In my last post regarding Sovereign Grace’s Pastors’ College, I alluded to the fact that I was in seminary before attending Sovereign Grace’s Pastors’ College. Before that, I attended The, then, Bethlehem Institute [TBI], now Bethlehem College and Seminary [BCS], at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. So, I guess you could say I like school. Well, at least I like scholarship set to life.

very brief synopsis of why I thought it beneficial to go to one more year of school after having completed two degrees in seminary:

I was living in Argentina, working with Campus Crusade for Christ for two years. While I was there my love for the local church increased and my lack of theological training manifested itself. I could smell heresies, but I couldn’t name the fruit. A friend told me  about TBI and I bit hard. I wanted to get trained in a church by a group of pastors I respected with a vision for mission that I was on board with. The two years we spent in Minneapolis influenced us in more profound ways than I could recount in an ~800 word post. Suffice it to say that we are stamped with Christian Hedonism.

Desiring to finish up my Master of Divinity degree at a seminary that understood where I was theologically as well as having a love for the local church naturally led me to Southern Seminary. I got to take classes that changed my life and solidified my convictions and challenged my assumptions. I don’t overstate when I tell people that Steve Wellum’s hermeneutics class changed my life. Peter Gentry’s Isaiah and Psalms Hebrew exegesis classes revolutionized my appreciation for and love for text criticism and its vitality to devotional life. Tom Nettles’ breaking forth into song during his Church History 1 and 2 and Baptist History and Jonathan Edwards’ classes made me want to love Jesus just as much after decades of rigorous study. Tom Schreiner’s gentleness in dealing with the text and pastoring students in class made me want to be a scholar pastor. Bruce Ware’s excitement as he discussed the eternal relationships of the Persons of the Godhead made me want to be just as ecstatic when I spoke of God.

So if all these men had such an impact on my life, why feel the need to go to another college? Well, I was adamant that I would not go to the Pastors’ College. Not because I had nothing else to learn, but because I didn’t want to move my family one more time. I told Jeff Purswell that attending the PC would be a deal breaker.

Halfway through the conversation at the Plant! Conference in 2011, however, the Spirit of God changed my heart. I remember seeing Jeff tear up as he considered what such a move would require. These weren’t contrived tears, but sprang from his experience with his wife, Julie, in moving to Chicago to attend Trinity. He said to me, as I sunk my teeth into an eggroll, “The PC is not merely about scholarship, it’s about building into your marriage and your application of doctrine.” I was done.

You see seminary isn’t intended to replace the local church. It provides an essential element of scholarship that pastors won’t get by studying on their own. But in the midst of papers and exams, the foundations of my marriage began to reveal fissures. My mind and heart are embossed with Southern Seminary and TBI. Their fingerprints are all over my theology and philosophy and methodology. I am grateful and would not change a thing. PC offered me the opportunity to unpack and refold and hang up those theological raiments that had been so tightly packed.

During school I had to work full time while going to school. That provided stresses that I would not be able to understand until after I was out of that storm. Since I did not have to work while at the PC, I had opportunity to focus on my marriage and my application of God’s Word. I had an opportunity to tease out the implications of the free, unmerited favor of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. My heart became knitted to brothers from the Dominican Republic, Germany, England, Bolivia, the Philippines, the Bahamas, Pennsylvania to Florida, Texas to Chicago, Minnesota to Tennessee. I just spoke on the phone with a brother in Philadelphia who encouraged me as I prepared to preach this past Sunday and pointed me to Christ’s sufficiency and acceptance.

My theology took wings and began to stretch as a result of Sovereign Grace’s emphasis on applying doctrine. May God, by his Spirit, continue to give flight to his Truth.

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  1. Matthew,

    What an encouraging and challenging post! I’m so grateful for your example in these things and look forward to watching as God continues to work through your life and ministry.

    Your friend,

    Aaron

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Leading with a Limp

Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip (Gen. 32.31; NLT)

Too many times we focus on the action of leadership and not the ontology of the leader. That is, when asked to define what a leader is, most people’s responses are boiled down to “They lead.” This is what a leader does. This is not what he is.

In my experience, the most important characteristic of a leader is humility. True, a proud and overly confident leader may get the pin to move on the measuring gauge. In the long run, however, her leadership will lose its effectiveness over time. What is more, those who follow her will not be shaped. The primary goal of a Christian leader is to shape the whole person, to see people mature and grow in their love for God and neighbor. If they are coerced or pressed into a mold of conformity, their hearts will not be changed because a law has been imposed on them.

Leaders ought to want to see people changed more than a goal to be reached. Or put another way, the goal to which a leader aims ought to be Christ being formed in those that follow him. This is the metric we see throughout Scripture. This, then, ought to be our goal in leadership. this Christ-likeness

The primary way a leader promotes this Christ-likeness is through his own Christ-likeness. And what do we see in the Lion of Judah save the wounded Lamb.

I remember going through a pastoral assessment wherein the interviewers looked at me and said they weren’t sure that I had worked through past pain. This is after I had shared with these brothers a lot of hurt and told them how the Lord had drawn near in those times. Surely, there is some time that people need to work through their pain. This is, however, a first world problem. How many other brothers and sisters don’t have the luxury to go to a year of counseling or to step out of a painful ministry experience?

No, we are called to minister not after our wounds are healed but in the midst of our wounds. We are called to show the scars and still feel the cold breath of unrequited loves and expectations. This is where we ought to live and minister from. We ought not to hide our limp. We ought to highlight the fact that we lean on another. We are frail. We fail. When we model that kind of bold dependence on God, we, in essence, reveal that we are but pilgrims moving toward another country and the path is hard and the pain is real. Not something we learned from and not something got over–as though it’s something in the past. Rather, the pain and problems ought to be the very stuff our ministry’s are made of.

God’s Broad Shoulders

One of the fascinating aspects of my profession is that I come in contact with a lot of Christians who want to engage with their faith in a deep way. Rather than being content with showing up on Sunday or being CINO (Christian In Name Only), these folks want to understand the Bible better and tease out the implications for their lives.

On the flipside of this, many of these same people are afraid to engage with their doubts in a deep way. It’s almost as if, doubts and questions are treated from a distance–“I don’t struggle with this, but…”

The biggest breakthrough in my own journey of faith came through (and continues to come through) engaging my doubts and questions as my own. They are not theoretical. They are honest struggles: problem of evil is the perennial one. I was in the throes of one of these bouts several years ago when a friend told me, “God can handle your doubts.”

I have used this same bit of advice for my struggling friends and self. If truth is not relative. If God is truth. Your doubts and questions will not overthrow this objective, transcendent truth. It’s not as though you are the first to struggle with doubts and fears and pain. The heavens will not collapse under the weight of your doubts. You won’t come up with a question that will cause God to close up shop. You can honestly engage with your doubts and fears and pain and suffering without having to be quick to give the typical and trite answers to matters of faith.

Go ahead, roll your burdens on God. He’s got broad shoulders.

a faulty understanding of the relationship of the pastor to the people

Here’s a quick response to what I meant in my last post with the above phrase:

With the advent of the Spirit empowering all believers in giving life to all who have trusted in Christ comes the advent of the priesthood of all believers. That is, whereas lineage to the priesthood had to be traced to Aaron or Levi, through being born anew through the lineage of the once-for-all priesthood of the Mechizedekian high priest Jesus (see Heb 5-7), all people are called to be a holy nation and priesthood.

Too much of modern-day evangelicalism has unwittingly ascribed through word and deed the following of celebrities. This tendency has trickled down to where the pastor is still viewed through the lens of the Old Covenant. That is, people still refer to him as “anointed,” not knowing that in their baptism they have also been anointed for that work through new birth.

This is also seen in how so many pastor’s conferences frame the discussion. They speak of the “calling” to the ministry–forgetting Luther’s and the audacious Protestant Reformers’ claim that all vocations are “callings.” Luther said that God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.

As a result, so many pastors buy into the notion that the sheep are entrusted to them only. Yes, many times brothers will say that Christ is the Chief Shepherd, but they act as though they are the ultimate person the people must answer to. Thus a division between those who are “called” as pastors and “lay” people.

If we start with the fact that we are all in need of a Savior–and perpetually so!–then such a false dichotomy and hierarchy will go away. In this way, the pastor is a sheep and needs shepherding from other sheep.