final reason that I would like to consider that helps to explain why the office of deacon is neglected today. Some deacons have misunderstood the nature of their office. They think it is their job to do what God has called the pastor to do. They consider themselves to be “watch dogs” of the pulpit. They think they are called to lead and to direct the affairs of the church. I knew of one group of deacons who tacitly considered the pastor to be a kind of figurehead. He was supposed to do the preaching, but it was their job to decide in which direction the church was supposed to be going. This is simply not Biblical! The pastor is called upon to be the primary leader of the church. No pastor is to be a dictator or a lord over God’s heritage. However, the pastor is supposed to lead. It is true that he should welcome input and counsel from others in the church, including the deacons, but he must step out in front and lead.
If you are a deacon, and your pastor is not leading as he ought, what should you do? Should you step in and fill the vacuum of leadership yourself? No! This will not work. This is not God’s way. What you should do is to go see your pastor in private and to encourage him to fulfill his God-given role. You should tell him you are praying for him, and assure him that you are available to help him in any way possible. The ideal situation in a church is when the deacons are the best friends and helpers that a pastor has. This is why the job was created by the Lord of the church. When the deacons and pastors are working together in a Biblical way, the church is strong and on its way to great spiritual growth. Satan knows this and does everything he can to cause either deacon or pastor, or both, to function in some way that is not sanctioned by Scripture.
The Actual Work of the Office
Table of the Poor
There are two primary works that the deacon is to do. These works can be clearly seen from a careful study of Acts, chapter six. Both these works are comprehended in the brief statement, “serve tables.” What tables are under consideration? From the context, it is obvious that one of the tables refers to caring for the destitute widows. Here it is easy to see why one of the qualifications for this office is that the deacon must be full of “the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” He must not be so gullible and guided by his emotions that he squanders the resources of the church on those who are merely lazy. He must not obligate the church to assume the responsibilities that should be assumed by the believing relatives of those widows. Some Biblical guidelines concerning these matters are given in 1Ti 5:3-16.
It seems to be certain that the charitable work of the deacons is not to be confined to worthy widows. The widow is a symbol of the helpless and needy. Anyone, then, who is truly in need, is an object of legitimate need for the deacon. Most of these needy ones will, no doubt, be members of the church, but not all of them. Speaking to the Galatians, Paul says, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” This is the responsibility of all Christians, but often this work is carried on by the deacons. As a practical matter, I often receive phone calls from people who claim to be in need of help from a church. On the one hand, I do not want to be heartless and unconcerned. It would be very bad to act like the priest and the Levite did in the parable of the Good Samaritan. On the other hand, I cannot waste the limited resources of the church on the dishonest and lazy. To investigate who is worthy would take a lot of the time that I really need to be spending in prayer and the ministry of the Word. It is a great relief to me to be able to direct callers to one of our deacons. These brethren have developed the skills to discern who is a truly needy person, worthy of our support. Even though our church is small, we have been able to often help those in need, both those in our membership or acquaintance, and those who we do not know. I believe that God is pleased with this. God has said, “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” (Pr 21:13). He also has said that, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” (Pr 19:17).
There is another reason that the deacon must be full of the Holy Ghost. If he is not a spiritual-minded man, he will not have the proper attitude toward the poor. He may have a self-righteous attitude. He may give some aid, but he may do it in such a manner that the recipient is made to feel badly about it. A man full of the Holy Spirit will not be gullible, but he will have the compassion of Christ as he deals with poor, sinful humanity. He will be able to bring good, loving, Biblical counsel to people as he ministers to their needs. If he can tell that the person has gotten into trouble because of faulty living patterns, the deacon may ask his pastor to become involved with some good counsel from God’s Word.
Table of the Pastor
The other “table” the deacon is responsible for is that of the pastor. This should be plain from a consideration of Acts, chapter six. There we see that the office was created in order to free the hands of the apostles so that they could spend the bulk of their time in prayer and in the ministry of the Word. It is obvious that if a pastor has to spend most of his time making a living in secular labor, he will not be able to properly do the work that God has called him to do. Not only will he suffer; the church will suffer also! While it is true that any pastor should be more than willing to labor with his hands to provide for the needs of himself and his family when the church is unable to do so, it is also true that the Lord has “ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” (1Co 9:14).
It is the business of the entire church to be obedient to this clear Scriptural principle, but the deacons should certainly take the lead in it. I know of many faithful and dedicated pastors among the Primitive Baptists who love the churches they serve and who long to spend most of their time in praying, studying and pastoring, but who must spend many long hours in providing for the needs of their families. They must then abuse their health by burning much “midnight oil” in study and must neglect proper rest in order to do the best they can to fulfill their tasks of preaching and pastoring. The Lord has graciously given these dedicated servants to His churches, and sometimes the churches fail to appreciate what the Lord has done. Sometimes these good pastors are neglected because those to whom they minister are covetous, but I do not believe this is the problem in most of the cases I am aware of today. I believe the neglect is usually due to ignorance or to the failure to be observant and to think clearly. The ignorance my be the fault of the ministers. Sometimes we are guilty of failing to teach what the Scriptures have to say about this subject. We do not want the people to think that we are greedy for money, so we are silent. We are wrong to do this, however. We must teach what God’s Word says at the proper time and in the proper way. If some people then misunderstand our motives, we cannot help that. We must be faithful to Him who has called us.
Sometimes it has amazed me that men who otherwise are observant and clear-thinking enough to hold good jobs, totally fail to exercise those abilities when it comes to ascertaining the needs of their pastors. Speaking of pastors, Paul exhorted those at Thessalonica to “know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you...” (1Th 5:12). The church members, especially the deacons, should know and be acutely aware of the needs of their pastors. In doing this they can exercise a little of the powers of observation and a little old-fashioned common sense. You men know from your own experience what it costs to live. You know what it costs to provide for housing, insurance, food, utilities, medical expenses, automobile expenses, and so on. Your pastor and his family have the same needs that you and your family do. There is nothing deep and mysterious about this. It just requires a little concern, “detective work,” and commitment on your part. If you want to please God and be a benefit to the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ, provide for the table of the pastor!
Some Very Practical Matters
Sometimes we speak the truth, but we speak it in such generalities that it is hard to know how to actually put it into practice. I would now like to address myself to several very practical matters. One is that many, if not most, churches among the Primitive Baptists do not pay their ministers if the minister is not actually at the church to preach on a given Sunday. In other words, if the minister fills his appointment, he is paid. However, if the minister is away preaching at another church and a visiting minister fills his place, the visitor is paid, but the pastor is not. This is hurtful to the pastor for several reasons. One is that he will not likely receive the same amount when he is away as he does when he is at home. This is especially true if the home church is trying to fully support him as he does what God has called him to do. Another disadvantage of this practice is that it makes it appear that the minister is being supported only in his efforts to actually preach, and is receiving no support for the equally important work of pastoring. I know this is not actually the case, but it makes it appear as if it were.
I know that I am speaking of a delicate matter, and hope that I will not be misunderstood. I am not preaching for money. God knows my heart and He is my witness. I am simply speaking things which ought to be spoken for the sake of my fellow servants in the ministry and for the cause of God and of truth. Some men cannot successfully speak of these things, because their congregations have not been properly taught over the years, or because they may have some carnal-minded and covetous people among them who would falsely and maliciously accuse their pastors of wrong motives. It has been my great blessing to have known some faithful servants of God who have been unafraid and have made pioneering efforts in my generation to educate God’s people from the Bible on these vital matters. I salute brave and true men such as Elder Hassell Wallis and Elder H. D. Fulmer, who taught these things two and three decades ago, in a time when such teaching was exceedingly rare and unpopular among many Primitive Baptists. I also salute many good deacons who loved God’s servants and who tried to take as much load off them as possible. Brother Claude Ewing was one of those faithful deacons with whom I was blessed to serve during the early part of my ministry. Since then, the Lord has raised up several deacons who have loved the ministers of God, and who have done all they could to help them carry the load. I am thankful that the church where I pastor, Grace Chapel, has for many years faithfully supported their pastor, whether he was there preaching or whether he was away. This has given me the freedom to, without having to worry about it, be gone to preach elsewhere, when I think the Spirit of the Lord has directed me to do so. I have tried not to abuse this privilege. I know other faithful preachers who do not feel this freedom. They would like to go somewhere, but they also know they must meet their financial obligations, and they find themselves in a dilemma.
There are other practical matters that concern God’s servants, especially those who are trying to devote most or all of their time to the work of the ministry. Under the present system of reporting income to the I. R. S., most full time-ministers must report their income as self-employed persons. This means that they must pay both the employer’s and the employee’s portion of the Social Security tax. At present rates, this is more than ten per cent. This means that if a church is giving a minister say $500.00 per week, he has to withhold over $50.00 of that for “Uncle Sam.” Deacons should also recognize that pastors have a lot of traveling expenses, postage, the buying of a library to help them study, and many other ministerial expenses.
If there are some good deacon brothers or others who have been stirred up and made to think by this article, consider talking with your pastor. Tell him that you love him and appreciate his dedication to the service of the Lord. Tell him that you would like to better understand his needs and those of his family. Let him know that you care and will pray for him and support him in anyway you can. Ask him questions about his needs. Use your common sense and think about what your needs would be if you were in his circumstances.
One church I know of has had the foresight to give their pastor a sum each month with which to purchase an Individual Retirement Account. They realize that if that man lives to an advanced age or falls into poor health, he will need some income.
Again I wish to state that I hope I will not be misunderstood. I am giving my full time to the ministry because I want to. No one is forcing me to do this. I have a wonderful wife and some precious children who believe in what I am doing. I have some fellow pastors who fully support me in what I am doing, and encourage me and the church in it. I have four very spiritual-minded and dedicated deacons who hold up my hands in every way. My father in the ministry, Elder H. M. Wallis, taught me and the people the right way. I am in a position to speak out when many of my fellow servants cannot because of circumstances. I would be wrong and unfaithful not to speak out. I want to encourage anyone who reads this to try it by the Scriptures. If it passes the test, put it into practice. If you know of a preacher who needs to read it, make a copy of this article and give it to him. If you know of a deacon who needs to read it, make a copy and give him one. If any of you feel you have learned something and have been convicted that you have failed, confess that failure to the Lord, repent, and spend the rest of your life doing the best you can.
I ask each of you to pray diligently to our God that not only will He raise up dedicated preachers, but that He will also raise up many dedicated deacons! If we do things God’s way and see a GREAT REVIVAL in the offices of bishops and deacons, properly functioning as they were designed to, there is no telling what God will do for us in the way of blessings!
Zack Meaders Guess