firstFAMILY Podcast 028: Toronto Church Planting - Annette Teague

Annette Teague served with the North American Mission Board for the past two summers as part of GenSend Toronto. While serving in this summer program, it became clear that God had called her to engage more long-term in the Greater Toronto Area with our church planters there. She is being sent from her home church, San Jose Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL to serve with the Hamilton Fellowships and Jason McGibbon. We take time in this podcast to discuss her journey as a GenSend missionary through NAMB and her subsequent decision to serve in Toronto on mission.

As a church planting intern, she requires funding, and cannot work in Canada due to visa laws. If you would like to know more about Annette and possible support her financially, go to missionaries.namb.net/full/annette-teague. For info on GenSend, feel free to email her at annette.teague1@gmail.com.

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Holy Hand Grenades and the Unfortunate Result of Empty Christian Debates

I addressed this reality a bit during last Sunday's sermon. We all know people who just love to debate.  If you're a Christian who attends church regularly and are part of a small group or Sunday school class, you probably have someone in mind right now. Just about every group has "that guy." You know, it is the one who responds to every statement with a confused look and a question, perhaps complete with a raised eyebrow. It starts with "Really?!? Is that right?" (You may be picturing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson right now with his eyebrow up, staring you down.)

Questions are not to be feared and rightly dividing the Word of God is needed. Christians should be able to as questions honestly. They should also dig deeply into God's Word in prayer for biblically sound answers. This fact is not to be debated.

Outside the evangelical sub-culture that many western Christians now live, there are vast debates being raged. The battle of world views is in full swing. Just turn on television and spend about five minutes on one of the cable news channels, or better yet, give ESPN a look. Entertainment disguised as reporting often ends with a group of frenemies yelling (or at least speaking loudly) at each other attempting to sway opinions. Then, the show ends, the masquerade ceases, and the hosts go get dinner together.

At least that's how I imagine it happens.

In the Christian sub-culture, debates rage as well. My comments from Sunday...

When world views collide, debate often occurs. This may be in the Sunday school class, at the dinner table, on Facebook, through text message, or in varied other ways. There are good and valuable debates and discussions that we as Christians must be prepared to enter into. These cannot be ignored. To do so is to sin in our calling as light and salt.

Yet, there are debates as well that exist solely to fill time, celebrate pontification, and ignore issues that truly matter.

Just by logging into my computer at work this morning, I see it happening. Social media blows up with another shared story questioning how certain churches can justify doing certain things. The questions are not even wrong, but the format or venue for the questions lead to some unforeseen damage. Questions about the holiness of "so-called Christians" end up in comment sections. Holy hand grenades have the pins pulled and then are launched over the berm into the flatlands of social media. BOOM, the show is on. And the world pulls up a chair just to watch. Truth is declared, but slides into the background as the self-appointed "Debate Team" begins to emphasize items that do more to push people away from Christ than declare his glory. Reminds me of Sunday's message focus on the Pharisees who were so caught up in the washing of hands that they totally missed the cleansing of heart that is needed by all. (Sermon Audio and Notes Here.)

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Photo credit: Diari La Veu - http://diarilaveu.com via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

But, at least you win the debate, right?

Christians must always be prepared to contend for the faith with boldness.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3 (ESV)

To be clear, I am not shying away from declaring biblical truth in all venues, physical and virtual, and at all times, whether in person or on social media, but sometimes, I fear, we (well-meaning Christians) begin throwing these grenades in order to position ourselves to declare our own versions of righteousness. When self-righteousness and "holier than thou attitudes" are all that's left when the fog settles, the Gospel is not only ignored, but no where to be found. We, as Christians, must push against the idolatry of self that leads to an "appearance of godliness" but avoiding the glory of God and his power.

Truth spoken (or posted) in love for God and His image-bearers is not akin to truth spoken in arrogance.  (TWEET THIS)

And, if you're bold in your faith at the keyboard, you'd best be bold in person as well. Yet again, boldness is not a synonym for arrogance and self-righteousness. Be careful. I have to continually remind myself of this.

Speak the truth in love. 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)

Don't get caught in the trap of majoring on the minors and falsely believe you are victorious just because you "win" a debate on matters that do not have eternal focus. Don't celebrate yelling in the synagogue and miss your opportunity to engage on Mars Hill.

 


A Most Glorifying Funeral

As a pastor, I have the great privilege of bringing words of comfort and hope to many at times of grief. I have preached funeral and memorial services for dozens and dozens of dear friends and family members of friends over the years. Some services are more challenging to put together than others. There are varied reasons for this. For instance, a funeral service for a young person killed tragically in an accident often draws a different crowd than one of a dear senior adult who died in his sleep. Both are times of intense grief, but the differences are obvious, and the crowd gathered is normally of a different generational demographic as well.

The most challenging funerals and memorial services are for those loved ones who never surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord. At those times, the message is one of clarity and hope for the family, without offering false hope that their loved one resides in heaven with the Lord. Too often improper theology of the world that "good people go to heaven" is offered. As a pastor and child of God, I cannot offer false hope when the opportunity for surrender has passed.

Yet, there are times when the funeral service is truly a celebration (and not just the oft-used buzzword used at such services.) The deceased is known to be a child of God and therefore alive in Christ. The godly impact of the individual resonates throughout a church, community, and beyond. The gathering of friends and family, though grievous, centers upon God's goodness and hope.

Pam Maynard's Funeral

Maynard
Dr. Tim Maynard and Pam with their grandchild.


As a church family (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) we have been praying for our sister church across the St. Johns River here in Jacksonville at Fruit Cove Baptist Church. Earlier this year, Pam Maynard, wife of Pastor Dr. Tim Maynard, was diagnosed with cancer. On Saturday morning, August 5, I received a text message from Dr. Rick Wheeler, our Lead Missional Strategist for the Jacksonville Baptist Association, that Pam had died. 

Pam's funeral service was scheduled for yesterday, Tuesday, August 8 at 7pm at Fruit Cove. (Pam's obituary here.) My wife, Tracy, and I attended. The sanctuary of the church was packed with standing room only. Hundreds of friends, family members, church members, and representatives from sister churches, the Florida Baptist Convention, Mayo Hospital, and numerous other places were there.

The service was streamed on the church's website as many from Pam's home state of Kentucky as well as other places around the world tuned in to be a part of the service.

As I said earlier, I have been to many funeral services. I have preached at most of them. On this occasion, I was there because of my friend and fellow pastor and his family and church as they honored the life of this dear woman and saint. 

Numerous men spoke from the pulpit this evening. The surgeon Pam served under and with while working as an orthopedic surgery nurse at Mayo spoke. Dr. Neal Cordle, Executive Pastor at FCBC, Dr. Glen Owens, formerly of the Florida Baptist Convention and now an active member at FCBC, Pastor Patrick Martin, son-in-law of Tim and Pam, and Dr. Maynard himself.

When Tim spoke, he did so as a husband of 40 years to Pam. At first declaring that he may not have the strength to finish his portion of speaking, it was soon clear that God enabled Tim to proclaim clearly and strongly of his love for Pam and of God's strength and power. The message was more than just heart-felt, it was anointed. Tim may never fully realize this side of heaven the impact that short, fifteen-minutes of speaking has had upon those in attendance and watching via livestream. It was stated last night and I agree - Tim and Pam's journey these past few months culminating with this pointed celebration of life and God's goodness was the very best sermon he ever has had the privilege of preaching. To God be the glory.

A worship service took place on a rainy Tuesday night in St Johns County this week. A packed building with hundreds in attendance including perhaps fifty pastors erupted in an honorable, blessed, focused service of worship to the one and only God.

Brian Woofter and the FCBC Celebration Choir and Orchestra led us to the throne of God in singing and worship. The organ remained unplayed as Pam had served in that role for years. Flowers sitting upon the instrument reminded everyone of this act of service (just one of many) that Pam offered her Lord and church. 

Jason Lovins, a gifted singer and virtually adopted son (Pam called herself Jason's "Florida mom") spoke briefly and sang praises to the God of hope and healing.

Two hours after the welcome, the service ended and Pam's casket was wheeled out of the building. Two hours in a service on a rainy Tuesday...and it could've continued even longer.

A Most Excellent Funeral

A most excellent funeral for a most excellent wife (Proverbs 31).

God was glorified. He alone was worshipped this evening.

Pam was honored.

Tim and family were and are being comforted by the only One who can truly do so.

There were tears shed.

There were poignant moments.

There was laughter.

The Gospel was shared clearly.

Life was celebrated.

Yesterday was remembered and tomorrow declared, as Pam's body may no longer live, but she does because of Christ.

We were all reminded that it is good to go to funerals every now and then (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

I worshipped with my brothers and sisters. It was sweet. It was bittersweet, to be honest. Yet, it was right.

Our Father smiled.

And that was a most glorifying funeral.

To God be the glory.

 

Celebration of Life Service: Pam Maynard from Fruit Cove Baptist Church on Vimeo.

 


firstFAMILY Podcast 027: Comic Books and Theology

Comic books and modern mythology are big business. After an era where the magazines were losing money, the creation of the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes has propelled super-heroes to the forefront of the entertainment industry. Many of these stories have religious undertones, so why aren't Christians strategically engaging those who love these stories with the ultimate story of the Gospel? Listen as Pastor David Tarkington shares how he is seeking to engage in intelligent conversations with friends of other and no specified religious faith over the subject of comic books and theology.

 

 


The Church, Travel Ball, and Quality Sports Ministry

There is no doubt that our culture is sports-hungry. The money spent and made in the professional and college sports world is astounding. It was only a couple of generations that long ago that professional sports leagues were relegated to the northeast in the US and team travel was by bus. Of course, now our professional leagues are international and the number of teams and players continue to grow.

New leagues develop. Creative logos and team names are popping up, all while the attempt to remove and relegate to history the now understood offensive team names and logos. My prediction is that no teams in the future will be named after a group of human beings for fear of being politically incorrect and insensitive. As PETA and other "animal rights" groups influence the culture, we may see a decline of animal logos and mascots as well. You know what this means? It means that all future team names will be named after concepts and things that make little sense. You know, like Magic, Heat, Dynamo, Fire, and Ice. However, given time, someone will find offense in these names as well.

In the meantime, we will celebrate the creativity of Jumbo Shrimp and Baby Cakes as team names.

But I digress...

The growth of team sports on a professional and collegiate level is clear, but the added impact for those in high school and younger is immense.

Travel Ball

In a recent pastoral leadership gathering, the question of ministering to and with those families whose lives shift each year based on their children's AAU and travel ball schedule is no longer something relegated to just a few families in the community.

Since there are now weekend tournaments and travel games for sports that in the past weren't even considered sports, such as competitive dance, cheerleading, and even jump rope (thanks Kendrick brothers,) more and more families are traveling to exotic locales such as Lake City, Ormond Beach, and Gainesville over the weekends for the competitions. 

The dilemma for the church and families has been clear for years. As a pastor and parent who years ago made the AAU basketball travel circuit, I not only understand, but lived through the challenges. I'm not sure I always responded correctly, but nevertheless, I do not speak as one in the ivory tower proclaiming that every family should put away the athletic gear. 

Forsaking the gathering together as God's church is not up for debate either. God settled that need already.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. - Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

While the argument that "We will just do a devotion in the hotel on Sunday morning as a family" may suffice for some, it it truly not the same as the gathering as the local body of believers. Sure, we're not giving out "Perfect Attendance" pins any longer, but there is value in prioritizing the gathering as a church family. There will be exceptions, certainly, but it seems that for many, and not just travel ball families, the exceptions become the norm.

This conflict between church and family time as it relates to youth sports has been addressed by others over the years. Here are a few articles. I don't necessarily agree with every point presented, but this is a good indicator of the tension and desire for resolution among churches and Christian families.

The discussions regarding the redemption of travel ball and summer leagues with the church continue. I personally am not opposed to the leagues, but do see the church as needing a strategic plan for engaging those who participate. 

Quality Sports Ministry

Numerous churches and parachurch organizations have sought to engage the sub-culture of athletes with the Gospel with varying degrees of success. A group meeting at a high school for athletes may work well, but it is dependent on the leader, the openness of the school, and the commitment level of local churches and students. 

There are some really good sports ministries around. That being said, there are some pretty bad ones as well.

A former church member who now lives in another state, Coach Brian Ferguson and his wife Mary Beth have formed a good and focused sports ministry - Building Powerful Athletes. It is focused on reaching and engaging young athletes with the Gospel. Coach Ferguson has coached football at various levels from prep to professional and has seen first-hand how Christianity and sports need not be mutually exclusive. 

In one conversation with him as we were planning opportunities for future camps and clinics, he expressed how many of the clinics made available are less than effective. I have heard this from many others as well. 

It seems when churches seek to enter the arena of sports, a weak version of sports training is often paired with a watered-down version of the Gospel leaving attendees with little more than a T-shirt, "coaching" tips from dads and older teenagers in the church, with the "celebrity" athlete arriving just to give a 15 minute pep talk garnished with just enough Jesus to make it a "Christian" event (yeah, the quotes are intentional.)

This is basically Sports Light with a dose of Diet Gospel.

David Prince, pastor, professor, theologian, author, and sports fan, has written an excellent book titled In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship. I highly recommend it for parents, pastors, coaches, and all believers who love sports, or just want insight into how God uses such for his glory.

Connecting To Athletes

If the young athlete is immersed in the game, he/she becomes part of a sub-culture. There is a language that develops and customs too. To seek to engage an unreached people group, missionaries pray and train and study to best determine how to enter the world of those being sought. Far too many Christians who love sports have ignored how God utilizes such things for his glory.

Last weekend, our church's sports ministry hosted former University of Tennessee Lady Vol and WNBA player, Sidney Spencer Marlborough for a one-day basketball clinic. The purpose was to engage those young ladies in our community who play basketball at their junior high or high school. We learned that hosting a clinic the week after AAU ends is not the best timing, but we did have a group of twelve attend. These girls came from various schools in our county and Sidney's history and expertise in basketball allowed her to speak the language with authority that these young ladies understood. Her husband Bryan, owner of Complete Strength Gym near Kansas City, shared details on exercise and strength training as well. These two were our resident experts who spoke with clarity and authority.

TEAM PHOTO

Yet, it was during lunch when the girls could ask questions and Sidney and Bryan had the opportunity to share more about their lives where the message of the Gospel became very clear. Sidney clarified that sports does not define us. Both she and Bryan affirmed that Christianity and athletics are not mutually exclusive. 

Following lunch, another three hours of basketball ensued.

It was a full day, but at the end, there was solid, quality basketball instruction. There was clear Gospel presentation. And, there were relationships birthed and young ladies in our community discovered a church that loves God enough to love them, even without knowing them first. May this be a catalyst for more quality sports ministry engagement opportunities.

 

First Family Sports - Sidney Spencer from First Family on Vimeo.

 

First Family Sports - Bryan Marlborough from First Family on Vimeo.

 


"I Take That Back" - Eugene Peterson's Retraction

Once again social media reacts (maybe with some responses) regarding statements made by a Christian leader. Yesterday, the buzz centered on Eugene Peterson's interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Services and his stated affirmation regarding same-sex marriage.

Today, Peterson retracts his statements (Full article here.) He stated:

Peterson

Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

It is difficult to retract statements made on controversial subjects, but we have all said things that after further thought were regretted and retracted. 

I am glad Peterson has made this statement. These are good words, yet notably there remain some questions. 

Many shared discouragement, yet continued love, of Peterson based on his statements yesterday. Today, many of those who were saddened find some solace (though still questions) regarding his retraction. 

Of course, this means that those who celebrated his pro-same-sex marriage statements yesterday have now jumped over to lambasting him for his seeming flip-flop on the issue.

Some have questioned whether LifeWay's threat to remove his printed materials from their bookstores impacted this retraction. While it could be true, I stand by my statement in yesterday's posting that I doubted that would impact him personally regarding his stance.

Retractions are interesting, especially those like Peterson's. They seem like the corrections offered in newspapers found hidden on page 12 that reference the previous day's front page headline.

Cynicism is not a spiritual gift, though I often display it. In this case, I seek not to be the cynic and will take Peterson at his quoted word.

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

If nothing else, these stories have reminded us of the continued challenges in our culture as worldviews collide.


Eugene Peterson's Disappointing Message of Affirmation

In the Christian corner of the Twitterverse and blogosphere, there's a bit of a disruption today. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson, in an interview with Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service shared his current views affirming homosexuality and same-sex marriage in particular. Here's his answer when asked by Merritt on his position:

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

Peterson, most widely known for his paraphrase of the Bible titled The Message, as well as numerous other books such as A Long Obedience in the Same Direction and As Kingfishers Catch Fire has publicly made known his views on perhaps the most divisive and controversial of topics in America and especially the church today.

TheMessage

This should not be totally shocking for those who have read or follow Peterson. He served as pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the past, most notably Christ Our King Presbyterian in Bel Air, MD which, like others in the PCUSA have affirmed homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The PCUSA endorsed same-sex marriage in 2015. Not all pastors and members of PCUSA churches agree with the endorsement. Many have since left the denomination and I know of one pastor in our region who was forced to leave for not affirming homosexuality. Nevertheless, based on Peterson's statement, it appears he is lining up with the denomination's leaders and others who have stepped away from a biblical worldview on manhood, womanhood, and sexuality.

Peterson drew concern from many who have enjoyed his writings (and to be clear, he is an incredibly gifted writer) when he endorsed Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins in 2011. Bell's revelations in his book moved him from orthodox Christianity when he disavowed the centrality of the Gospel and Christ as the only way to salvation, not to mention the existence of hell. Peterson stated at the time that while he didn't agree with Bell, he endorsed his work because he valued the conversation. While I agree that conversing about differing beliefs is valid and should occur, to endorse a book that, in my opinion, is heretical was too far. When Peterson was asked "Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?" He replied:

Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine.  They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context. But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything.  They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not.  But that’s not what it means to live in community.

The answer he gave then (2011) was broad and sought to be non-offensive. I agree that our answers ought to be a good bit more biblical and correct in context. Yet the eyebrows were raised and today, once more, a shift from biblical truth has been revealed.

It's easy for Christians to just "throw under the bus" those with whom we disagree. There are way too many blogs out there focused on dividing the church and built on sensational negativism. My desire is not to fan the flames of divisiveness, but to reveal once more how the cultural revolution and anti-biblical worldviews subtly, at times, seep into the church and Christianity.

You will find articles, tweets, and postings from conservative evangelicals over the years affirming some of Peterson's writings. As stated before, he truly has a gift of creativity through writing. It was today when many of these same individuals stated their disappointment in Peterson's newly revealed stance.

Peterson had stated he was stepping away from the public eye and would no longer be authoring books. Then, in the second portion of Merritt's interview, he reveals his stance on human sexuality.

Will this affect his book sales? Yes, likely. However, I don't think he really cares. His publisher may, but he likely does not. That's not a shot - just an opinion. I do think some at NavPress may be working on damage control, but it likely won't help.

LifeWay has announced that once he affirms the statements given in the interview, they will be removing his resources from their stores. This is exactly what they did with Jen Hatmaker's resources for the very same reason. The consistency is laudable and I agree with the decision.

In the interview, Merritt speaks of a day when Peterson will no longer exist. I think a poor choice of words was utilized by Merritt. This has been addressed by others, most notably Denny Burk here.

I am disappointed in Peterson's assertion regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Does this mean I won't be buying any Peterson books?

Well, yes, but I wasn't really buying his books anyway.

Does this mean I will not use The Message in my study or preaching?

I will not. However, I never did. The Message is not a translation. It's a paraphrase and while some of the modern-day wording is interesting and offers an unique spin on the inerrant, it is not a translation and should not be used as such. Just as The Living Bible should not be, in my opinion, the Bible for study or preaching.

Why blog about this?

I have sought to be cordial and not mean-spirited in this posting. I hope I have accomplished that. Nevertheless, some will categorize me a "hater" once again. Peterson is a pastor. He is speaking on a deeply important theological, and cultural issue. To be clear, all cultural issues are theological.

The sinfulness of humanity is common to all. The arguments regarding the affirmation of homosexuality as a lifestyle are getting louder. Some in the church are abandoning biblical truth for cultural acceptance and the current state of "fairness." Nevertheless, the truth remains. God has not changed regarding the sinful nature of humanity and the need for redemption. That's the radical message of the Gospel. 

Some Christians seek to avoid this issue, mostly because friends and family members identify as LGBT. Yet, that is a weak excuse. I speak as one with a dear family member who identifies as such. To ignore the issue is to silently affirm the sin.

Denny Burk said it so well in his response today:

To say that Peterson's justification for same-sex relationships is really thin would be an understatement. His is not an argument based on Scripture. Rather, it's an argument based on sentiment. He says that he's known some nice gay people, therefore he now discards the moral consensus of the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church. This is not pastoral wisdom. It's folly of the first order.

I agree with Burk. Pastoral responsibility leads me to clearly state that Peterson's affirmation of homosexuality and same-sex marriage (just as with Hatmaker's and others who have made such statements) is wrong, unbiblical, and sinful. Words matter and Peterson is a wonderful wordsmith. I just wish his words weren't so very damaging.


Dear Young Pastor and Church Planter...Listen!

There comes a point in pastoral ministry when people stop referring to you as the new, young pastor. Youthfulness is fleeting and along with the greying of hair, stiffening of joints, and a few more "smile lines" comes, hopefully, some wisdom.

I am encouraged at this stage of ministry when others seem to be lamenting the perceived fall of the church in our culture. As I visited a church last week, and joined the senior adult men's Bible study class, one gentleman stated his dismay at how the world is and how bleak the future appears.

I imagine every generation since Adam (or at least Noah) has said similar things. 

Nevertheless, be encouraged. Of course, our study last week was on Barnabas. How appropriate. 

There are many young men who have answered God's call into pastoral ministry. Many young men and women are committed to living as disciples of Jesus Christ, on mission for Him. Though the rise of the "nones" continues to make headlines (or at least becomes sermon fodder or religious discussion points) the fact remains that God has not changed and, in case you have forgotten, is still on His sovereign throne.

That being said, once you step over the line into "older adulthood" or at least "median adulthood" (those designations change depending on who is looking back in the mirror) perspectives shift. Wisdom of the ages is garnered, at least we hope so.

Every Timothy needs a Paul. The wise pastor realizes that at some point he, too, becomes a Paul for another Timothy. This is a daunting and wonderful role not to be ignored.

Watch-face-tee-t-shirts

So, as I stand here at this point in pastoral ministry, I have many years behind me. I have no idea how many ahead (though I'm planning for many.) I have learned some things. I have much more to learn. Oh, and some of the things I have learned, I am still attempting to put into practice. In other words - I have not arrived and I know it.

H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Orange Park has written an excellent book for pastors that features a chapter titled "Lessons I've Learned Along the Way." As I read these, I find myself agreeing and even laughing because I know each statement has a deeper story behind it. H.B. is a friend and has been and is being greatly used by God as His pastor to those at Shiloh and beyond. As I read these tips from H.B., I thought of the young men in our church and network and those I have come to know, at least in passing, and I offer his tips, others I've found and mine as well. H.B.'s are marked. Get the book here for his full list.

For the young pastors and ministers out there...

  • Don't plant a church with only people your age and younger. You may be cool, but that "wisdom of the ages" thing is missing and that's dangerous. (David K. Tarkington)
  • You may have to serve as a bi-vocational pastor for a season. That season may be decades long. (DKT)
  • Arrogance is not a spiritual gift. (DKT)
  • Sometimes when God closes a door, he doesn't open a window. He wants you inside when the building collapses. The Q: Will Christ be enough? (Jared C. Wilson)
  • Be a friend to other pastors, even if they're not friends to you. (H.B. Charles, Jr.)
  • Don't assume anything. (HBC)
  • Contextualization is great, but dress like an adult. (Dean Inserra)
  • You hopefully won't be the last pastor at your church. Live and lead so you leave a godly legacy, even if most of the members of "your" church have no idea who you are thirty years after you're gone. (DKT)
  • If they don't trust you, you can't lead them. (HBC)
  • Before you ask someone why they didn't share their struggles with you, ask yourself first if you've shown yourself to be a safe person. (JCW)
  • If we’re more concerned with our standard of life than God’s intentions for our family, God has a harsh word for us. (J.D. Greear)
  • Ecclesiologically speaking, a lot of stuff that counts can't be counted. (JCW)
  • What good is it to be a "good Christian neighbor" if you don't care enough to share Christ with those neighbors? (DKT)
  • Do not read anonymous mail or unsigned letters. (HBC)
  • Sometimes, you need to not read signed letters. (DKT)
  • Never vent online or on social media. (DKT)
  • The pastor who is always available will be of no use when he is available. (HBC)
  • If you can keep from preaching, do it. Christian ministry is a calling you receive, not a vocation you choose. (HBC)
  • There is nothing new under the sun, but that's no excuse for plagiarism. (DKT)
  • You have to say the hard things. Yet, you must do so in love. (DKT)
  • If pastoral ministry was easy, everyone would do it. (DKT)
  • Discipleship is a process. (Jimmy Scroggins)
  • Love and affirmation are not the same thing. (DKT)
  • If you guard your character, your reputation will take care of itself. (HBC)
  • Pray. Journal. These are verbs. (DKT)
  • Wherever you go, you represent Jesus and the church. (Grant Ethridge)
  • When given the opportunity to preach the Gospel, do it. Be ready at all times. Keep sermons with you. (DKT)
  • If you have a church building with a built-in baptistry (some churches are plants and borrow facilities) keep water in it for every service. Don't miss those "Ethiopian Eunuch" moments. (DKT)
  • Network with other pastors and churches in your area. This helps eliminate the competitive nature that we all have. (DKT)
  • People do not give to needs. They give to vision. (HBC)
  • Every young pastor needs an old mentor. (Sam Rainer)
  • Studying for your sermon is not the same as spending time alone with God in prayer and devotion. (DKT)
  • No politician is either your messiah or the enemy. Don't put your hope, or your ultimate fear, in the political domain. (Micah Fries)
  • Avoid hero worship. Everyone God uses is a jerk and a sinner. (HBC)
  • If you come to a new church after serving in another, remember - no one cares how you did it at the previous church. The longer you live in the past, the less you will be able to lead to the future. (DKT)
  • If you give someone responsibility, give them the authority to carry it out as well. (HBC)
  • You cannot farm out all the pastoral care to the associate pastors and deacons. However, you cannot do all the pastoral care either. This reality will anger just about everyone in your church at some point. (DKT)
  • Don't burn bridges. (DKT)
  • Don't plant a church out of anger. That's not a plant. That's leading a church split. (DKT)
  • Don't blame God for your bad decisions. He may not have "called you" to do what you did. (DKT)
  • Dig your own wells so you don't have to steal other people's water (HBC)
  • You need to be a "Timothy" before you're a "Paul." (DKT)
  • A cynical pastor is an oxymoron. (HBC)
  • Don't outsource discipleship of your children to others in the church. Lead them. Love them. They may become prodigals, but if so, wait patiently as you pray for them, remembering God loves them more than you. (DKT)
  • All transgressions begin with sinful thinking. (Billy Graham)
  • Make sure there are windows on the doors to your office. (DKT)
  • Avoid the appearance of evil. (Paul)
  • You can't know a man until you know his story. So, go eat lunch with "that" guy in your church and let him tell you his story. (DKT)
  • When it's all said and done, you want God to say "Well done, good and faithful servant." You also want your wife to say "Well done, good and faithful husband." No, they're not equal statements, but God's calling is not just at the building down the street with the crosses on it. In most cases (not all) pastors were married before they became pastors. Your faithful wife loves God, too, but while your calling is to serve the church, hers is to you. Too much to unpack here. (DKT)
  • You're not cool. Come to grips with that. Even if your Instagram filter is amazing and your logo is lit (is that the right word?) I know I said you may be cool in the first point, but you're not. Jesus wasn't either, so you're in good company. (DKT)

There are hundreds more insights from hundreds more pastors. Men like Johnny Hunt and Mac Brunson have much to offer younger pastors. So too do the pastors like Mike Wyatt (my pastor when I surrendered to ministry back in the 1990s) and Allen Harrod (my pastor at FBC Orange Park who offered leadership and friendship when I first graduated seminary.) Some of these pastors and mentors do not have books for sale at Amazon. Some may not be known outside their congregation or small town, but listen up, there's much to learn. Young pastor, remember...leaders are learners. Never be that guy who can't take advice or encouragement. Maybe one day when you're greyer and even less cool than you are now, you will have words to share with that young pastor (who is likely in fourth grade right now) that God calls for His glory and good. 


Superheroes on Mars Hill - Engaging the Comic-Con Culture With the Gospel

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)

The story of Paul's engagement at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, reminds us that the message of the Gospel is not just to be held privately, but strategically taken to those in need of redemption through Jesus Christ.

While there have been many advancements regarding technology and industry in the centuries since Paul spoke to these ancient people near Athens, not much has truly changed. Humanity remains depraved and in need of rescue and redemption. The Gospel remains true. God's church continues to move forward under the mandate of the Great Commission as we go through life to engage others with the message of truth.

Comic Books and Superheroes

When I was a boy, I loved reading and collecting comic books. When I had saved up enough change (from that quarter a week allowance) I would ask my parents to stop by the 7-Eleven on the way home from church in Montgomery, Alabama so I could peruse the comic book stand for the latest issues featuring my favorite heroes. This was no comic book shop. There were no plastic bags with acid-free boards for storing the magazines. The rack was metal, spun, and sat near the door.  Most of the comic books were bent as children like me would bend them down to see which issues were hidden behind. I remember when they were 25 cents, then 30 cents and 35 cents and then "Still Only 35 cents." I normally would go home with two or three issues. These would be read numerous times and added to the stack I was accumulating.

Of course, like most people my age, I would get the first issues of new comics hoping that one day they would be worth thousands of dollars like the first "Action Comics" and "Batman" issues of old. Nevertheless, most of the magazines my generation bought were stored safely and because our parents didn't throw them out like those from previous generations, we now have a plethora of books that are "Fabulous First Issues" which aren't worth much because supply (in those plastic sleeves in cardboard boxes) is so high.

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Photo credit: Sam Howzit via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Resurgence of Superheroes in Comic Books

In case you haven't noticed, after a time when comic book sales tanked and superhero films and television shows seemed to be fading, a renewal of interest in these heroes with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man has occurred. 

The Golden Age (1936 - early 1950s)

Since the Golden Age of comics (1936 - early 1950s,) heroes with brightly-colored spandex have attracted the interest of children and teenagers. During the 1940s, superhero comic interest waned. Magazine publishers began to produce books with different themes such as westerns, romance, science fiction, crime, and horror. In fact, many superhero titles were cancelled at this time. Of the dozens produced in the early 1940s, the only ones featuring superheroes to continue production by DC (the industry leader at the time) through the decade were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman, and World's Finest Comics.

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Photo credit: Terry McCombs via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Silver Age (1956 - 1970)

Many changes took place in the world of comic books following the Golden Age. Controversy developed over the alleged connection between comic book themes and juvenile delinquency. In 1954, the comic publishers implemented a self-regulated Comics Code Authority and a shift from crime and horror themes led to a reintroduction of superheroes. The introduction of a new Flash from DC Comics launched this era and soon upstart Marvel Comics launched the Fantastic Four and a new wave of fans was born.

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Photo credit: Michael Vance1 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Bronze Age (1970 - 1985)

This next age of comic book production moved Marvel Comics to the forefront. It was during this time I was collecting those books sold at the 7-Eleven. While many of the mainstay heroes remained, newer ones were introduced and a return to darker plot lines emerged (e.g. racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, urban poverty, pollution, etc.). Many of the heroes introduced in this era became the models for newer television shows like "The Incredible Hulk," "Wonder Woman," and "Spider-Man" and movies like the Christopher Reeve helmed "Superman: The Movie" and Michael Keaton's "Batman."

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Photo credit: Brian Wilkins via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Modern Age (1985 - present)

As generations shift, so too do the heroes they admire. While comic sales dropped, new business models were implemented. Character licensing was sold and plans for new films have been made. It is during this era when many comic book characters were redesigned, creators gained ownership of characters through independent comics, and publishing houses became more commercialized.

Some call this the Dark Age of Comics due to the influence of writers and artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Anti-heroes (like Deadpool, the Punisher, and even Batman) became more popular.

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Photo credit: Asbestos Bill via Visualhunt / CC BY

The Cinematic Universes

When Christopher Reeve first put on the blue tights and red "S" a new era of marketing comic book heroes developed. The "Superman" movie from the late 1970s stated that fans "would believe a man could fly" and based on ticket sales, they did. When Tim Burton introduced a darker "Batman" to the big screen in the 1980s, many fans thought it would fail, primarily because Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the campiness of Adam West's Caped Crusader was the prominent screen image known. When Burton's film became a hit, it seemed like superhero movies would soon take over the multiplex. Nevertheless, sequels didn't fare as well and other films like Dolph Lundgren's "The Punisher" and David Hasselhoff's "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." proved that Hollywood hadn't quite figured out how to move the comic heroes en masse to the big screen.

Then Tobey Maguire became Spider-Man and soon thereafter Christian Bale moved under the cowl of the Dark Knight and, as they say...the rest is history.

Marvel and DC have created effective (at least financially) cinematic universes that have proven to connect with audiences.

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Photo credit: junaidrao via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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Photo credit: junaidrao via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

More Than a Weak Sermon Series Theme

Apparently there are many fans of superheroes in our communities. These run the gamut from stereotypical fanboy or fangirl who knows intricate details of multiverses to the casual fan who just saw Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and watches Sheldon and Leonard on "The Big Bang Theory."

In recent years, with attempts to capitalize on pop culture with catchy themes, some have preached sermons or themed kids events at churches with pseudo-superhero concepts. I'm guilty of having done this in the past, but the truth is as Dr. Timothy Paul Jones stated in a blog post from earlier this year:

For many Christians, the temptation seems to be to engage in what I would identify as a “thin reading” of these cultural artifacts (comic books and superhero films,) hunting for surface-level connections between the Bible and our favorite superhero tales. Pastors who become caught up in such thin readings may construct entire sermon series out of the latest films or feel compelled to drop references to movies into their messages—all to achieve a perceived sense of relevance by linking Scripture to culture. This is not authentic cultural engagement, however. In most instances, it’s closer to uncritical cultural appropriation. Full-fledged Christian engagement with the culture digs deeper than surface-level links and wrestles with the conflicting worldviews that undergird these artistic artifacts.

Jones' article goes deeper and is well worth your read. Read it here.

Engaging on Mars Hill

What is it about these heroes that not only connects generations and draws fans, but gathers groups together at Comic-Con and movie premieres? The religious undertones are not always subtle and the fact that most early superheroes such as Superman were rooted in Judaism (ever wondered why his name is Kal-El?) reveals many Old Testament themes woven into the histories, especially from the Golden Age. 

Yet, even anti-religious sentiment and humanistic worldviews aside, there is a sense, for the most part of good, evil, truth, justice, and other such things that at the core are religious concepts.

Many of the fictional heroes and heroines either find their root in Greek and Roman mythology or at a minimum are influenced by some of these types of stories. It is my contention that the culturally popular fictional heroes are not much different than the false gods and goddesses worshipped and adored by the ancient people of Paul's day.

Paul engaged those who were far from God strategically. He went to Mars Hill for this purpose. He did not remain silent, but talked intelligently and not condescendingly to those in the crowd. 

What If?

After reading numerous articles and studying God's Word on living sent as his church to a lost and dying world, I thought of Dr. Jones' postings about worldviews as revealed in comic books and the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC.

What if the church engaged this affinity group through story-telling in ways that centers on the Scripture and the Gospel? What if rather than just continuing to add programs and events to reach the already reached, we went to this "Mars Hill" in our culture today? I have talked to a few teenagers specifically about this. Some attend church, but always seem to be on the fringes. Others have no place for church in their lives and basically have denied or ignored the message of the Gospel. I asked if they would consider joining me for a study called "The Meta-narrative of the Gospel as Revealed in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes?" Yeah - that's what I named it, based on Dr. Jones' articles. However, I may shorten it to "Superhero Sunday Nights."

Their interest was piqued.

I asked, "Do you have any friends who may be interested in something like this?" 

The answer was yes and they began to rattle off names of students I do not know. Most have no connection with a church and no relationship (or desire for a relationship) with Christ.

I am not sure what this will even look like - The Big Bang Theory meets the Bible? I hope more than that. It's just that we (the church) have done much over the decades to connect with students through affinities like athletics, drama and theater, dance, and music, but I have yet to hear of an intentionally evangelistic effort (more than a gimmick event) that seeks to connect with those whom many categorize as nerds and geeks, but most likely think deeply and love and understand the intricacies of story. Ultimately, the Story is what they need.

Some will mock. Some will ignore. Yet, I believe some will be drawn by God to Himself. It's been done before.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)

 


How Can I Rest When So Many Are Lost?

A few years ago, in one of our network's church planter assessment meetings, my wife and I served as coaches and assessors as we have done for years. At times, we meet men who are wrestling with the call into pastoral ministry. Each story is unique and as these men with their wives go through an intense two days of assessment, stories unfold and we are amazed each time how God calls us to Himself, from diverse backgrounds for His good and glory.

In some cases, our pastors/planters are men who have served on church staff, but are answering the call to leave full-time (i.e. paid) ministry to plant a new work in our city or elsewhere. At other times, these are men who have served in other venues or denominations and are joining our pastoral internship and pipeline of assessment, encouragement, and peer learning. There are also some who are basically just "kicking the tires" to see if perhaps God is calling them to such a ministry role.

As I stated, each story is unique and we have the privilege of hearing testimonials from these men and their wives about how they ended up where they are.

As the weekend comes to a close, we have the task of affirming or redirecting the men as church planters, all while praying and seeking discernment and leadership from God in these areas.

One year, a pastor and his wife joined us for an assessment weekend. This pastor is a friend and is not originally from the United States. I won't use his name or exact story, but in general, this man pastored a church in a foreign land for years. He now lives in the US and through his connections in numerous cities, basically pastors up to 70 house churches, all centered around the native culture and language.

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Photo credit: OliYoung via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

He and his wife have no children and they serve faithfully despite his physical ailments due to things that happened to him in his home country from those opposed to the Gospel.

He does speak English, as does his wife, but English is not their heart language. Therefore, the comfort level of communicating in English is not there. Nevertheless, as we assessed him I felt a bit foolish. Here is a man who has more experience than I do as a pastor. He has been through persecution - and I mean real persecution, not the typical American version of being made fun of. He has a "thorn in the flesh" that slows him down considerably, yet he doesn't complain (at least not in English.) He and his wife open their home up to visitor at all times of day and night as need may be. To open the home for a guest, in their cultural setting, means to provide a meal...every time. This happens almost daily.

He serves in our city at a ministry focused on connecting and reaching internationals. He travels as need be to help churches for his people group in other cities in the nation. He mentors others.

He is not perfect. He will tell you so. Nevertheless, I am always honored to spend time with him.

At this setting, I was listening to his stories and what God is doing in his life. Along with other pastors and friends, we were inspired, but had a warning for him as well.

We told him that he must rest.

He must take a Sabbath.

He is burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.

He acknowledged this, as did his wife.

Then, he said something. He slowly and softly asked this rhetorical question - "How can I rest when so many are lost?"

And I was overcome with the reality that this brother is burdened for the lostness of our world at a level I seek to find. He did not discount the need for Sabbath, but his rest is found not in a day of the week, but in Christ.

This pastor is the epitome of living sent. He is on mission. He is missional. He is faithful.

May we be burdened for the lostness of our world as well.