Taking Big Risks

Over the past few weeks I've heard and read a lot about taking risks.   Christian men should be willing to take risks, I've heard.  I've read that church planting is about taking a faithful leap into the unknown. While I understand what these kinds of statements are getting at, I'm beginning to wonder if I believe them.

When we think of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of the lunar lander to come down into the dust of the moon, we have to think about the risk he took.  But if we pull that view back some and see the many, many steps he took before he took that "giant leap" it makes the giant leap look much less risky.  Why?  Because he had so much faith and confidence in the men, equipment, research, and history supporting his mission.

As we journey with God, day after day, and follow in the path he lays before us, we should see serving our Lord as far less risky.  We should hold fast to a deep trust already built through all the little steps we've taken with God.  Seeing how much God has ordered our steps and how much he as been the Greater Provider of the outcomes, we should feel no risk when we walk with him.  Trusting God should be easy.  The problem however, is our sinful nature.  We often doubt God and that leaves us feeling like we're taking giant leaps with Jesus.  The risk is not found in doing what God calls us to do; the risk is letting go of our own ideas and strength to follow God's call.  And when we do submit and trust the Lord, amazing things will happen.

I've faithfully ventured into the work of planting a church.   If I were to believe many of the books I've read, I'd probably feel like I were stepping off a lunar lander.  But the reality is this: Christ says he will build his Church (Matthew 16:18).  If it is Christ who builds his Church--to include every local church, what risk am I really taking?  He's the builder and I should have faith and confidence in him.  He knows what he's doing and his care for what he builds far surpasses my level of care.  Whether Redeeming Life Church gets off the ground or not, it's Christ's church, not mine.  If this is true, and I believe it is, how much risk does a church planter really take?  None, other than letting go personal pride and trusting Jesus.  There's no risk if the church planter has faith in Christ.  (I type this and at the same time know that I'll still feel like I'm taking big "risks" when I choose to let go of my own ideas and desires and follow Christ's plan for Redeeming Life Church.  It's the curse of sin.)

At times I feel like am looking into the vastness space far above the earth and required to take a step out in to it.  But that's just a feeling that comes and goes and I grow in my relationship with Jesus.  Peter on the other hand, actually did step out of the boat and walk on the stormy waves.  (See John 6 and Matthew 14.)  Many would say he took a risk getting out the boat, which from our perspective is probably true considering none of the other guys accepted Jesus' invitation to walk on water in the middle of a storm.  But the bigger risk was to take his focus off Christ.  Without Christ we try to go under the power of our own steam.  Letting go of my own effort, knowing just how little steam I really have, feels like the bigger risk when in reality the risker thing is placing our trust in ourselves.  Sadly, letting go of our pride, ideas, and fleeting strength is often the gamble we fail to risk and the decision to place our trust in ourselves only leads to failure.

If you'd like to stop taking risks, take a leap off the ladder and come join our family at Redeeming Life Church

*The photo used in this post was taken and published by NASA and is in the public domain.   

Playing the Bride

Many little girls fantasize about their future wedding day.  They dream of an amazing dress, flowers, a big beautiful cake, and dancing.  In their aspirations all eyes are on the bride.  Everybody is saying, "isn't she beautiful!"

Many little girls strive to achieve this fantasy as they grow into women.  They design their big day around the plan they've been brewing for a lifetime. It's a lot of work with little chance of living up to the expectation.  But something serious is missing--the groom.

How easy is it find a bride-to-be tasting cake, picking flowers, and planning the ceremony with the groom-to-be simply in tow?  How often do we hear, "this is the bride's day?"  I've been know to say those very words to stressed out grooms.  It seems exhausting on the bride and taxing on the groom.

As I've been 'playing at church,' or rather, working to build a core team to start another Christian congregation in the Salt Lake valley, I've felt as though our little baby church plant is like the little girl dreaming of her wedding day.  Our team is 'trying it on' with ambition and aspiration, but often what we're looking to is the trappings of the local church, not the Groom who calls the Church his bride.

It's so easy to be busy.  It's easy to chase after the 'stuff' of the local church.  Growing leaders desire to have people fellowshipping in their homes with little understanding the fellowship the Bible actually calls for.  We want to build systems that get people connected to our congregation but we don't fully grasp the necessary connection to God's Kingdom.  We want to be heard as wise but are unsure about our willingness to truly get into the messiness of real lives.  We (certainly myself included) get excited about graphics and colors and chair arrangements and sound systems and forget that none of these things have eternal significance.  Potential preachers want to stand in the pulpit and preach a good sermon with little thought of the shepherding and care that the pulpit demands.  All of this is because we hold to a worldly view of the marriage we have with Jesus.  At times we're putting the dream before the reality; we're assembling a wedding day without the Groom.

The Bible provides us with a picture of a bride and a groom.  We are the bride and Jesus is the Groom.

Ephesians 5:25-27 charges the husband to love his wife, but it also gives us a beautiful picture of Christ's love for his bride.  It reads, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (ESV).

Jesus makes his bride beautiful!

How much more joy might the Bride of Christ have if we would get our priorities right?  How much more beautiful would the local church be if Christ were truly our passion and the 'stuff' came second or third or somewhere else down the line?  The stuff is so tempting because we often want all eyes on us as we desire the community around us to look at our local congregations and say, "isn't it beautiful" or "isn't this church cool."  Too often church leaders and preachers (myself included) want people to say, "Wow, great sermon" or "yes, I really like the _________ here" (fill in the blank with your favorite 'stuff').

While it is so easy to say and so hard to do, I believe it's critical that we dump our dreams and fantasies of what the local church should be and look to Jesus because he is not only the groom, he is the Head of the Church.  Jesus is our senior pastor.  And the Senior Pastor cares little for the 'stuff' and much for you and me, his bride.

(If you'd like to see more about what God's Word says about Christ and the Bride, here are some chapters to get you started: Psalm 45; Isaiah 62; Matthew 25; Mark 2; Revelation 19, 21, and 22.) 

*Photo by Amy Ann Brockmeyer is used with permission. 

The Balanced Christian Life

The normal Christian life (if there is such a thing) is one of balance.  But balance of what?

Preaching on Romans 2:12-29 this week at Redeeming Life Church, I noticed a picture of the balance the Bible speaks of.  Romans itself offers a nice illustration.  The first 11 chapters of the book are Paul's systematic theology.  It's what we should know.  It's our doctrine. Romans 12:3 through the end of chapter 16 provide us with a picture of what it looks like to live like a Christian.  It's what we should do and how we should act, all based on what we believe.  Romans 12:1-2 is the point in which these two things should intersect.

It's like an old hinge.  One side is fixed, anchored. This side is our knowledge, doctrine, and theology.  It's what we believe.  The other side is attached to the part that moves.  It's our actions.  It's ministry.  This side of the hinge is what we do.  And the pin in the middle that holds it all together is our love and submission to Jesus Christ.  (Take a look at Romans 12:1-2 with this illustration in mind.)

As we journey through the Christian life, most of us will default to one side or the other.  For most Christians one part of the hinge is larger than the other and we often see the world around us from the perspective of our larger side.  The lynchpin is the critical piece however.  How we love Jesus and submit our lives to him is not only what allows these two parts to work together, it's what we must entirely orient our lives around.  It's what make the hinge work.  Without the pin, the two sides become something other than the Christian life.  They become ugly.  They becoming idols.  But when the hinge works well, we have balance, joy, and faithfulness.  These two parts, working well together, held together by Christ, should be our desire.

*Photo used in this post comes from pixabay.com

Scriptures Every Christian Should Know

Jared Jenkins and I set out to record a Salty Believer Unscripted series called "Scriptures Every Christian Should Know."  It seemed easy enough.  What Scriptures should every Christian know?  But it's really not that easy.

How do you determine which Scripture is more important that other Scripture.  We had a hard time narrowing them down.  Are the Scriptures in red more important that the others because Jesus spoke them during his earthly ministry?  That's a faulty question because John 1:1 tells us that Jesus is the very Word of God.  And we find in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is breathed out by God.  How can one verse be important enough to know and the others be on the list of Scriptures not worth knowing.  Are the ones that go nicely on a coffee mug more important than others?  The truth is, Christians should read and know all the Scriptures.

In addition, Jared and I were often tempted to discuss the verses that might not be as popular but still very important to the Christian life.  This is probably not right, but we found this cropping up in the moments just before we hit the record button.  (We don't script or plan much and a series like this probably takes more planning than we generally allow ourselves to do for this podcast.)

We eventually ended this series, although we could have continued it for months.  In any case, here are the 12 verses we did end up discussing.

Scriptures Every Christian Should Know
-- Introduction and John 3:16 audio
-- Ephesians 2:8-10 audio
-- Deuteronomy 6:5-9 and Isaiah 64:5-6 audio
-- Isaiah 26:3-4Isaiah 32:8, and Acts 9:26-31  audio
-- Romans 8:28-30 and Jeremiah 29:11 auido
-- 1 John 1:9 and Matthew 5:17-20 audio
-- Philippians 4:13 and Philippians 4:6 audio

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*The photo used in this post comes from pixabay.com. 

Oh, What a Selfish Generation!

September 30, 2014

Lydia dances up on the flat screen and I watch in amazement.  She twirls and kicks, raises her hands to her face, and at times, turns her back to the audience.  She's 22-weeks old and beautiful.

At Lydia's most recent ultrasound, I found myself struck by the serious reality that there are people who passionately argue that this little girl is not a life worth protecting in the face of a mother or father's selfish desires.  My thoughts went back to last November 19th, when I watched the early birth of my son and his short 15 minutes of life as he tried to hold on.  (Titus is the one pictured in this post. You can read mine and Lisa's thoughts on that here.)

When does life start?  For a sea turtle our culture has decided that it's worth protecting before the mother even lays her eggs on the beach.  Don't mess with a sea turtle making her way out of the water.  And those eggs she laid in the sand are under the protection of federal law.  The unhatched life of a sea turtle is valuable.

If Lisa and I were hit and killed by a drunk driver on the way home from the hospital, the state would charge the driver with THREE counts of vehicular homicide.  Lydia's life would be respected, even in the womb.  The court would respect her as a person.  However, if Lisa and I, after seeing Lydia on the screen, determined that we didn't want to be her parents, there are still options to terminate her life.  If the mother determines that her 22-week-old baby has no value, we call it a fetus and can provide a procedure to remove the inconvenience.  However, if the father decides to punch his wife in the stomach and the same fetus dies, we call the fetus a person and we charge the father with murder.

The only explanation I can provide for this madness is selfishness.  We are a wicked and perverse generation.  Our decisions are driven by our need to have it the way we want it.  We'll call her a person when we want her; however, we'll label her a fetus when we can't face the truth that we're actually willingly killing a child.

We're so selfish!  But let's be honest, I'm selfish too.  God, in his sovereign wisdom allowed Titus to be born too early to have a good chance for a long life.  I wanted him with me and my family.  I had hopes and expectations for my son.  I wanted his life to be so much longer.  I want the same for Lydia.  I have my own selfish expectations.  I have my own desires just as much as the woman who wants to kill her baby.  I'm selfish too.

The answer to both areas of our selfishness it to submit to God and his will.  We must die to our own desires, especially when life is on the line (which include our own).  We must conceded that Jesus is Lord and he knows best.  In the case of the woman who wants to end the life of her dancing little girl, she must see that God has made the life living in her womb in light of a choice she made that led to the conception of her child.  The father must see this too.  Yet so many still spit in the face of God and believe they know better than he.  And in the case of my own selfishness, I must to remember that God is sovereign.  He knows best.  In both cases, the selfish (which is all of mankind) must trust in the Lord, for he is the giver and creator of life.

When a Sermon Speaks

September 23, 2014

When I was in seminary I would often tune into the Liberty University convocations as well as the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary convocations.  (There's a difference.  Liberty is the undergraduate school which also includes a number of secular-type masters and doctorate degrees and LBTS is a seminary with masters and doctorate degrees of a biblical, theological, or spiritual nature.)  There were some memorable sermons, but one in particular changed my entire approach to seminary, ministry, and even life.

God used the following sermon by Francis Chan in November of 2011 to really get inside my soul:

Jump ahead to September 2014.  I am serving in full-time ministry as well as planting a church. Ironically, I'm teaching a preaching class for the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary CLD program in an effort to improve my ability to preach.  I selected some sermons that we're viewing and critiquing as a group.  Chan's sermon at Liberty was one of them.  

In preparation for the class, I watched the sermon again with the critique form in mind.  Based on the form, Chan's sermon doesn't cover all the 'correct' bases; but then, neither would Piper, Chandler, DeYoung, or even Billy Graham's sermons.  (My certainly don't and I'm starting to feel okay with that.)  This should probably cause us to re-think the seminary and 'textbook' approach to building sermons with an effort to keep the Holy Spirit at the forefront of our mind as well as an understanding that God uses different preachers how God will use different preachers. 

When I watched the Chan sermon a second time, it really didn't strike the same chord like it did when I first heard it.  I wondered what effect the sermon might have on the class, especially as they would be viewing it with the form in front of them.  I started to wonder if I was losing the passion I had in seminary after seeing the sermon the first time.  Had a few years of ministry and a handful hard critiques from others snuffed out the fire?  What happened? 

But then I watched the Chan sermon a third time in the class, without the form.  Again, God used this sermon to dig inside my soul.  I felt fired up once more.  Again, I have this passion to "look like a guy who walked out of the Bible, not the Bible Belt," as Chan says.  

Francis Chan's passion is moving.  It should liberate preachers who get a little fired up.  His excitement to preach and his joy doing it reminded me how blessed I am to have the opportunity to serve the Lord.  I'm blessed to have the opportunity to preaching God's Word, even if my style and approach doesn't stack up against the textbooks or professors or pastors who do it differently.  And I hope I can love Jesus and his Word and let that overflow out of me all over the place, even in my preaching.  

A guy once challenged me about what the sermon is and what it's for.  He saw the sermon like the breakfast meal--it's something you need regularly but it's not something that is really life changing in a single moment.  His argument was that it's sermon after sermon after sermon over many years that brings about change.  And this is true for some, but certainly God can use a single sermon to speak and move a person.  And maybe you'll hear this sermon and it won't speak to you at all.  But for me, at two different times, God has used this sermon to speak to me in ways I pray are life changing.  (It's unlikely that you'll ever see this Francis, that's for faithfully preaching the message God gave you to preach and to it with passion.) 

Soli Deo gloria!
Salty Believer

Planning a Preaching Schedule

Preaching calendars are fascinating things.  It seems few preachers plan the same way.  Some plan out three years in advance, others three minutes. Some like to do short series, some much longer treks.  There are preachers who love topical sermons and those, like me, who prefer to work through books of the Bible.

Redeeming Life Church, a new church plant I pastor, is working through the Book of Romans.  After looking at a number of outlines, reading the book a couple times, and filling a scratch page, I worked out 41 sermons through Romans.  I've seen it done in 16 (each chapter becomes a sermon) and I've learned that R.C. Sproul did it in 58 sermons.  John Piper did it in 225.

After I worked out the 41 sermons, I placed them on a calendar, keeping in mind special holidays and Sundays where we might not be in Romans.  For example, we'll have three Christmas sermons from the Psalms.  This gives me a good idea where I'll be at any given time.

In addition, it's our hope to have a some of our House Fellowship leaders and potential future elders preaching in this rotation.  I personally do not believe the pulpit should be the responsibility of one man, so I'd like to have these other men preaching.  Ideally, I'll preach about 50% of the year and these men will carry the other 50%.  Having the sermons on a calendar for nearly a year out greatly helps them know what text they'll be preaching from and offers each man a great deal of time to prepare.

We do something else I've yet to see being done at other churches.  Redeeming Life is introducing the text in our House Fellowships during the week.  Many churches will preach on text and then community groups or small groups will have a discussion the following week on what was preached.  Not us.  The week prior to the particular sermon, the House Fellowship leaders discuss what will be preached.  We believe this allows the Word of God to churn around a bit in the mind.  The response, we pray, will be more significant because it's not brand new information.

The House Fellowship leaders are not teaching everything on the text, but instead, providing some initial thoughts and leaving some hanging questions.  They are leaving room for the Holy Spirit to start working.  Then the church hears more on the text the following Sunday.

The challenge our schedule presents is the need to have info to the House Fellowships one and a half weeks ahead of the sermon.  I'd like the House Fellowship leaders to have time to pray over the text, work on some thoughts, and be prepared to lead a discussion.

So my schedule looks something like this:  On the Monday before the sermon being preached in two weeks, I begin studying and gathering some initial thoughts.  This continues on Tuesday.  Then on Wednesday, I write up some thoughts and questions to post on the Redeeming Life Church website as well as some additional material that's sent to the House Fellowship leaders.   Then on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I look back to the study and materials I did the previous week and start working out the final details of the sermon coming that Sunday.  The process continues the next week, and the next, and so-on.

My sermon prep is really a two-week process and I'm always working on two sermons at the same time.  The advantage is how much I feel the sermons are interconnected from week to week.  I also believe there's value having the church chew on a text for a week before it's preached.  I suspect the call for a response to God's Word  is more compelling when the hearer has been thinking on it for longer.  I also feel this approach will greatly enhance our spiritual growth.  That's not to say it doesn't come with challenges.  It keeps me on my toes and I pray it will greatly improving my preaching.

If you're in the Salt Lake area, please be our guest.  If not, you can still find more information at the Redeeming Life Church website: www.RedeemingLifeUtah.org.

*Photo of "Planner" by Flickr.com user, Nomadic Lass, is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.  

Redeeming Life Launches

September 9, 2014

As we greeted our first guest and handed him a colorful bulletin, he walked into the lobby area and saw the muffins and coffee. Surprised, he proclaimed, "Whoa, a bulletin AND coffee.  This is a real church!"

By no means are coffee and bulletins the mark of Christian church.  Neither are seats, curtains, logos, and a good sound system.  The second chapter of Acts suggests that a church must at least be dedicated to the Word of God, break bread together (AKA take the Lord's Supper), be dedicated to the fellowship (another way to say membership?), and be about prayer.  Mark Dever suggests that the nine indicators of a healthy church are biblical preaching, biblical theology and strong doctrine, it lives the gospel, see conversions, is about evangelism, has membership, is disciplined, is growing disciples of Jesus, and has a plurality of elders.  

Despite the debate of exactly how a local church is defined, Redeeming Life Church is off to a good start.  We're serious about the Word of God.  We break bread together every week, we are dedicated to the fellowship (although we have not yet instituted a covenant membership, but it's coming), and we pray together.  We've baptized someone and will baptize another in a couple weeks.  I believe our theology is sound.  We are presently under the oversight of borrowed elders until we can raise up a plurality of  our own elders.  We pray that we'll have many opportunities to proclaim the gospel in the Salt Lake valley and beyond.  We are seeking to grow closer to Jesus every day.  And we really, really love Jesus.

A small group of us have been meeting for months to think about, study, and pray about planting a church.  Risen Life Church is our supporting church.  In fact, we were commissioned by this church to plant another church somewhere else in the valley.  And just this last Sunday, we hosted our first evening service.

We are certainly a work in progress, but that's how we'll always be as a local church because a work in progress is what we are in Christ.  Redeeming Life Church has a great team of men and women seeking to serve the Lord and grow closer to him in the process.  Our lead pastor (that's me) is completely incapable of shepherding God's people without the daily help of Jesus.  So I hold fast to Christ!  Our House Fellowship leaders are learning and growing, but along the way they are serving like tour guides in a place they are only just becoming familiar with themselves.   We're not cool.  We're not well funded, although we are greatly loved and supported by Risen Life Church.  We are not following the latests trends of the newest church plating book.  From the outside, we probably don't look like we have it all together (because you can see from the inside, we really don't).  We are a bunch of people who love Jesus, growing more like him.  We want to be disciples of Jesus who make more disciples of Jesus.  In fact, our goal is to simply know God better and love him more.  We hope and pray that we become so filled by Christ that we spill Jesus out everywhere we go.

If you're in the Salt Lake area and don't have a home church, are unsure about Jesus, or are just curious, we'd love to have you join us.  We meet Sunday nights at 6:30pm in the Fellowship Hall of the Risen Life Church building (2780 E. 3900 S., SLC, UT 84124).  Or you can find more information at www.RedeemingLifeUtah.org.  I've love to have you be our guest!

             Soli Deo Gloria!
             Pastor Bryan

Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld

            In the introduction of their book Living Your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents and inspire your Community, Dr. Albert Winseman, Dr. Donald Clifton, and Curt Liesveld argue that a spiritual leader will be more fruitful if he or she focuses on his or her existing natural strengths rather than on present weaknesses or even a potential God-given future strength(1). The implication is that an essential quality of a leader is the ability to keep his or her focus on, and lead out of, his or her strengths. “You will be most successful in whatever you do,” they write, “by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses”(2).  Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld’s concept from this Gallup Press project and others like it(3) have found their way into Christian leadership books and articles; but are they right?  This is an important question for the faithful minister seeking a fruitful ministry.  Is there a time or an event that necessitates that the minister need be more than merely aware of a personal weakness and instead expend energy shoring it up?  Is there a possibility that one could, through various means, develop a ministry strength that is not presently manifested within the minister?  Or might God call a minister to a task in which the minister will receive the talent, skills, knowledge, and ability to fulfill this calling at a later time?  If Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld are correct, the answer is clearly no.

            This review will examine Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis.  In doing so, differing contemporary works on this leadership concept will be surveyed.  The Bible will also be consulted to examine the texts Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to for support. Furthermore, this review will conclude that while there are convincing reasons to avoid expending too much energy on one’s weaknesses, there are indeed times to address weakness.  In addition, it is possible that present natural abilities will not necessarily determine the path to the greatest success and present natural strengths may not be the best tools to fulfill God’s call upon one’s life. While focusing on one’s strengths is a leadership quality, understanding the right focus is essential of any leader.

Transitions: Reflections Before Launching Redeeming Life Church

August 25, 2014

Transitions are about gain and about loss.  I am in a season of transition.

A few months ago, a group of curious men, women, and their children sat in my living room to hear about church planting.  We were a small group seeking to understand how God might plant a church in the Salt Lake valley.  Many of us were wondering if God might be using us to plant a church.  Risen Life Church has desired to plant a church in another part of the valley and we were thinking it might be time.

From that first night in my living room, we've seen a number of good people come and go.  Some have said, "no, this is not for me."  Others have said, "yes, I'd like to do this."  And still others have said, "I'm not so sure about this, but I think God is calling me to do it."  It certainly has been an interesting journey.

For a while we grew into a larger group.  Then it seemed God whittled us down to a smaller but more committed group.   Then a family who moved away from Salt Lake six months prior came back, determined to be a part of our effort.  And our team started gelling like a new family.

We call the parsonage where I live (and where we were meeting) The Barnabas House.  We started calling our group of soon-to-be church planters The Barnabas House Fellowship.  Eventually we determined that we were called to plant a church out of Risen Life and we ended up with the name Redeeming Life Church.

Knowing that we'd start a Sunday night service, we determined that our Monday night meetings should be held in the fellowship hall of Risen Life Church, the location where we'd be holding our Sunday night church gathering.  So we moved across the parking lot.  And on September 7th at 6:30pm, we'll hold our first corporate church gathering as Redeeming Life Church.

We baptized a guy.  Upon hearing his confession, another woman wants to be baptized so we'll have a baptism service on the September 21.  We've got a Facebook page and we're working on a website.  Our sermons will be recorded and made available.  We cleaned up the fellowship hall.  It's been hard work, but fun.

Tonight we held our last Monday night group meeting.  Details were discussed.  We worshiped and
prayed.  We laughed.  As we were cleaning up, a homeless lady full of drama and complications walked in, and we did what we could to help her.  It was a great night, but it was clear that we are in transition.

As I examine where we started and I see where we're headed I feel the gains and losses.  I'm excited to see this team serving together, worshiping, praying, and reaching the lost.  I'm thrilled to see what God may do with this eclectic team.  But I also feel the loss.  I already miss those meetings in my living room.  I'm sure I will long for the simplicity of those living room meetings one day, yet at the same time, I can't wait to see what kind of gains God may bring.

If you're in the Salt Lake area and would like to know more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I would love to have you join us on Sunday nights at 6:30.  (2780 E. 3900 S. Salt Lake City, Utah, 84124).  And if you feel called to help plant the gospel in the Salt Lake valley, either in person, prayer, or by donating resources, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Soli Deo gloria!
Pastor Bryan

Doctor of Ministry at GGBTS

Shortly after completing a Master of Divinity at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, thoughts of further education began fluttering through my mind.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in seminary and I felt as though I could honor God by pushing further into academic pursuits.  But I also love the hands-on work in the pastorate and wanted any energy I expended toward advancing my education to have a direct impact upon my ministry.

I began examining PhD possibilities when Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary landed on my radar.  It's cost effective and a little closer to my ministry in the West than many other seminaries.  (And as it turns out, they are relocating, building a state-of-the art campus, and changing their name. You can learn earn more about that by following this link.)

 However, after making a PhD prospectus visit something did not feel right.  The PhD felt more removed from my ministry than I was seeking.  It is extremely focused and I would probably greatly enjoy it; however, I was unsure it would serve my calling.  It was on that trip however, when DMin (Doctor of Ministry) seeds were planted.  But I struggled with this idea at first.

Many seminaries treat the DMin as either 'PhD lite' or 'ThM plus.'  There are assumptions that the DMin is purely a cash cow for seminaries.  Many hopeful PhD candidates argue that the DMin excludes opportunities to serve as a professor for a seminary.  I've heard people say that it is not a serious degree and argued that the DMin is practical where the PhD is academic.  While I can't speak for how other seminaries treat the DMin, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth at Golden Gate.

For starters, the GGBTS president, Dr. Jeff Iorg holds a DMin, not a PhD.  There are many professors in seminaries and bible colleges across the nation who hold Doctorates of Ministry and teach in their respective fields.  There are many more serving in successful pastorates.  Many books and commentaries include the work of DMin guys and gals.

GGBTS is an ATS accredited seminary and an academic institution.  They only offer academic degrees.  The workload includes many seminars, not unlike the PhD.  There is lots of reading, writing, and study.  A major difference however, is that 8 of the 29 credits are an in-the-field, supervised, hand-on-ministry evaluation and study of the minister.  Another difference between a PhD and a DMin at Golden Gate is the project.  Rather than writing a lengthy dissertation on a narrow topic that nobody has ever previously conceived, the DMin candidate conducts an actual project in the field.  He or she must academically (theologically and theoretically) identify, argue, and prove a ministry problem or challenge in his or her ministry, develop a solution, actually conduct the project, and than report on the findings.  While the page count is limited to 100 perfectly written pages in exact Turabian format (plus large appendices), this is an academic process that requires an oral report and defense from an assigned committee.  I'm told less than half the candidates that start the program finish and ever hold the title of doctor.

In all reality, the PhD and the DMin are just different.  I recently heard a professor who holds multiple doctorate degrees describe it this way:  The PhD is a research degree, whereas the DMin is professional degree.  If this were the medical field, the PhD guy would be in a laboratory developing a cure for cancer while the DMin guy (not unlike the MD) would be in the hospital administering the cure for cancer.  The DMin is the pastor working in the lives of the congregation and the PhD is writing the commentaries the pastor uses when he preaches.  The PhD could write thousands of pages and be an expert on the doctrine of grace while the DMin is expected to gracious.  Both are necessary degrees and in the end, they simply serve different purposes.

As I examined the focus of the DMin, I found it to be the best option for me.  And as I looked at various schools, Golden Gate Baptist Theological seminary was the most appropriate choice.  

*The above photo was taken and used by the US Air Force and is in the public domain. 
** While I am presently  DMin candidate at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, this endorsement is purely of my own opinion and was not solicited from GGBTS.

Called to Teach by William Yount

Yount, William R. Called to Teach: An introduction to the ministry of Teaching. Nashville, Tenn,   B&H Publishing Group, 1999.

Through his book, Called to Teach: An introduction to the ministry of Teaching, Dr. William Yount seeks to bring his readers to a “clearer understanding of how to teach, a deeper conviction for teaching ministry, and confidence that [the reader] possess the skills to make it happen” (x-xi). This may be a tall order for a book subtitled, An introduction; however, Yount does succeed in providing solid how-to material, a strong introduction to teaching ministry, and enough to leave the reader excited to try. His experience and expertise are present on nearly every page and his style is such that his arguments are accessible as well as convincing. Called to Teach serves as a great introduction to teaching, a guide for newer teachers, and a jolt back to something exciting for seasoned instructors.

In four parts, Yount moves through the overarching roles of the teacher. He starts with whom the teacher is in Part One, titled, “The Teacher as Person.” Opening with the Triad of Teaching, Yount introduces a textbook discussion; but before the reader can get lost in the linear nature of the thinking, feeling, and doing, the reader is challenged with the problematic methods many teachers. Yount argues that compartmentalizing the rational, emotional, and behavioral areas of learning open the door to grave weaknesses and is often is a disjointed approach (14-15). “The answer to the dilemma,” Yount writes, “is to integrate the rational, emotional, and behavioral into a single teaching style that communicates concepts clearly, warms students personally, and engages students productively” (15). This global model becomes the foundation for the remainder of the book.

As Yount builds upon his foundation he starts with the heart and motivation of the teacher. Providing many examples, he demonstrates that most poor teaching is do to a lack of maturity and proper motivation. “Mature teachers see teaching as a mission;” argues Yount, “The mission is greater than reading and lecturing and answering questions—it is to stimulate a desire for excellence, first in the subject at hand, but beyond that, in life itself” (37). Therefore, much of Yount’s opening two chapters deal with the teacher rather than the classroom environment, teaching style, or how-to material for instruction.

Moving into the second part of his book, “The Teacher as Instructor,” Yount shifts from the conceptual matters of teaching and the internal matters of the teacher toward the actual task of teaching. Idea after idea are shared in a structured approach that keeps each idea and subsequent example framed in clusters of concepts, demonstrating the value of one of Yount’s suggested formats (50). It is this section where most of the introductory matter of teaching is found and it is also this section that would likely be most helpful to the Sunday school and formal teacher alike. However, for those who need specific how-to material, Part Three, “The Teacher as Manager,” provides information on organizing the class, keeping order, and writing tests. Yount offers outlines and examples that could have an immediate impact upon the quality of the formal classroom. How to write good test questions and samples of the good, bad, and ugly serves as but one example. This section, however, will not likely be as helpful to the adult Sunday school teacher. The final part, “The Teacher as Minister” brings the entire endeavor into greater spiritual thinking.

Yount provides an excellent example of his approach and style through the way his book is written. For example, he argues, “As you gather material for your course, you will find numerous cross references—common essentials among the endless words—that reflect the structure of your subject. These are the elements worth talking about because they form the skeleton on which all the other words hang” (47). Called to Teach offers a fantastic skeleton of ideas without getting overly bogged down in the various theories and mechanics of teaching. He gives concepts as well as offering an introduction to the various ideas and theories. Yount also blends his whole-part, sequential, and relevance organizational ideas through out the book (49-50). He has a clear roadmap, leaving the reader aware of the destination but interested in the journey (47-54). And his personal experience offers engaging examples that allow the reader to warm up to Yount as a teacher.

One weakness of Called to Teach is Yount’s handling of Scripture. Very little of his book, if any, was driven by God’s Word but instead seemed to be an after-the-fact add-on. If all the scriptural references were removed, with exception to the final section about the teacher as an evangelist, the book would work extremely well in the secular world. Many of the verses quoted were tacked on to further make the point rather than leading the idea. This paragraph from page 11 serves as but one example,
One last word on humor. Be sure that the humor is positive and uplifting. Avoid crude or vulgar jokes, stories with a double meaning, and even lighthearted pranks or gags. Humor is wrong when it denigrates others or demeans the sacred task at hand. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4).
Rather than simply tacking on the passage as if to spiritualize the point, a simple rewrite could have signaled that God’s Word was the leading reason for the argument. This paragraph could have opened with something such as, “Adhering to Paul’s instruction, ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or course joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving’ (Eph 5:4), be sure that humor is positive and uplifting.” In addition, some of the Scripture used is taken out of context. In these cases, Yount may have been better off to avoid using the Scripture all together.

Another difficulty of Called to Teach is the feeling of screeching breaks when the reader hits Part Three. Part Two is helpful to anyone teaching in nearly any formal environment. Part Three however, is a rather mechanical manual on class design, testing, and keeping young people or those required to attend the class under control. This creates a lurch that leaves the reader suddenly feeling less excited about the ministry of teaching. The material of Part Three is very helpful but a strong signal of the coming shift may have removed this awkward transition. Another idea may have been to add two sections at the end: one for the Sunday school teacher and one for the formal classroom teacher. With an introduction to each section alerting the reader what was ahead, the hard shift in tone and structure could have been avoided and the excitement of the new teacher maintained.

An additional section on teaching outside the classroom could have been added as well. Much of Part One and Part Two could be incorporated into an out-of-the-box format for the father trying to find ways to teach his children, the camp counselor desiring to teach as they go, or any other non-traditional format. This section might have greatly enhanced Called to Teach and provided additional thinking on what it is to teach and disciple those the teacher is called to serve, even if outside of a formal class setting.

Shortcoming aside, Called to Teach is an excellent introductory book on the topic of teaching. It is exciting, flows well, and is enjoyable to read. Sunday school leaders as well as formal academic teachers could greatly benefit from Yount’s book.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.

Ministering to Problem People in Your Church by Dr. Marshall Shelley

Shelley, Marshall. Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do with Well-Intentioned Dragons. Bloomington, Minn: Bethany House, 2013.

Dr. Marshall Shelley’s book, Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons is the type of book that will help pastors better minister to difficult people or cause them to leave the ministry. Shelley provides one story after another, each full of conflict between congregants and the pastor. While some of these stories end well and others end in tragedy, they are all difficult to read. Anyone who has been in ministry can likely relate to a story or two. If it is not the person like Virginia who expects the pastor to get all her troubled, lost friends saved in one meeting, then maybe it is the board member like Dwayne who regularly criticizes the pastor’s preaching because it is not like his beloved big-name preacher with the radio show. Or maybe it is the ‘Bird Dog,’ or the ‘Wet Blanket,’ the ‘Entrepreneur,’ the ‘Legalist,’ the ‘Busybody,’ or maybe the ‘Sniper.’ Whichever the dragon, Shelley states, “The goal in handling dragons is not to destroy them, not merely to disassociate from them, but to make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect” (39).

“This book,” writes Shelley, “is about ministering while under attack” (14). However, the most valuable aspects of this book come in the form of preventing conflict in the first place. In looking to avoid problems all together, Shelley argues, “Pastors, who are charged to ‘see to it . . . that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many’ (Hebrews 12:15), find that the best way to prevent dragon blight, or at lease minimize its damage, is to concentrate on developing a healthy church” (128). Shelley figures that “perhaps the wisdom of battle-tested veterans will prevent others from walking unaware into an ambush,” but more than understanding how to maneuver through existing conflict, pastors should be equipped by the latter chapters that discuss the best defense: prevention (14). “Taking opportunities to build a close, cohesive church,” advises Shelley, “will produce better results than the shrewdest political maneuvers to squelch dissenters after problems sprout. Defusing potential problems before they arise is far better than troubleshooting later on” (128). The second best defense is very similar. According to Shelley, “If the church itself is not healthy, the best thing to do is to build a healthy board. Cohesiveness among the spiritual leaders of the congregation is a healthy core for healing the rest of the body and for fighting the infectious attitudes that spring up from time to time” (141). The author also provides some direct advice for dealing with people suffering with mental illness, conflict through electronic media, and those making a play for power. In each of these areas, Shelley’s direct advice and coaching is far more helpful than the stories of battle-tested, beat-down pastors.

Community Balance

My family gave me a little fish tank for my birthday.  I've never raised fish but I do enjoy watching them and I typically find fish interesting.  My half-moon, 3-gallon tank seemed simple enough.  Rocks, filter, bubbles.  Fill with water and plop in some fish, right? 

Yes, if you want to go through a dozen or more fish trying to figure it out.  That's what I did.

Over the past few months I've learned a great deal about tropical fish.  Goldfish, it turns out, don't have a stomach so they just eat and poop non-stop.  Some fish feed on the top, some on the bottom.  Allege is food for snails, but mostly on the glass and structures.  They don't eat the junk on the bottom because it's not allege.  Other fish and critters eat that 'stuff' on the bottom but you probably also need a special vacuum to keep the gravel (also called substrate) clean.  Oh, and there's bacteria that's really important for the survival and happiness of the fish.  Too many fish means that their waste can quickly become toxic.   Too much food is unhealthy for the water and too little food is, well, starvation for the fish.  Some fish are really communal while others will eat whatever will fit in his or her mouth (including the tail of a green cory catfish).  What I find really interesting is the type of fish that must have other similar fish with them.  If they don't have enough buddies they are not only lonely, they just give up and die.

In a mere 3 gallons, I've got a complex ecosystem.  Fish that find food on the surface.  A fish that eats on the bottom.  Shrimp that clean the substrate and snails that clean the glass and broken ship.  I have to do partial water changes and there are special pellets in my filter that somehow help the good bacteria grow.  And I've had to make many adjustments along the way.  Aggressive or messy fish have been evicted.  I've added shrimp and snails for the helpful jobs they do.  Fish selection became a serious process beyond, "hey, that's a cool looking fish."  In order for my community of tropical fish and critters to function in a healthy way, there has to be some balance.

You shouldn't have an entire tank of guppies or snails or catfish.  They each of a function that benefits the community.  It's a lot like the body that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12.  The entire body can't just be an eye.  There must by many parts working in harmony.  Every part serves a different function and in order to have health, every part is necessary.  Community requires diversity and balance.

As I'm working with a core team in preparation to plant a church, I'm seeing how much the church is like a fish tank; but unlike the life in fish tank, the Lord's Church offers grace and Jesus can bring about change.  When you have an aggressive person that chomps another person's tail off, you have a problem.  But rather than flushing the aggressor down the toilet, we can work together and extend grace while Jesus changes the very nature and hearts of those of us in the tank.  Over time, as we seek to live like Christ, we will find greater harmony and healthy spiritual growth in our community.  And hopefully we'll find something amazing.      

* Photo of clown fish is in the public domain.