You May be a Barnabas if. . .


By guest writers Dave Earley and Tom Swanner.

Dave Early says you may be a Barnabas if...

... you get more excited about the ministry success of someone else whom you have helped than you do about your own success.

... you are content to do most of your ministry behind the scenes and off the radar.

... ministries that you have started tend to fizzle.

... you would rather listen quietly to the struggles of a young leader than lead an evangelistic rally.

... you get your greatest joy from watching the individuals that you have discipled become movers and shakers in the kingdom.

... you are awakened often in the night with an urgency to lift up your senior leader in intercessory prayer.

... you are more about what other leaders are doing than about what you are doing.

... you are often tempted to see the needs and inadequacies in senior Christian leaders and think of ways you can help.

Tom Swanner explains what it is to be a "Barnabas" in ministry: 

Most of my life I struggled with thoughts of inadequacy and self-doubt. I was sure that I was supposed to be in some kind of ministry; however, I did not feel that I was supposed to be the lead in any Christian organization. I knew what it took to be a leader, and many times I found myself in leadership roles, but I never felt entirely comfortable.

One day I was studying the life of Paul. I realized that there was a person who was not only humanly responsible for Paul being in the ministry, but there was also a person responsible for keeping him effective at ministry for an extended period of time. His name was Barnabas.

Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

Barnabas was really a nickname that Joseph (his real name) picked up after the early believers learned what kind of person he was. The name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.” The longer I spend in ministry, the more I am convinced that this type of leader is vital for the sustainment of our campaign against the darkness. While we may see the need for real men and women of God to lead the masses, the often-overlooked need of the son and daughter of encouragement is just as fundamental.

The problem with being a Barnabas is that there is often very little recognition in the modern Christian economy for someone who is a second leader. People tend to ask, “Who is in charge here?” People want to get that guy’s attention so that they can get what they want. They do not ask for the guy who is not in charge of something, because that guy cannot give them what they want.”

“Jesus said that whoever would be great in God’s kingdom would be the servant of all (Matthew 20:25-28). As a Barnabas, you have a great responsibility. Your job is to keep the “Paul” in your ministry encouraged and on track. They do not need your criticism from the sidelines. They need your encouragement.

* Dave Earley and Tom Swanner serve at Grace City Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Dave is the author of more than 20 books.  Both hold Doctorates of Ministry. 

** This post originally on published on Dave Earley's website in a slightly different form.  

You can find it here.

 It is reposted here with permission. 

Redeeming Life Church Public Launch (Or "The Funny Language of Church Planting")

April 28, 2015.


In February of 2014, I packed a church van full of young people and set off for Missions Week on the Golden Gate Seminary campus.  It was a pivotal trip.  We attended workshops and sessions.  We helped a church plant and we slept in a poor part of San Francisco.  I met Dr. Richard Johnston and Pastor James Soy.  Dr. Irog and Dr. Wilson encouraged me to apply for the Doctorate of Ministry program, and I did. (Dr. Iorg also tried to convince an intern on my staff to transfer to Golden Gate; but so, far that hasn't happened.) A young man in our group demonstrated that he can lead worship.  We discussed the missional nature of church planting and Risen Life's role in that. And we prayed a lot.

The group was from Risen Life Church.   I was on staff.  My job was to learn and grow in preparation to plant a church.


Upon our return, we started a Bible study group in my home with the purpose of examining what it might take to plant a church in another part of Salt Lake City. The Barnabas House Fellowship was the name of our study. We journeyed through the book of Acts with Elmer Town's book,  Churches that Multiply as a supplement.

The group grew as people came and went.  Some were simply not called to church planting.  Others were only in it for the excitement of the newest, shinny thing.  But some were there in the beginning and are still a part of our core team today. (More than I expected, actually!)

Eventually we outgrew our house and it became apparent that God was calling this group to plant a church.  We worked through all kinds of details.  Eventually we settle on the name, Redeeming Life Church.  ([R] for short.)

We started meeting on Sunday afternoons in the Risen Life Church building.  It was a special time because we saw God do some amazing things.  People were saved.  Believers were baptized.  And our core team grew stronger and stronger. 

Then something happened. God brought people from the Rose Park area all the way across the valley to worship with us.  We knew what was coming.  God was calling us to the Rose Park area of Salt Lake.  It was time to move out of the Risen Life building.

Risen Life released me from their staff and commissioned me as the pastor of this new church.  My family, as well as other families of the core team moved into the neighborhood. We started doing evangelism in our target area to include a campaign that resulted in us hanging 5,000 door hangers. We invited the neighborhood to our Easter Sunrise service. 

We've spend the past three weeks meeting in the Northwest Community Center in preparation for our 'public launch.' It's funny because in church planting language, this point is thought of as the day the church plant starts.  But we've been a church seedling for a while and we feel more like May 3rd is the day we stop saying 'plant' and just say 'church,' Redeeming Life Church. 


I'm thrilled to see what God might do with this little church in Rose Park.  If you live in the area, we'd love it if you'd be our guest.  Our Sunday Gathering starts at 11am. We're praying that God is calling you to join us in this mission. Or maybe you don't live in the area but he's calling you to help us in some other way. And please, keep us in your prayers.   

Soli Deo gloria!

Bryan Catherman

Salty Believer and Pastor of Redeeming Life Church

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

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.

 A couple issues found in the book are troubling and could have used further explanation or even an additional chapter or two. The first is found in the use of the title, ‘dragon.’ Shelley says:
"Dragons, of course, are fictional beasts—monstrous reptiles with a lion’s claws, a serpent’s tail, a bat’s wings, and scaly skin. They exist only in the imagination. But there are dragons of a different sort, decidedly real. In most cases, though not always, they do not intend to be sinister, in fact they’re usually quite friendly. But their charm and earnestness belie their power to destroy" (11-12). 
Seeing congregants as dragons almost puts them in biblical category of a wolf or predator in sheep’s clothing, although instead of harming the flock, dragons are ravenous for the pastor. Difficult people could end up marked as one who is against the pastor. The pastor’s role and motivations may become compromised if led too heavily by dragon-thinking or dragon-hunting.

After telling a tale of slaying a dragon, Shelly argues, “Unlike Daniel or Saint George, the goal of a pastor is not to slay but to tame the beast, to prevent further destruction on either side” (168). While his point is not to kill the dragon, Shelley still identifies the person as a beast or dragon, only now tame. A better thinking may be presented in Shelley’s story of Rob and the Millers. Rob saw the Millers as dragons, but the youth pastor, Jeff, offered this wisdom: “‘Don’t look at them as lions,’ Jeff said. ‘Look at them as wounded sheep’” (172). The pastor’s role is to help people in their sanctification process as they grow more like Christ. Rather than dragons, it may be better to see the difficult people as sheep that bite. In this case, like Jeff’s advice, the goal would be to see the difficult people still as sheep and work toward adjusting negative behavior rather than completely identifying them with a vile beast. Avoiding the label may actually help pastors reach Shelley’s desired goal to “make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect” (39).

A problematic example where identifying an individual as a dragon rather than a person in need of sanctification is found in a story where a dragon happened to be the same person who alerted the pastor to his daughter’s potential affair. This is a prime example of when the dragon might be right, the subject of Chapter Nine. But rather than following the advice of Chapter Nine, this pastor continues to identify the difficult person as a dragon and appears to make that issue greater than the broken marriage of his daughter and son-in-law, as well as that of two other members of his church. The trouble, it seems, is that the pastor stitched the dragon letter ‘D’ on Maureen’s sweater, allowing the pastor to assume he had a free pass to work less toward reconciliation with Maureen. If this event were merely between congregants, it is likely the pastor would have worked hard to seek reconciliation and forgiveness, suggesting that this conflict is a grand opportunity to demonstrate grace for one another. The same instruction and counsel in that circumstance should apply to the pastor as well.

The second complication of this book comes by way of Shelley’s treatment church government. In nearly every case, the pastor had a board of elected elders and that pastor was completely at the mercy of said board. There were many mentions of votes and political wrangling. Not every church function in this way. There are churches under higher denominational oversight. Others function with no board at all. Churches can be found with a plurality of elders who are actually the pastors that serve for life. Some churches are completely congregational and vote on everything without representation from a board. And there are likely many other hybrid forms of church government. By assuming that all the pastors reading his book work under the same system, Shelley misses an opportunity to provide guidance to pastors serving under differing kinds of church governments. Some readers may conclude that the majority of problems listed in this book are do to nature of leadership by an elected board.

Despite the two concerning areas of Shelley’s book, he still provides a great deal of helpful tools and ideas. Being able to identify the motivations behind a difficult person may be the key to finding a healthy approach to the problem. “The distinguishing characteristic of a dragon,” advises Shelley, “is not what is said but how it’s said. Even though dragons are well intentioned, sincerely doing what’s best in their own eyes, the characteristic that marks a dragon is that they are never quite with you” (47). Understanding the difference between a critic or even an emotionally charged attack from a person who is with you versus one who is not is extremely valuable and Shelley spends a great deal of ink on this topic.

Another helpful tool is the large number of wise, single-line offerings from so many pastors. Many demonstrate wisdom, either found on accident or intentionally driven. For example, one Oregon pastor would pointedly call out a person’s conduct and demand that they stop. Now he says, “‘Our first approach should be one of compassion, because nine out of ten sinners in the church are hurting more than we imagine. Now I’ll put my arm around a man and say in private, ‘Jim, I’ve heard some things, like . . . Is there any truth to this?’ Often he’ll break down and acknowledge it’” (179). This pastor goes on to say his primary approach and question is along the lines of “How can I help you?” and he says, “It usually take them by surprise” (179).

Also helpful is the entire chapter on dealing with individuals with mental illness. This can be an extremely tricky aspect of pastoring, either with the suffering person or the congregation that struggles with the suffering person. The chapter on engaging with electronic media is helpful too. This chapter reminds the reader of the helpful and not-so-helpful times to use email or text messaging and it provides some easy, bulleted lists. One bullet point that should probably be typed and pasted to the computer screen reads, “Do not use email if your emotions are running high (86).

As I read the first chapter, I wrestled with the question, “Is ministry worth this much grief?” The question continued to nag at me until I reached Chapter Seven. While I saw much of the advice up to that point as informative and helpful, I still cringed at the idea that we pastors simply dog along and use the necessary tools to deal with dragons. I kept finding myself thinking, if the Bible is true, and I believe it is, there must be a better approach to leading difficult people. The Shelley's answer was a great relief: seek to lead healthy churches and the dragons will be less likely. And should a dragon surface, the healthy church will be more likely to deal with the issue rather than there be a great need for the material in the first six chapters. Being aware of the first six chapters is helpful, but in the end, working toward a healthy church is exciting and encouraging. When dragons come along, keeping the goal of a healthy church at the forefront of the mind should provide a good path to dealing with dragons (or sheep that bite).

Purchase Ministering to Problem People In your Church here. 

* 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.  **Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Look Before You Lead by Aubrey Malphurs

Malphurs, Aubrey. Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church. Culture Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2013.

In his book, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture, Dr. Aubrey Malphurs sets out to “explore how to form spiritually healthy organizational cultures in the context of church planting, church revitalization, and church adoptions,” with his specific focus in the area of unique church culture and behavior (8). While his ideas are shaped out of his theological beliefs, much of Look Before You Lead is driven by his theoretical and practical understanding of leadership within the context of the local church.

Malphurs builds his arguments upon some theological assumptions. The first is that it is the pastor’s responsibility to understand a church’s culture and lead by way of cultural adjustment. “In a sense,” he writes, “every pastor of an established church, whether a new pastor or one who has been there for years, must be a culture architect” (129). While we see little biblical evidence for such a pastoral role, Malphurs’ argument leaves the reader rightly feeling that the lack of understanding and skill in the area of church culture may leave the pastor in a position where he cannot lead or motivate the congregation in any direction. Lacking in Maplhurs’ argument however, is the idea that the Word of God through strong, responsible preaching should play the largest role—larger than even the pastor’s role—in shaping the culture of the local congregation.

Malphurs’ second theological assumption comes through his view of the shape and structure of the local church. For example, it appears that Malphurs holds that a church is (or should be) led through a single pastor or elder rather than a plurality of elders with a leader among those elders. While there are hints peppered throughout the book, Appendix G provides the most direct view into Malphurs’ theological underpinnings regarding the leadership of the local church. Some of the questions about the maturity of the church assume that a single, highly talented leader is a sign of maturity.  Question 2 for example, suggests that viewing the role of the pastor as a visionary leader demonstrates a higher level of maturity. In similar regard, questions 5 and 24 suggest that a preference for change in the church (presumably under the pastor’s leadership) is more mature than a desire to maintain a status quo with no qualification of what the status quo may be; although it should be remembered that Malphurs is writing specifically to those wanting to revitalize, plant, or adopt churches. Question 19 asks if the pastor is a strong visionary leader and a good preacher. With more than one pastor leading in these areas, gifts and skills may be spread out among a pastoral team providing spiritually healthy advantages. A plurality of elders is biblical and may be a greater mark of spiritual maturity than a church built around the skills and personality of a single pastor.

Other assumptions around the structure of the local church also manifest themselves in Appendix G and seem to surface in the undergirding of Malphurs’ argument. There is an idea presented that a growing church is a mark of maturity; however, no measure of the kind or health of the growth is included. Yet another example is seen in the assumption that a well-kept facility is the mark of a healthy, mature church. It could be however, that the culture of the church is far more focused on spending time and resources on spiritual growth, missions, evangelism, or some other venture. Although correct, Malphurs also assumes that church planting and church adoption are a good way to advance the gospel, but he provides very little discussion behind his reasoning and assumes his readers agree.

Much of Look Before You Lead actually reside in the theoretical areas of practical and organizational leadership. While his focus is for revitalizing, planting, or adopting churches, it would be rather simple to apply Malphurs’ ideas to a new or struggling non-profit organization that utilizes volunteers. Even so, Malphurs says, “I wrote this book for any church leader whose heartbeat is for Christ’s church” (9). For this reason, the first half of the book deals with exegeting church culture and the second is filled with practical methods of shaping, changing, and leading that culture in its vision and mission. The entire book, therefore, depends upon accuracy of Maluphurs’ statement, “The better a pastor knows his church’s culture, the better he’ll be able to lead his church” (16).

Culture is the primary building block of Malphurs' argument and through an explanation of what church culture is, Malphurs writes, “Churches are behavior-expressed, values-driven, and beliefs-based” (21). Interestingly, observed behaviors give an indication of the culture’s actual values; then dissecting the actual values exposes the church’s actual beliefs. Often there is a disparity between a culture’s perceived or aspired beliefs and values in contrast to those they actually hold. In motivating a church to a specific desired behavior, a leader most likely must first work toward establishing a belief among the culture. Once that belief is actually held, the leader must demonstrate why that belief should become a value. “When a church culture acts on its beliefs,” argues Malphurs, “they become its actual values” (21). Once the actual values are acted upon, the new behaviors should reflect the leader’s desired behaviors. While Malphurs does not address this in his book, is seems reasonable to think that if a leader unknowingly teaches or develops a belief within the culture without thinking of the intended value, there is a chance that an undesired behavior may result. All the more reason a leader must understand the culture and think like a cultural architect.

While Malphurs does not provide much discussion on the importance the preaching of the Word of God as the most significant influence of beliefs, I hold this as a theological truth. The preaching pastor or pastors must understand church culture if preaching and teaching is to be conducted in such a way that biblically centered beliefs become actual values followed by those values shaping behavior. The spiritual health of a church depends upon this truth. If Malphurs also holds this conviction, than I agree with his statement that the pastor must be a cultural architect. Most pastors serving in the context of planting a new church, planting a church out of an existing church, or adopting a church will likely find Malphurs’ theoretical arguments directly relevant and compelling.

The audience for Look Before You Lead is a little smaller than many other books on the topic, but a pastor or leader of a local church could greatly benefit from the information Malphurs provides in Look Before You Lead.

Purchase this book from Amazon here.

* 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.  ** Purchases from the links on this website help support the ministry of  

The Forgotten Mission Field

Missions and evangelism--really one in the same--are important.  At least five times Christ called his people to reach the world with the gospel (John 20:21, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-48, and Acts 1:8).  This means we should be reaching the world around us as well as collectively reaching every corner of the globe.  Some have taken up this call and faithfully dedicated their lives to this purpose.  Others use their vacation time to serve missions a couple weeks of their year; while still others use missions as a "religious cover" for a vacation. Whether in our communities and at the work place, or around the world, the life of the Christian should include some kind of answer to this call. (This however is not the entirety on the Christian life as some passionately argue.)

Many of us in American gravely overlook, even forget an obvious mission field.  It's the ministry to children in our local churches. The Bible clearly shows that parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but this is not to say that the local church can't be there to help.  And what about the families where parents aren't Christian but may attend a local Christian church?  I went to church as a child but wasn't a believer until I was 25. What about guests?

Working with children can be difficult, but not always. 

A teacher or servant-hearted volunteer working with children could have an impact on the next generation and maybe many generations to come.  He or she may also impact this generation because the child could potentially be how God reaches the parents.

If you feel called to teaching, preaching, missions, or evangelism, deeply consider a ministry that reaches children.  I'm sure there's a children's ministry that could use your help.

*Photo by Cosey Tutti is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

Equipping Ministers - A Good Work for Denominations

Church denominations have received a beating in the past couple decades, and in some cases rightly so.  In other cases, these blows might be undeserved.  It's easy to find believers and non-believers who are quick to point out all the negative aspects of one or many denominations.  And it's equally as easy to find brothers and sisters who are excessively tied to a denomination, sometimes even above the universal Church and the advancement of the Lord's Kingdom.  Case-in-point: the polarizing effect at the mere mention of the Southern Baptist Convention.  

Jared Jenkins and I specifically discuss what a denomination is and what it is not in a podcast recorded for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We also talk about the purpose of denominations and include some pros and cons.  You can listen to that here.

Without getting into all the arguments of denominations (you can listen to a podcast on that above), I'd like to examine one way that a denomination might help fulfill Ephesians 4:11-16.  This text reads,
And he gave apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, but craftiness in deceitful schemes.  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 (ESV). 
From this text, it would appear that the purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  This is not necessarily to say that all the saints will enter a profession of full-time ministry or even some kind of formal bi-vocational ministry.  But the saints must be equipped.  And if the saints are to be equipped, the leaders should also be well equipped.

The local church is a great place for leaders to learn and grow, but it is not the only place.  Seminary is a helpful resources for pastors to develop skills and understanding.  Some denominations support seminaries.  But what about those individuals who can't attend seminary?  This is where the denomination can help.

If a denomination is the pooling together resources from a number of smaller local churches, it seems that a teacher from one local church could greatly help pastors from many local churches.  This would allow a pastor with a seminary education to share his knowledge with others.  The teacher would have the ability to equip other ministers and then together they could equip the saints.  The role of the denomination then, should be to bring these people together.

And example can been seen in Salt Lake City among the Salt Lake Baptist Association.  The SLBA has partnered with a seminary program of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary called Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD).  At the very heart of this program is the desire to equip the saints.  They call it the Utah School of Theology.

The Utah School of Theology offers very affordable diploma programs accredited by GGBTS.  Upon the completion of the program, students receive a diploma backed by GGBTS; but along the way students receive a high quality education from seminary trained instructors.  Some of the professors are even seasoned guys with PhDs who have taught at other seminaries.  Applicants need not hold a bachelor's degree (unlike the seminary) and the courses are typically taught in the evenings. 

It's my hope that as more denominations work toward equipping the saints rather than some of the other things they do, the beatings will subside.  One way is to help train up the church leaders. And when the denominations focus on the right things, maybe the gospel will be advanced at a greater speed into the far depths of the world!

On Grieving

February 11, 2014

"Blessed are those who mourn," Jesus said, "for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4, ESV).  For the one mourning, this can be an odd statement.  Confusing in a difficult time.  But truly, there is something amazing in these words.

"Blessed?" might the grieving mother ask.  You can almost hear the pain in the question of a daughter who lost here father, "How am I blessed?" It's difficult to see a person mourning the loss of friend or family member.  From within this perspective, it's hard to see the blessing.  Blessed?  It certainly seems like a fair question.    

In November of 2013, my wife and I lost our baby.  We mourn, but we've also been comforted.  Blessed, actually. The comfort comes from God, often through others.  There are times in our grieving and sadness when we directly feel the hand of God and experience his peace There are also times when we are comforted and blessed by God's people.  Obviously I would prefer not to have lost my son and I certainly wish my heart was not grieved, but without this sadness, I wouldn't have this opportunity to experience Jesus' promise or feel drawn to God as I do in this way, at this time.  The comfort would not likely be as sweet without the mourning, just as the joy of the day's first light is greater after enduring a difficult dark night (Psalm 30).

While it can be a challenge to see the blessing from within the clutches of a grieving season, that does not change the truth that it is a gift.  For those who mourn, there is grace from God, a blessing.  This gift may be easier to understand in eternity, when our views are not clouded by our fallen nature, but blessed are those who are comforted now. 

At the moment I wish Lisa and I were grieving less and our feelings of comfort more, but we realize this is a journey that is often traveled slowly.  The road feels long, but Christ is with us.  "Blessed are those who mourn."

Shortly into our mourning, I sad down with Tina Pelton and recorded a two part podcast series for Salty Believer Unscripted on the topic of grieving.  If you are grieving or in a position to comfort or bless someone who is, these podcasts may be helpful.

Grieving: A Conversation with Tina Pelton
-- Grieving (Part 1) audio
-- Grieving (Part 2) audio 

  *The painting of "Old Man Grieving" is by Vincent van Gogh and is in the public domain.

Lessons from Church History

In the forward to 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Holman Reference), J.I. Packer says, Both the processes and characters of history have a vast amount to teach us; studying them matures our judgment and frees us from blind submission to present-day prejudices" (XI, 2000).  In short, history is important.  Christian history then, is even more important considering the depth, weight, and magnitude of the our relationship with God through the ages. 

The Bible is a written history, either of the individual's words or a narrative, or both.  Even the book of Revelation which is often thought only to be a book about the things to come is history.  Revelation 1:1-2 provides an introduction that something suggests something happened and John wrote it down.  Like the history of book of Revelation, Christian history (with includes John and his books) holds lessons and instruction for the present and future as well as a look into the past. This is precisely the point of Hebrews 11 and the fantastic picture and instruction provided in Hebrews 12. 

Truly believing that we can learn much and be greatly encouraged by the history of Jesus' Church, Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, and I recorded a series of podcasts about lessons we can learn from Church history.   In each podcast, we briefly examine a person or event from history and then discuss lessons or encouragements we've learned.   Our heroes of Church history come from the patristic age all the way forward to the mid-1900s and include both men and women.  We selected apologists, scholars, pastors, preachers, missionaries, martyrs, politicians, pioneers, and front runners in social justice. 

If you're interested, you can subscribe to "Salty Believer Unscripted" on iTunes or listen here:

Lessons from Church History
-- Athanasius and Lady Jane Gray (Part 1) audio 
-- Patrick and the Puritans (Part 2) audio
-- Jan Hus and Charles Spurgeon (Part 3) audio
-- Conrad Grabel, George Blourock, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Part 4) audio
-- Polycarp and John Chrysostom (Part 5) audio

*Photo of Natural History Museum of London, England was taken by Geof Wilson and is registered under a creative commons license.

Churches that Multiply by Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter

Towns, Elmer L., and Douglas Porter. Churches That Multiply: A Bible Study on Church Planting. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003. 

Dr. Elmer Towns, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Douglas Porter, pastor of Napanee Baptist Church until his death in 2011, set out to examine church planting through the lessons taught in the books of Acts.  But unlike many other church-planting books, this is not simply a book to encourage people to copy the lessons of Paul's journeys recorded in Acts.  It is not a book that dictates a single model to follow, as some denominations attempt.  Instead, this is a book that sets out to equip and encourage the average church, full of regular people to plant churches through whatever God calls them to do.  Towns and Porter write, "this book suggests a bubble up strategy, which means average Christians get a burden to begin a new church" (7).  They conceded that a top down method (they call trickle down) and the bottom up method (they call bubble up) are both biblical and may get churches planted, "but this book," write Towns and Porter, "is aimed at getting you and many other members in your Bible study group a vision of how your church can start a new church" (7).

The format implemented by Towns and Porter is straight forward.  They simply move through the book of Acts as their chapters progress.  Starting with Jesus' post resurrection ministry, they deal with the education of the disciples and the Great Commission and the disciple's role.  From this point, everything is driven out of what Towns and Porter see in the various churches in Acts.  From the Church in Jerusalem they discuss the importance of saturating a place and a people with the gospel through evangelism.  The Church in Samaria becomes a platform for discussing the ministry of the layperson.  Antioch is about cross-culture planting and evangelism while Galatia is about overcoming great problems.  The Church in Philippi is used to look at relationships, Thessalonica about compassion for people, and the Berean Church is about being rooted in the Scriptures.  Understanding a culture is discussed through the lens of the Athens Church, Corinth becomes the setting to examine spiritual gifts in the church, and the Ephesian Church allows Towns and Porter to close with a chapter on leadership training.

Another aspect of each chapter is the many project options that follow.  After each chapter, the reader will find sections called "Personal Lessons to Take Away" and "Church Lessons to Take Away."  These sections provide additional opportunity for through and discussion, making them ideal for a group study.  In addition, these two sections provide different perspectives for the various readers who may be journeying through this book.  A pastor or prospective church-planter may be thinking about a larger vision and context for an entire church or church-planting team while the individual may just be thinking about planting in general or a specific role on a team.  Having these two sections broke out makes it easy to get to specifics based on personal circumstances.  In addition, there are two more post-chapter sections called "Personal Project" and "Church Project."  These sections provide many ideas and 'assignments' for individuals thinking about planting or joining a plant as well as Bible study group projects and even church-wide projects related to planting.

One would be disappointed if he or she were looking for the complete 'how-to' of church-planting, if such a book even exists.  Churches that Multiply is not written with many specifics, other than what might be extrapolated from the Lessons to Take Away and Project sections.   However, Towns and Porter do not claim this is a how-to book.  They call this book "A Bible Study on Church Planting" (cover).  The set out to ignite a planting vision for a Bible study group, individual, or church.  If a group where to work together through this book and engage in the projects, it is likely that they would indeed gain a vision to plant.  That being said, Towns and Porter achieved what they set out to do.

A weakness of Churches that Multiply might be found in its format.  Using each church in Acts to examine one thing begins to look a bit contrived as the reader moves from chapter to chapter.  It almost seems as if the authors first created a list of things they wanted to cover and then assigned those topics to a single church.  Actually contrasting these churches with one another may have been more informative.  I wonder how relationships differed and what could be learned in the differences and similarities.  How did each church deal with their respective culture (because they all did)?  Instead, Athens is the only example of dealing with culture.  How did the various churches train up leaders, because surely the Ephesians are not the only ones that provide examples?   How did these various churches spread the gospel, do evangelism, and stand in the face of opposition? 

A strength of Churches that Multiply might also be found in its format.  Having simple sections that cover divided sections of the Book of Acts means it is easy to handle a chapter per week or every two weeks.  The projects and lesson take aways provide a simple task for a group leader.  This book might be a great place for a church planting team to journey for a season.  The projects could unite the group around a common theological vision and purpose as well as allow them to learn and grow together.  Spending 6 months in this book would greatly help a team develop a plan for their specific church-plant.

While there are many books on church-planting available, Churches that Multiply is great for a group study.  Although I have not used it with a study group or to develop a vision for planting, I believe it would make a good resource to do so.

Purchase this book at by clicking here.

* This book was recommended to me along with a few other books by a NAMB Send City Church-Planting Coordinator, and for that, I'm thankful. 
** Purchases made through the links on this website help financially support this ministry. 

On Preaching

They stand and deliver Sunday after Sunday, alone or as part of a team, sometimes traveling, sometimes for the same flock for many years.  They are the preachers that so many sit under week after week.  From their biblical expository preaching many learn the Word of the Lord and are moved to respond accordingly.  

Preaching is a special calling that often takes discipline, training, and practice in addition to the aid of the Holy Spirit.  It's hard work and encompasses so much more than what is seen and heard on Sunday morning.  And preaching is nothing new; preaching, according to Dr. Jim Hamilton, "is as old as Moses." 

After reading Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Jared Jenkins and I amplified our regular conversation on the topic of preaching.  As our conversations grew more numerous we decided to start a series on the topic for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We quickly realized a better way to examine preaching would be to view if from a variety of perspectives so we talked with a guy after he preached his first sermon.  Then we talked to pastors who preach in the team ministry of a shared pulpit.  We chatted with church planters.  One guy we interviewed has a PhD in preaching.  Another preacher develops curriculum and cut his preaching teeth in another language.  We talked with an itinerant preacher.  A seminary professor who also pastors a church was on the list as well as a preacher who has been preaching every week at the same church since the 70s.  Through a conversation with a variety of diverse preachers we saw similarities and differences.  And I believe we got a better picture of preaching through such a great list of preachers. 

I deeply appreciate all the guys who contributed their thoughts and time to this conversation.  I learned a great deal as I suspect will be the case for others who listen.  These contributing preachers include: Andy Conroy, Kevin Lund, Robert Marshall, Dr. Travis Freeman, Trevin Wax, Kyle Costello, Rob Lee, Danny Braga, Douglas Wilson, and Dr. Jim Hamiltion.  It is a great privilege serving our Lord alongside them. 

You can listen to the conversation by following the links below:
-- On Preaching: Who's Qualified?  audio
-- On Preaching: Defining the Sermon audio
-- On Preaching: The Bucket and the Thimble audio
-- On Preaching: Stand and Deliver audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Andy Conroy audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kevin Lund audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Robert Marshall audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Travis Freeman audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Trevin Wax audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kyle Costello audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Rob Lee audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Danny Braga audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Douglas Wilson audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Jim Hamilton audio

Salty Believer Unscripted is a weekly podcast.  If you would like to listen to more conversations like the ones listed above please subscribe.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

* Photo taken by Paul Kelly and is registered under a creative commons license. 

The Para-Church Prosthetic

In 1 Corinthians Paul likened the Church to a physical body saying,
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, thought many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
"For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, 'Because  I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body"  (1 Corinthians 12:12-20, ESV). 
Paul's primary point is a demonstration of unity among Christians within the Body, that is, the Church.  Each member of the local church is not expected to be exactly like the other members.  We need one another and all of us serve in different functions but function together.  By extension, the same should be true of each local church.  Various local churches, while still mirroring the shadow of the Kingdom, will likely look different among the entire Body of the Church built and lead by Christ.

How then are we to understand the role of the para-church?

To get to the heart of this question, we must first attempt to define para-church.  The para-church is typically any organization or network that works alongside the Church.  Missionary organizations, campus ministries, learning centers, church-planting networks, Christian counseling facilities, orphanages, chaplain services, and seminaries are some of the most typical para-church organizations.  Some denominations, at times, function like a para-church.

Historically, the rise of various para-church organizations came in the wake of the failure or inability of the Church in one specific area or another.  As local churches stumbled to send and support missionaries, para-church organizations were formed and came to the aid of struggling local churches.  When theological education is not being adequately developed in the local church, Bible colleges, seminaries, learning centers, certificate programs, and publishers come alongside the local church to help.  Campus ministries abound where local churches struggle to reach the campuses with the gospel.

Para-church organizations are like a prosthetic limb for the Body.  Where the local church's reach is limited because it has no arm, the para-church can extend that reach.  But we must see this for what it really is if we are to understand how the Body of Christ best functions with the para-church.  

First, a prosthetic limb is useless apart from the body.  The prosthetic limb helps the disabled person, not the other way around.  Any para-church organization that does not work in conjunction with the Body of Christ, specifically with connections to local churches, is a prosthetic limb attached to nothing.  Para-church organizations should be seeking ways to help the Body.  Too often, para-church organizations demand that the Body financially help the prosthetic (in the name of advancing the Kingdom) without any intention serving alongside or connecting to the Body.

Second, the para-church is not the Church.   At times, para-church organizations function completely apart from the local church.  The claim is often something to the effect: "It's all about the Kingdom," but then no attention is given to the prosthetic connection point--the local church.  In addition, when para-church organizations function completely apart from the local-church, they become just an eye or ear and often assume that the entire Church is (or should be) only an eye or ear.  And many times the people involved in these kind of para-church organizations learn to depend too heavily on the para-church and can't seem to integrate into a local body.  Rather than becoming part of the bigger body and part of the family, they learn only to become a prosthetic limb.  While it is certainly not the case for all para-church organizations, some make little or no effort to encourage people to join and serve within a local church. Some outright discourage local church involvement.  In the bigger picture, this does little good for the Body.

Third, local churches should do more to encourage and equip para-church organizations that are serving in an area where the church is struggling.  A good relationship between the local church and a para-church organization is like the active person who lives very well with a prosthetic limb.  Local churches really aught to see the para-church (if it's functioning in conjunction with the mission of the local church) as an aid where the church is in need.  This can be a healthy relationship.  And this may be one way to better advance the mission of the Church.

Finally, churches can grow new limbs.  Through Christ, churches can regenerate failing and missing parts of the Body.  Where the human often depends on the prosthetic limb for life, the Church is really only on crutches while a new limb could be forming.  Local churches and para-churches should work together to grow limbs, training and equipping people in the area the para-church is covering.  In fact, the truest measure of the success of the para-church results in being replaced well by the local church.   If only more local churches and para-church would strive for such a goal!

* Photo of the prosthetic leg worn 1st Lt. Ryan McGuire  during track and field events was taken by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III and is registered under a creative commons license. 

My Morning Bible Book Club

I read the Bible cover to cover a couple times before heading the seminary. I would open the first page and read until I got to the last page and I’d usually do this in a year with a reading plan. When I entered seminary, I was required to read the Old Testament in chronological order rather than in canonical order. I had to do it in 8 weeks, which is hurricane speed. Then I had to read the Pentateuch (the first 5 books) for the next OT class. Then it was boiled down to just a single book in great depth. I had to do the same thing in my New Testament studies. First the entire New Testament, then the Gospels for a class, Paul’s Epistles for another, then just John, Hebrews, and others.

Where I used to be one who would read the entire Bible every year, I learned the great value of slowing down and residing in a single book for a long period of time.

Not too long ago, I picked the book of 1 John and read the entire book every day for a month. It was amazing how much I would still see even after 30 days! Then I decided I wanted to study it in even greater depth. I read a couple hefty introductions on the book itself for some background. Then, after watching this video, I had an idea.

I decided I’d start a morning book club centered around 1 John. I invited John Calvin, Thomas Johnson, Gary Burge, Marianne Thompson, Matthew Henry, Glenn Barker, any of the Church Fathers who had something to say, and a couple others based on the commentaries I owned on 1 John. The topic for the 1st morning was 1 John 1:1-4.

I quickly realized a few things. First, these four verses generated over 100 pages of discussion from these few scholars! Next, I saw where there were different ideas as well as those things that everybody agreed upon. And they raised so many ideas and questions I hadn’t thought of even after reading, praying on, and meditating on the same 4 verses every day for the previous 30 days. Their studies provided some extremely helpful background information too. I quickly grasped the reality of the Holy Spirit working in these people across all believers in all time and I was feeling very in touch with the Church through the same Holy Spirit working in me to illuminate Scripture. It was amazing!

The next thing I realized is that I didn’t have enough time in my morning to read all these pages. I quickly had to decide who to un-invite to this book club. Even though we were together for a single day, I felt such a loss not having all of them sitting at the table, enjoying a cup of joe and discussing Scripture. But, it had to be done. (I decided when I do this again with another book that'll have some of un-invited guys at the table next time if they have something to say on the selected book.)

As this went on for a few days, I realized that I was the dumbest person in the conversation and therefore had the most to gain. What a blessing for me that these guys where in my book club!

And finally, I became keenly aware of the isolation this placed me in. Sure, I was communing with God and that is good, but there was still something missing—live fellowship with others. While I was starting to feel as if I were in a conversation with these other brothers, all that was really before me were their books. It wasn’t really them; it wasn’t real people, just the product of their ideas on one topic edited by a team and then published. So the discussion was still lacking something. I decided then and there to always appreciate the fellowship God has placed me in. We need one another as God intended. (And I would love to have live people in my book club but it starts at 5:30am and I’m only wearing a bathrobe. So it’s just me and the Holy Spirit for now, and that’s good too.)

Non-the-less, my book club continues, slowly, a small amount of verses at a time. And as I move through my day, I find myself thinking about the verses. With this pace, I can nearly memorize them and hear them playing in my head throughout the day. And I hear and think on the “conversations” with the scholars and Church Fathers on those same verses.

It’s amazing how much this 'book club' has impacted my day, each day, and my walk with Christ! I highly encourage you give it a try and invite some theologians to join you.

* The photo used in this post is in the public domain. 
** Special thanks to Tim Kimberly and the Credo House for their dedicated work to teaching theology and study methods. 

Throwing in the Towel: Dying Daily

"Throwing in the towel" is an idiom or figure of speech commonly used to express that one is quitting.  It comes from the sport of boxing when a boxer's trainer throws a towel into the ring to stop the fight because his fighter is getting pummeled beyond recovery.

We should throw in the towel every day.  Yes, you should quit.   You probably don't like reading this, let alone doing it.  Neither do I.  That's probably because by the very nature of our western idea of success, this sounds really bad.  But it's true.  Throw in the towel.

If you're a Christian, that is, if you're a follower of Jesus who has surrendered your life to Christ, then at some point you've thrown in the towel.  You've said, "I can't keep up this fight.  I'm going to quit doing it my way.  I'm going to quit battling on my own.  I don't have any more strength.  I'm pummeled beyond recovery.  I give up." But when you gave up, you cried out to Jesus.  You may have said something like, "I can't do it, Jesus.  Help me!"  And if you're living the Christian life, this should be a regular occurrence.  You should quit often.  "Jesus, I can't keep doing this on my own.  Help me!"   Some people think of this like a tag-team with Jesus, but that's not how Paul saw it.  

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul made the comment that he dies every day (1 Corinthians 15:31).  He throws in the towel daily.  He doesn't tag Jesus and then Jesus steps in for a while--he dies.  He's got no more fight in him.  It's likely that Paul's comment is in reference to something Jesus said in Luke.  He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24, ESV).  Going to the cross means to die, to be killed.  Game over.  But in losing your life, you will save it! 

In ministry, I often find myself working hard, striving to accomplish things.  I plan and execute.  I think about problems and solutions.  But it seems that more often than not, I find myself pushed to the edge.  It gets hard.  Things happen that are way beyond my control.  My plans just can't account for reality.  My solutions fall grossly short.  So I throw in the towel.  I cry out, "That's it; I can't do it Jesus.  Help me!"  And the strangest thing happens.  God seems to bring solutions.  Plans come together.  The ministry goes forward; not without me, but in spite of me!  I find that when I quit, when I die to myself, things get amazing.  And you'd think I'd figure this out and throw in the towel first thing in the morning every day.  I'm learning, but my prideful self needs to take a few punches first before I realize that apart from Christ I'm beyond recovery.

* Photo take by user, MrBragaosian is registered under a creative commons license and used with permission.

RLC Men's Retreat - 2013

From September 27 until September 29, 2013, some of the men of Risen Life Church met in a large home in Heber, Utah to study the book of 2 Peter, fellowship, and grow under the authority of Scripture.  The retreat consisted of 4 teaching/preaching sessions, of which the first 3 included breakout discussion sessions immediately following the sermon.  Men were selected to lead their small groups through a series of questions written by the teacher-preacher.  Kevin Lund opened the retreat with his discussion on 2 Peter 1:1-15, Benjamin Pierce discussed 2 Peter 1:16-2:22, Jared Jenkins taught on 2 Peter 3:1-14, and I concluded from 2 Peter 3:14-18.  In addition, every session included prayer and a rich time of worship through music (lead by Scott Graves as well as other musicians).  Sharing of Lord's Supper closed our retreat on Sunday morning.  Andy Conroy served as our house host and community group director for the retreat and Jeremy Jeffs filled in as our retreat deacon. 

You can listen to the sessions by following the links below:
2 Peter 1:1-15, Friday Night, Kevin Lund
2 Peter 1:16-2:22, Saturday Morning, Benjamin Pierce
2 Peter 3:1-14, Saturday Night, Jared Jenkins
2 Peter 3:14-18, Sunday Morning, Bryan Catherman

You may also want to consider the questions from our 3 small group breakouts:

Session 1 (Kevin, 2 Peter 1:1-15):
1. Read 2 Peter 1:1. What Christian (past or present) do you admire? Do you realize that all Christians have a faith of “equal standing” to theirs? Why does God point this out?

2. Are you growing as a Christian? Which of the qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7 are you strongest in? Weakest? What do you need to change for increased growth?

3. Read 2 Peter 1:10-11. True Christians stay faithful over the long haul. What are you doing to assure that you stay faithful to Christ to the end? Do you ever have doubts about your relationship with God? How do you deal with them?

Session 2 (Benjamin, 2 Peter 1:16-2:22):
1. How big of a priority is God’s Word in your life? How much time do you invest reading, meditating, and praying God’s Word regularly in your day or week? Knowing that our thinking, speaking, and interactions either point those we love to death or life, how should we view Scripture in our lives?

2. How do we identify false teaching? Who does Peter describe as a false teacher? What does false teaching look like “among us”…?

3. What areas of sin do you find yourself struggling with most in Peter’s description…sexual lust, pride and attention, greed, hardheaded stubbornness to listen, learn, and be discipled? In what ways are these sins teaching death to yourself and others?

4. In what ways do we cover up or blind ourselves to our own false teaching or false living? Why do we cover these sins or areas of our lives up? In what ways can we expose these areas of our lives?

5. What are some ways we can protect ourselves from becoming false teachers? How can you train yourself to regularly speak and live like Christ? How can you regularly encourage other men to follow and reflect Christ?

Session 3: (Jared, 2 Peter 3:1-14):
1. Have you heard your friends, co-workers, and family scoff at what the Bible teaches about our world? What do they say? Which of their questions really unsettle you? Have you been able to meet their accusations with truth? What have you learned today about the future of the world that has brought you peace?

2. What has God promised to do in the world and with the world as spoken through the prophets, Christ, and the apostles? Why has he waited so long to carry out His plan? Does this change your perspective on what God is doing in the world? What response in our lives does God’s patience with mankind demand?

3. Do you believe that God will destroy the earth and everything in it and make it new and perfect? Do you believe heaven is a floaty, spiritual place or a new, real, physical new heavens and earth? What is of true value in life if this is the case? How do you need to reprioritize your life if you believe Christ is coming back to destroy, judge, and remake the world?

4. How do we let the truth of the end of the world and eternity future drive us towards lives of holiness and godliness? Do we sit on our butts and wait for the end? Do we become street preachers and try to spread the Gospel at all costs? How does this truth bring us hope? What should your daily life look like living in light of the truth concerning the end?

5. How are we to be found without spot or blemish and at peace when Christ returns? How do we rest in the Gospel and yet strive for Holiness? What do you need to repent of today?

Ministry Killer: Seminary Loan Debt

Jesus once asked a great crowd, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'" (Luke 14:28-30, ESV).  His question was pointed specifically at understanding and weighing the cost of being a disciple of Jesus even in the face of renouncing all that one has and baring the cross of Christ.  But there is wisdom in counting the cost of any ministry endeavor as we seek to faithfully serve our Lord. 

Seminary is one such endeavor that really demands that the cost be counted.  It is difficult.  It takes lots of time.  You'll start reading topics that will brand you a geek.  You will need room for all your books.  Many seminary graduates I know (including me) ended up getting glasses while in seminary.  And seminary is expensive.

Seminary President, Dr. Jeff Iorg argues against the cost writing, "Check seminary prices against graduate or professional school tuition, and you will be shocked.  Formal ministry training is the least expensive of all major academic and professional disciplines" (1). But if we are okay comparing the cost against other graduate programs and professional school tuition, then we should also be okay comparing the salaries among these professional fields.  I suspect in most, if not all cases, the average ministry salary is much, much lower that these other professional fields.  Many seminary trained missionaries actually have to raise their own support just to get into the mission field!

This is not to say that the cost should be the primary reason not to go to seminary, just that it is important to understand what one is getting into as he is moving into his calling.  It is also important to examine the practical cost of a student loan on the other side of seminary.  I can speak with some experience.

When I entered seminary, I was also entering an Army chaplain candidacy program.  I believed my student loan would be paid off by the Army.  But when I was unable to enter the program, I ended up with a big loan balance.   My salary is good for the ministry profession, but it looks like a peasant boy with a stick up against an angry, fire-breathing dragon.  My loan is a monster and causes me a great deal of stress.  This stress effects both my family and my ministry.

Large student loan debt in ministry is extremely difficult.  Many church planting and missionary organizations will not accept a pastor with student loan debt.  Some churches may not hire you.  Churches and other organizations that will happily offer scholarships to people headed into seminary will rarely if ever offer to pay down the debt of one who has successfully completed seminary and serving faithfully in ministry.  (I know I've yet to find one.)  Government programs that once helped offset debt for those working in a non-profit capacity no longer apply for those in religious positions.

I believe seminary is important and extremely valuable to the minister of the gospel, but every effort should be made to finish seminary without debt.  If you must go slow, go slow.  If there are ways to cut costs, cut costs.  And if there's no way to go to seminary without obtaining a loan, then please be sure to count to the cost of a loan against your post-seminary ministry.

It's my prayer that more churches will consider helping seminary graduates pay off their debt as part of their compensation packages or as a ministry to pastors with debt.  It's my prayer that more churches will help seminary students buy books, pay tuition, and afford food and housing as he or she is in seminary.  It's my prayer that seminaries will work hard to reduce costs as much as possible considering what they are training their students to do.  And it's my prayer that more scholarships for seminary would be made available by any means possible.  If we hope to have well trained, prepared pastors and missionaries, then we really aught to invest in the students.  And if we really want to help the student succeed, we aught to find ways to combat educational debt. 

1. Jeff Iorg, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the Question Every Believer Asks (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 82.

* Photo by user, thisisbossi is used under the conditions of its registered creative commons license. 

Is God Calling Me? By Jeff Iorg

Iorg, Jeff. Is God Calling Me?: Answering the Question Every Believer Asks. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2008.

I once heard a pastor tell his congregation that he didn't have any kind of calling, he just thought that ministry looked like a good career for him.  As he made his argument, I wondered if this man should be representing God if God had not selected this man as his representative.  It's amazing that God even allows anybody to touch his Bride, that is, the Church, let alone those he did not set apart to do so.

Calling is important and answering the question, "Is God calling me?" is an important examination.  In his book, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the question every believer Asks, Dr. Jeff Iorg states, "'Is God calling me?' is the essential question you must answer before entering ministry leadership or accepting a specific ministry assignment.  Settling the issue of call is foundational to effective Christian leadership" (1).  He further argues that understanding the answer to this important question "charts a lifelong course of ministry leadership" (1).  In what could serve as a response to the pastor arguing that a call is not important, Iorg further writes, "As ministry leaders, we serve in response to God's invitation and at his pleasure, not at our initiative" (2).  This book serves as a tool to aid in finding the answer to this extremely important question.

"My first goal," writes Iorg, "is to cut straight to the heart of the matter and give you tools to work through the call process.  But detailed analysis and intellectual understanding are not enough.  My ultimate goal for you is clarity about God's call so you can answer affirmatively!" (3).  As clearly stated, Iorg sets out to meet his goals using the Bible and careful study, but also ideas and conversations that he has had about God's call for more than thirty years of combined ministry as a pastor and the President of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  He concedes that over the years, many others have shaped his thinking and at times critics have even changed his mind (2).  Peppered throughout the book are personal stories from Iorg's experience as well as those from many others.

Iorg starts by defining the concept of the call.  Here he provides a biblical foundation of the importance of the call as well as a strong understanding of the biblical history of calling.  He also provides his own working definition: "A call is a profound impression from God that established parameters for your life and can be altered only by a subsequent, superseding impression from God" (8).  After he has laid some groundwork, Iorg offers three types of calls, from the larger call all the way to very specific calls that function within an individual's larger call.  Continuing, Iorg deals with the kinds of people God calls (which are diverse and surprising), how to discern God's call, and how the calling shapes the life of those God calls.  And then in a very practical conclusion, Iorg discusses some specific calls such as the call into mission work as well as the call to pastoral ministry.

I originally picked up Is God Calling Me? at the recommendation of another pastor and friend.  A number of young men had been meeting with me about entering ministry in some capacity or another and some of them were even considering seminary.  As my pastor friend and I were discussing the call upon some of these other guys, he told me he read Is God Calling Me? as he was considering leaving a campus ministry for seminary.  I purchased the book thinking it would help me counsel these guys.  But as I started reading, I found myself working through each page, slowly chewing on the concepts and ideas.  It served as a great conformation of my general call and helped me process some aspects of present, specific calls in my own life.  I found Iorg's book extremely helpful.

As I was reading through Is God Calling Me? I had the opportunity to discuss the call with Ryan and Janai Rindels from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and Chris Smith from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The book was fresh on my mind so it entered our unscripted conversations.  Janai Rindels, Dr. Jeff Iorg's personal assistant, offered some great insight.  The guys also provided some helpful thoughts as they both serve as seminary recruiters.  You can listen to these conversations here:
-- Calling and GGBTS with Ryan and Jania Rindels audio
-- Calling and SBTS with Chris Smith audio
If I must offer a criticism of Is God Calling Me? it would be about Iorg's perspective.  Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of a seminary.  He is seminary trained and holds a Doctorate of Ministry.  And while I am also seminary trained and greatly appreciate my seminary education, a weakness is found in the book is that some may be called into ministry apart from thinking about seminary.  Iorg did make an effort to support this thinking but it is clear that his bias held strong.  Using the terms informal and formal training, he discusses both saying, "Preparation for ministry leadership involves formal and informal processes; both are valid and necessary.  The best case is for the two forms of training to be integrated and to build on each other" (79).  Iorg then gives 3 sentences to an explanation of informal training before he says, "But is informal training enough? Usually not" (79).  Following this question are 4 pages of the positive and negative aspects of attending seminary.  While he makes a good argument for formal training--as should be expected from a seminary president--he provides way too little information on the positive and negative aspects of informal training.  

Apart from Iorg's bias toward seminary (which I also hold), Is God Calling Me? is an outstanding book for those thinking they may be called and wrestling with calling.  It's also extremely useful for the man or woman already called who will inevitably deal with additional specific calls from God as he or she journeys through a lifetime of ministry.  I highly recommend this book! 

-- Some of Iorg's other publications include: The Painful Side of Leadership, The Character of Leadership, The Case for Antioch, and Live Like a Missionary.

* I have no material connection to this book, monetary or otherwise.

Me and the Army Chaplaincy

"For God and Country"
August 2, 2013

There's a lot of chatter these days about military chaplains and how they live out their faith in uniform, as well as talk of atheist chaplains living out their belief that there is no god.  This post however is not about either of these controversial and sensationalized topics.

I am asking for your prayers. 

At 37 and a very different man than I was at 19, I am hoping and praying to make a return to the uniform.  This time as a chaplain, to serve God and minister to soldiers in the Utah Army National Guard.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise.  Shortly after my deployment with the 3d Armored Calvary Regiment to Iraq in 2003-2004, I started hearing the call to ministry.  In 2008, I finally answered that call.  Originally I thought I would go to seminary and return to the military full-time as an Army chaplain.   I wanted to faithfully serve like the chaplains in the video below. (In this particular video, the chaplains are the ones with the symbol of the cross on their uniforms. SGT 'Cross' is not a chaplain.)

I enrolled at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and began the process of applying for the Chaplain Candidate Program with the Army.   Quickly, I realized that God had other plans and his timing was not my timing.  So I joyfully finished seminary and entered the pastorate at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Army chaplain (not a candidate) is generally required to have completed an M.Div or equivalent theological degree, be ordained and endorsed by a government approved endorsing agency, have appropriate ministry experience, and meet the age requirements and physical fitness standards.  I earned an M.Div at LBTS, am ordained, and am presently in the process of being endorsed by the North American Missions Board (NAMB), which is the Southern Baptist Convention's church planting and chaplain endorsing body.  Please pray that I will be approved for the work of this ministry and endorsed.

I am working on my physical fitness and striving to get back down to 'fighting weight.' I can attest that it was much easier when I was younger, but I'm enjoying the process none-the-less.  I could use your prayers in this area too.  Additionally, I do meet the ministry experience requirements, but I am light in two specific areas: weddings and funerals.  I'm praying for opportunities to officiate more weddings and funerals so I might grow and gain some more experience in these areas.  Please pray with me.

If God opens doors with both NAMB and the Utah National Guard, I could be back in the military serving as a chaplain with the next couple months.  I'll serve the typical one weekend per month and two weeks a year, and initially I'll have about 12 weeks of special training to complete, broken up into phases.  I believe this is a great ministry opportunity to serve soldiers and their families and the additional money and access to insurance will greatly aid me and my family as we continue to serve at Risen Life Church.

I was previously an Army Reservists and for a brief time was cross-leveled into a regular Army unit.  I selected the Utah National Guard for this go-round however, for two specific reasons.  First, I like the idea of serving locally.  The soldiers I may minister to live in my area.  At times, we may be called upon to serve the state in our community, in addition to national conflicts at home or abroad. The UNG also has a good program to help me pay down my student loan, which will be a huge blessing for my family. 

I'm struck by the path God has used to get me to this point.  While I may not get into the military again, I have learned a great deal since applying for the chaplain candidacy program in 2009.  This season has been invaluable in giving me greater clarity of my calling, teaching me much about life and ministry, and showing me the amazing glory and power of our sovereign Lord.  In addition, I've had repeated opportunities to see how remarkable team ministry truly is.  Risen Life Church highly values team ministry and without it, this venture into the Army chaplaincy wouldn't be possible.   

So I ask again for your prayers.  Please pray for me and this ministry opportunity.  Please pray that I will be faithful to follow Christ in whatever venture he sends me and my family.  And please, please pray for our troops.

Soli Deo gloria!
Bryan Catherman
"Salty Believer"

[UPDATE: August 27, 2013.  My experience with NAMB was remarkable and they endorsed me for service in the chaplaincy.  Unfortunately, the recruiter suggested that I enter the military under less than honest conditions.  Apparently, having had back surgery tends to prohibit military service.  My back surgery was a part of the conversation from the very beginning, but the recruiter mistakenly thought I'd be okay to lie about it.  God has closed this ministry door.] 

Team Ministry and the Shared Pulpit

In his book, Love Your God With All Your Mind, J.P. Moreland argues, "No one person has enough gifts, perspective, and maturity to be given the opportunity disproportionately to shape the personality and texture of the local church.  If Christ is actually the head of the church, our church structures ought to reflect that fact, and a group of undershepherds, not a senior pastor, should collectively seek His guidance in leading the congregation" (Moreland, 191).  Yet in many churches today, we have a very strong senior pastor model with very little vision, preaching, or leadership coming from anywhere else.    

The Bible however, seems to suggest that the local church should be lead from a plurality of elders with a leader among leaders.  In Paul's letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town and then proceeds to instruct Titus in the method of selecting men of character to fulfill this role.  Only a couple verses later, Paul refers to these elders as overseers or bishops, translated from the word ἐπίσκοπον.  In Acts 20:18, Paul assembles all the elders (plural) in the Church of Ephesus, where Timothy pastors and later (verse 28) calls them overseers or bishops taken from the plural Greek word, ἐπίσκοπους. This, however, is not to say that every pastor is an elder and every elder is a pastor, nor is it so say that all the elders and overseers are gifted in the same way, if we understand Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 correctly. It does seem likely that Timothy was a leader among a leaders in the Church in Ephesus.  It was probably the same for Titus.  We see this model of a leader among leaders with the Apostles so it does stand to reason the same should hold true for elders.  While Moreland disagrees that there should be a leader among the leaders, the Bible does appear to present this picture.  It does not however suggest that the leader among leaders is the only one to provide vision, preaching, teaching, or leadership for the local church.  This should come from a team.

Furthermore, the biblical picture of ministry is in teams.  Moses was teamed with Aaron (Exodus 4), Jesus sent the 70 (or 72) out in teams of two, or ministry pairs (Luke 10), Peter and John appear to be a strong ministry team in the Book of Acts, as do Barnabas and Paul.  And think about the differences in giftings, skills, and personalities that each man brought to the team!  For example, think about that first mission trip and church planting excursion by Barnabas the encourager and Paul, the hard hitting theologian. I discuss the biblical picture of team ministry in the following video that I recorded some time ago as part of a community group leader's training process:

 So it stands to reason that the ministry of the pulpit, that is, the preaching should be shared among a team of gifted preachers.  Moreland argues for this as well, saying, "[F]or two reasons I do not think a single individual ought to preach more than half (twenty-six) of the Sundays during the year" (Moreland, 194).  His first support is that "no one person ought to have a disproportionate influence through the pulpit because, inevitably, the church will take on that person's strengths, weaknesses, and emphases" (ibid).  How easy it is to find churches that demonstrate his point!  He continues: "By rotating speakers, the body gets exposure to God's truth being poured through a number of different personalities, that is more healthy" (ibid).  One objection that may come up is that the ability to preach among those preaching is not of comparable skill, but Moreland argues that this presents an opportunity for the one of higher quality to train the one of lower quality which will actually produce a spirit of training up preachers and teachers. But this is not to say that every preacher must preach the same way and in the same style, for that would attempt to trump the calling and gifting of God upon each individual preacher.

Moreland's second argument for a shared pulpit has to do with capability.  He says, "no one who preaches week after week can do adequate study for a message or deeply process and internalize the sermon topic spiritually.  What inevitably happens is that a pastor will rely on his speaking ability and skills at putting together a message" Moreland, 194).  The sermon will actually be stronger, sturdier, and more sound because the preacher will have more time.  The result for the congregation is a well prepared sermon every week of the year that doesn't fall into the trap made in Moreland's first support.  Additionally, each preaching pastor will have ample time to minister to the flock through visitation, counseling, teaching, prayer, and personal devotion because he will not be responsible for preparing every sermon.  And the preacher can take time off to rest, rather than burn out from being in the pulpit 52 weeks of the year along with all of his other responsibilities.

I am blessed to have personal experience with a shared pulpit.  I serve on the pastoral staff at Risen Life Church where we highly value team ministry.   We have a shared pulpit between two preaching elders.  On occasion, two other pastors--myself and Jared Jenkins--have been afforded the opportunity to preach.  This summer, we are actually engaging in a four-preacher rotation as an experiment to see how we work together and how it is received by the congregation.  (At the time of this writing, I have already preached the opening sermon in the series.)  Not only has this arrangement been instrumental in the post-seminary training of Jared and I, it has allowed us to learn and grow well under two other gifted preachers.  The sermons are indeed well prepared and the variety of a two-preacher rotation lends itself as a support of Moreland's argument.  I suspect a four-preacher rotation will have a similar effect.  I can see firsthand how much a shared pulpit has allowed the primary preachers to have time to minister throughout the week as well as train up future leaders, teachers, and ministers.  Rest and time off is often not too challenging as we work in teams.  Support for one another may also be stronger.  Additionally, for the most part Risen Life Church is not built around a single pastor. If any one of us left, it would not be a serious blow to the local church, and really, that is how it should be.      

1. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress. 1997.

* Photo of the USA Lightweight 2003 World Champions is in the public domain.