Tag Archives: Spiritual Formation

Brothers We Are not Professionals, Day 1: Join Me on My Annual Motives’ Check-Up

December brings me to my annual trip through Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. I am reposting my thoughts from last year, including the first post that explains my trek through the book. I will add updates to the posts related to my times alone. I would be grateful if you would remember me in prayer, as well as your own pastor in prayer, as described in this first post. I also hope you will grab the book and read along.

_________________________________________

Sometimes massive suffering comes so close to home that for a brief season the fog of our foolish security clears, and we can see the sheer precipice of eternity one step away. The cold wobble passes through our thighs, and for a moment everything in the universe looks different. Those are good times for pastoral realism. Oh, how hollow much of our lives and ministry seem in those moments! The last thing we regret then is being less professional” (ix).

With those words one begins the reading of John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry (Broadman and Holman, 2002).

Every December I attempt to read Brothers. The thirty chapters and preface allow for thirty-one days of devotional reading. The annual ritual is an attempt to keep grounded in faithfulness to my calling as shepherd of God’s people—that as opposed to being faithful as a CEO of a staff of ministry experts and perfectionists who have mastered the art of top-notch programming and marketing of products called “church” and “worship” to demographically targeted focus groups so that more customers will shop at my franchise for the items missing from their lives’ pantries. Brothers is a strong reminder that I am not a stock boy filling shelves of items ordered from the social-scientific, faux-Tinsel Town warehouses of pragmatic items requested by those who are most likely to come to stores like the one I manage. Instead, as Brothers reminds me, I am a shepherd-herald with the stewardships of proclaiming one undesirable, unmarketable (if you tell people what is really being offered—Mt. 16:24), inglorious-to-man-but-all-glorious-to-God message of Christ and him crucified, and of living out that message before and among the lives of those I have been appointed to serve. Reading Brothers helps to keep my thinking about ministry “success” grounded in the Cross. (In a similar vain, in January I attempt to read Hirsch’ Validity in Interpretation and Johnson’s Expository Hermeneutics to keep me grounded in the text of Scripture as spoken by God, the Author, and not as spoken by me or anyone else by means of some form of a reader-response theory. God has spoken. I do not need to reshape his words by my social context—not even my evangelical one. I preach the text of Scripture in the hopes that God’s voice will be heard by other brothers who need to be rescued from the wrath of God.)

It is easy for pastoral ministry to sink into occupational professionalism. In my experience, some times of ministry frustration come from expecting immediate results rather than the slow-work of Gospel transformation. I need to be awakened from expecting such results, for I am not assembling computers or selling real estate; I am shaping souls. I am helped by reading words like

increasingly, ministry under the banner of Christ’s supremacy will be offensive to the impulses of professional clergy who like to be quoted respectably by the local newspaper. The title of this book is meant to shake us loose from the pressure to fit in to the cultural expectation of professionalism. It is meant to sound the alarm against the pride of station and against the expectation of parity in pay and against the borrowing of paradigms from the professional world. Oh for radically, God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilizing, soul-saving, culture-confronting pastors! Let the chips fall where they will: palm branches one day, persecution the next (xi-xii).

These are the sort of words I need when the legal wall against same-sex marriage breaches in the jurisdiction just four miles from my church. No form of professional ministry can help me prepare my people for the sort of confrontation with the world that is now coming (cf. John 16:2). My humble flock needs to hear unprofessional truths about being fools for Christ’s sake.

As I read Brothers this month, I have four prayer requests before the Lord that I ask those serving with me also to remember on my behalf for the thirty-one-day reading period. Because Brothers is so inherently saturated with the truths of I Cor 4:9-13 with 2 Cor 2:14-17 and 4:1-18, my hope is that I will become soaked with Paul’s radical concept of Christ-centered ministry. This year, I would like for you – the blog readership - to join me in these requests, and in the reading of the book if you have a copy of Brothers. The invitation to a fellowship of prayer and reading is given with the hope that the Spirit of God might bless many churches – including my own – to have thoroughgoing cruciform pulpits and pastorates, for the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth, resulting in a revival and reformation of the church in the States. Here are the four requests:

1.  That I (you) would have certain solid convictions on each of the truths covered in the daily chapter of reading.

2.  That I would be saturated by these truths, with the fruit thereof coming to my family, my church, and those we are trying to reach with the Gospel.

3.  That the men serving with me would gain settled conviction of these truths by seeing them modeled in me, and that we would have mutual favor among one another in Christ because we are being shaped by the Cross of these truths.

4.  That the nations would hear the message of Christ because I am faithful to the charge that lies behind these truths.

The peace and satisfaction of our aching souls—and our hungry churches and the waiting nations—flow not from the perks of professional excellence but from the pleasures of spiritual communion with the crucified and risen Christ. I am jealous to spread this joy to (and through) my fellow pastors, which is why I say, “Brothers, we are not professionals” (xiii).

The Gospel and Personal Change: Christ Formed in You

Yesterday I received a copy of Brian Hedges’, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. In skimming the book, it looks like a very exciting and promising tool for aiding the believer in personal and corporate sanctification and spiritual formation. Immediately I can see that this work will be beneficial to the task of faithful, Christ-centered pastoral counseling (as opposed to many eclectic and integrative forms of “Christian” or “pastoral” counseling that do not give enough attention to the pervasiveness of sin in the soul and the power of Christ and his church for inward, God-fearing, spiritual change). Congrats to Brian on the book! Also thanks go to Tedd Tripp and Shepherd Press for seeing this work through to publication.

Product Description

The central claim in Christ Formed in You is that it is God s purpose to change us by progressively making us more like Jesus, and that this happens only as we understand and apply the gospel to our lives. In the pages that follow we will explore the transforming power of the gospel from several angles. Part One focuses on the foundations for personal change. We will look at God s ultimate goal in transforming us (Chapter One); the key to transformation, which is the gospel itself (Chapter Two); and the application of the gospel to our lives in three specific ways (Chapters Three, Four, and Five). Part Two then takes up the pattern of personal change. We will explore the captivating beauty of gospel holiness (Chapter Six); with its demands that we both kill sin (Chapter Seven); and grow in grace by the power of the Spirit (Chapter Eight); and the quest for joy that motivates us in this pursuit and strengthens us in the battle for holiness (Chapter Nine). Part Three of the book focuses on the means of personal change, the tools God uses to transform us. These final three chapters, while building on the foundation of the gospel discussed earlier in the book, are the most practical. We will learn how God uses spiritual disciplines (Chapter Ten); suffering (Chapter Eleven); and personal relationships in the body of Christ (Chapter Twelve) to conform us to the image of Christ. In each of these chapters, my aim has been to connect the dots between the gospel, the goal of Christlikeness, and the specific aspect of spirituality under discussion.