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Month: January 2019

Pastor Appreciation Month

Every October, churches across North America pay tribute to pastors and their ministry. They take time to write notes, give gifts, and creatively express their gratitude for the ceaseless love and investment that their pastor makes in their spiritual growth and general well-being all year long. While I have previously discussed my mixed feelings towards Australians adopting various U.S. holidays (like Halloween or Thanksgiving), I hold no such mixed feelings towards the non-official Pastor Appreciation Month. In fact, I’m waiting to greet it with cake, streamers, and much adulation.

Management and leadership icon Peter Drucker was recently quoted saying:

Over the years I have made a career out of studying the most challenging management roles out there. After all of that I am now convinced the two most difficult jobs in the world are these—one, to be President of the United States, and two, to be the leader of a church.

I’ve never been a pastor, so I have no personal experience to draw from when it comes to grasping the mammoth physical, mental, and emotional resources that a pastor is daily required to have available to him. However, what I do know is what it takes to pastor me, and if I multiply that by the number of people in my church, it just about melts my brain. Keeping in mind that everyone is different—so the list that you may write will look different from mine—as I think more closely about what I look for in someone called to lead a church, here are a few things that I deeply appreciate about my pastor.

In Humility

Like many pastors, he’s actually an introvert. It might surprise you to learn that a vast majority of pastors are not energized by being around people, and they don’t naturally seek the spotlight. This is true for my pastor who avoids behaviours like sitting in the front row on Sunday morning; rather he sits with his family in the middle of the church, among the congregation. Paul teaches us in Philippians 2:3 that we should:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

I appreciate the simple choice to be seated amongst the rest of the body of Christ. Now, sure there are obvious ways in which the pastor executes his duty in leading the congregation, and for the most part, these happen from the pulpit or stage. However, it’s equally the times off-stage that humility is exemplified—and it’s here that lessons are (also) taught and (hopefully) caught.

Coupled with this is the speech he adopts when introducing himself. There are many ways in which this could be done, but he chooses to regularly use the phrase “I’m one of the pastors here.” He feels no need to highlight the fact that he’s the ‘Head’ or ‘Senior’ pastor, but rather, he simply makes himself known as part of the team of people who have been commissioned to love and lead the congregation. Maybe this doesn’t seem significant to you, but it speaks volumes to me.

In Theology

Perhaps this is my inner student coming out, but words are very important to me. I appreciate a well-crafted phrase or a carefully constructed sentence. I appreciate the deliberate choosing of words that will best convey clear meaning, leaving little room for misinterpretation. This is why I so appreciate my pastor’s use of language. For simple examples, I regularly pick up on his choice to leave Biblical terminology where it belongs in a passage, opting to explain the big truth rather than diminish the term by using a lesser one; and I note the way in which prayers include every person of the Trinity, subtly (but practically) teaching the congregation a wonderful truth about the doctrine God.

Coupled with this conviction for clarity is the mature theology that is communicated through various liturgical phrases sprinkled throughout a Sunday service. As an example, whenever he reads portions of Scripture it generally begins with a sentence such as “hear the words of the Lord, communicated through his servant Paul” and ends with the phrase “This is the word of the Lord” (to which the congregation is meant to reply “thanks be to God”). I love this because he pastors me through the reminder that we are not simply reading an interesting or educational story authored by men, but that God himself encounters us in a convicting, encouraging, transformative way as we hear Scripture read.

In Love

There are many ways in which a pastor should demonstrate love to his congregation. These can broadly fall under two categories: feeding the sheep and fending off the wolves. I appreciate the ways in which I’ve seen my pastor actively show love in both of these ways. First, I feel loved because of the hours of preparation I know he invests in preparing sermons. He is a primary source for shaping my spiritual growth, and I need to have confidence that instead of throwing together a few devotional thoughts on Saturday night, he pours over a Biblical text out of love for my spiritual well-being. I appreciate that when it comes to feeding the sheep, my pastor gives full, healthy home-cooked meals, and doesn’t simply serve reheated microwave dinners. Second, while my pastor doesn’t often actively step into the political arena, if significant issues arise that could sway Christians under his care, there’s no hesitation in providing quality, orthodox sources to ensure his sheep aren’t led astray. A recent example of this was his exhortation for the congregation to become familiar with the Nashville Statement.

Why Wait?

If I was to hand out pens and Post-it notes to everyone in my congregation on any given Sunday, I have no doubt that each one of them would be able to write a paragraph, a sentence, or a word that captures ways in which they are thankful for our pastor. There’s no doubt that leading people to become mature disciples of Christ is a great privilege, but I’m equally sure that every pastor feels the enormous weight of responsibility that comes with sitting in the captain’s chair. Being a pastor isn’t all wedding days and newborn babies; it’s intense conflict, traumatic loss, constant scrutiny, and strenuous, gruelling work.

I would love to see Australians adopt Pastor Appreciation Month. It’s hard to deny that our pastors are deserving of time set aside to honour them for the innumerable, invaluable ways in which they care for us. Moreover, as we plan gifts or write our thank you notes, I think it would equally serve as a reminder to each of us just how much our pastors actually do for us. But imagine for a moment if we were to go a step further and cultivate a culture of continual thanks for all the ways in which our pastors serve us every day of the year. Wouldn’t that be something.

How can you express appreciation to your pastor today?

What Matters Most

Some people scoff at making resolutions. Others simply give up on goal-setting before they begin; pessimistically acknowledging that it always peters out by March or at best, May. I’m not a pessimist, but I’m not—I hope—legalistic about making and meeting goals either. Rather, I appreciate a milestone moment such as the transition to a new year as an opportunity to evaluate the year that was, and re-focus on what matters most. This past Sunday, the first Sunday of 2019, our people were encouraged to take this step with regard to choosing a Bible reading plan. I’m continually grateful to be part of a local body of believers that places such high value on intentional discipleship.

So I’ve been thinking about what matters most. Last year I read over 52 books; a goal that I’ve reached the last few years and have benefitted greatly from. This has given rise to a number of unique opportunities and aided in my spiritual development in myriad ways (for which I’m grateful) but perhaps in doing this good activity, I’ve missed out on what is best. Taking three months away from the blog at the end of last year, I took some time to think about what I would love 2019 to look like. I thought and prayed about my world in the usual concentric circles; me, my wife and children, my extended family, my local church, and my community. Seven days into 2019, and I think I’ve finished wording my resolutions—the things I’d love to be able to look back on in December and say “we’ve come a long way.”

Before we get started, it needs to be said: these aren’t simply resolutions for the new year; they’re life goals. And if you’re reading them, then you have permission to keep me accountable.

1. Resolved to Love the Lord with all my Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength

Key verse: Mark 12:30

Perhaps this one sounds obvious, but there’s no area of life that this one doesn’t—read shouldn’t—affect. Loving God with my heart means that I need to identify and smash all the other idols that vie for my affection. Loving God with all my soul means that I see him as my supreme treasure and my greatest delight and that I choose to immerse myself in things that glorify him, aggressively saying no to whatever doesn’t. Loving him with my mind means that I don’t seek a purely feelings- or experience-based Christianity, but that I meditate on his Word, that I study the Scriptures and work out this great salvation with reasoned, intelligent, yes even (gasp) academic thought. Finally, loving God with my strength means that I work. The Christian life is a battle, and it takes strength to fight. It takes fist-clenching self-control sometimes to not argue with angry family members about things that don’t matter all that much. It takes courage to say no to sin, and all the determination I can muster to get out of bed and read my Bible rather than cling to those last few moments of sleep in order to be more conformed to the image of Christ. This year, I resolve to love God in all of these things more than the year before.

2. Resolved to Love and Lead my Family Well

Key verse: Ephesians 5:25, 6:4

John MacArthur writes:

The Bible says a man is responsible to lead in his home, care for his wife, and provide instruction for his children. Those responsibilities are clearly spelled out in Scripture. When they’re neglected, the family will fall apart.

Being a Dad Who Leads, p15

My wife is a God-given treasure which I thank God for daily. She is also my greatest responsibility when it comes to teaching, exhorting, encouraging, and discipling one another in Christ. If I am to love her, nurture her, protect her, and see her grow in virtue and Christlikeness, I must be continually investing in her. More prayer with her. More prayer for her. Finding and facilitating more opportunities for her to use her gifts to grow others and flourish as she serves. Sometimes that will mean laying down something of mine so she can pick something up. That’s what I’m called to do.

Our youngest boys’ (currently aged 2 and 4) vocabulary is exploding. Lately there’s been so many new words that I’m feeling left behind by their progress. This is a terrific stage because now we’re starting to really get into conversations about God, creation, Jesus, sin, and where we fit in God’s Big Story. My wife has the stay-at-home advantage; she’s doing a remarkable job at teaching them, talking with them, and exploring God with them. My role is to encourage that, be involved in it, and lead (when I’m home) into deeper waters that cover the full counsel of God. Then there’s family devotions.

Here’s something I’ve come to realise, albeit better late than never. More important than how you do family devotions is that you do family devotions. I’ve become convinced that one of the biggest contributors to why I’ve not been able to get family devotions off the ground (because ultimately I’m responsible) is because I’ve expected too much, I’ve set my expectations too high, and I’ve lost sight of the fact that reading the Bible and praying is enough. Sure we could sing songs. We could go through a catechism. Maybe one day we will. But this year, five minute family devotions have begun with me in a much better headspace to lead, and if we miss a day, we keep going.

3. Resolved to Faithfully Preach the Word of God

Key verse: 2 Timothy 4:2

Before seminary, I knew exactly why I was enrolling. After graduation, the desire to see hearts and lives transformed by the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ has continued to grow and grow. It is true that the more we know, the more we realise we don’t know. It’s also true that knowledge of God, his attributes, his Word, and his ways doesn’t puff up (although, it can) but on the contrary, it serves to pour fuel on the fire of our worship—the more we know of God, the more we worship him and give him thanks. I love the work required of the preacher. I love the hours of careful, prayer-soaked study; the survey of the theological giants that have come before us; the crafting of words in ways that people will best receive and remember the glorious truths of the gospel. This circles back to the point I raised in my introductory thoughts; I’ve read a lot of books annually in years gone by, but this year I’m opting for fewer books and much more Bible. Included in this is to carry out an in-depth study of one book of the Bible each month, for the whole month, with as much time and energy and resources as I can muster. I’m looking forward to digging deep into the Word in 2019, and I’m looking forward to sharing these life-transforming truths as the Lord allows.

Soli Deo Gloria

Favourites of 2018

Rather than subject people to yet another “Top Ten Whatevers of 2018”, I thought I’d simply contribute a compilation of my favourite things from the year that was. So whether you enjoy podcasts or pictures, perhaps there’s something in this list of recommendations for you to enjoy.

Books

It’s a predictable place to start, but I read a lot of books. Books for pleasure, books for growth, books to rest with, and books to equip me to be a better husband/father/employee/disciple/friend. For a longer list of what I’ve read (and what I enjoyed reading the most) head to my page on Goodreads. Here are a few highlights.

  • A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Sarah Arthur. Called a female C. S. Lewis, I had no idea how much L’Engle has contributed to shaping Christian thought. I’ve learned a great deal from her through this biography about prayer, worship, reading scripture, breaking bread in community, and conversations with spiritual friends as a means to not only fight the darkness but let shine the Light so lovely.
  • Sola: How the Five Solas Are Still Reforming the Church edited by Jason K. Allen. This book is terrific. Every chapter is a wonderful, accessible primer for those who aren’t yet familiar with the five Solas of the Reformation. Each contributing theologian brought relevance for both the individual Christ-follower and the church. A quick read, and a worthy one.
  • The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. It’s true we are creatures who learn from story. And Butterfield’s stories demonstrate the messy, costly, rewarding ins-and-outs of what ‘Radically Ordinary Hospitality’ looks like: the cornerstone of the Christian life. Sure, it means changing your budget to allow for extra meals for people, unexpected guests at your table, or taking care of a neighbour’s pet while they’re out of town. But it also serves to reveal Christ’s redeeming purpose in the world: making strangers into neighbours, and making neighbours into family.
  • Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter by Thomas Schreiner. Books abound on spiritual gifts. Some are clear and helpful; some are downright kooky. Schreiner’s is the former, and I’m deeply appreciative of his conviction, but also his compassion towards those who hold a different view. Pick this one up, or read my full review for more (if you like. No pressure).
  • Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot by Mo Isom. Isom writes with brutal honesty about her struggles with a distorted picture of sex, and the damage it wrought on her body, mind, and soul. But through this powerful testimony of her encounter with an even more powerful truth in the person of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, Mo calls on the church to not simply declare the “do not’s” of sex but to articulate a full, beautiful picture of the intimate and Christ-exalting image that sex is.

Podcasts

I subscribe to around 12-15 podcasts. These are mostly sermons from churches (including my own); lectures and chapel talks from seminaries; or thoughtful Christian takes on current events. I’m looking to branch out in 2019. For now, here’s two that I’ve enjoyed the most.

  • The Happy Rant. What can I say: these guys are a blast. We like the same things, we mock the same things; it’s a beautiful friendship.
  • Questions Kids Ask because kids ask tough questions, and I benefit from hearing how other people are nuturing their kids to love Jesus.

Movies

(I asked our eldest to contribute these recommendations for me. The Marvel bias has now been explained.)

  • Avengers: Infinity War. With character chemistry that is impressive (given the size of the cast) and action sequences that are visually fun without being messy, the Russo brothers made a superbly re-watchable film.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This is how feature superhero animation should be done. Stylistically, the comic-book visuals were terrific (and didn’t get tiresome); the hip-hop soundtrack perfectly suited; and the Spider-verse storyline stayed simple enough to be enjoyed easily by a wide audience.
  • Black Panther. Cultural commentary genius aside, this felt like part of the MCU while remaining a solid stand-alone film. Michael B. Jordan was a great villain. Also, Black Panther: The Album is a diverse, bold soundtrack that represents Wakanda’s identity perfectly.
  • Aquaman. A fresh take on the king of the seven seas which worked. Momoa fit the role (just don’t think too hard about Nicole Kidman as his mother? Really?) and the villains were convincing, without being over-balanced.
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp. Every bit as funny as Ant-Man, this was a welcome light-hearted film after the devastation left after the events of Infinity War.

Music

And to finish, here are five albums that I’ve given the most air time to in 2018.

  • A Legendary Christmas by John Legend. Christmas music that isn’t cheesy? You bet. Upbeat, brassy, feel-good tunes for the festive season.
  • Lab Experiments Vol. 2 by Cookin’ on 3 Burners. Fresh 2018 funk from Melbourne.
  • Worthy by Beautiful Eulogy. Possibly my most played album the year. These guys are master lyricists, poets, and musicians. Every word carefully crafted, every song a story. Do yourself a favour.
  • Songs for Space Travel by Caleb James. This album is everything I’ve been waiting for.