On Ordaining Women, Part II – What is a Masculine Pulpit?

In my previous post about ordaining women to the pastorate, I tried to make the point that if you define the ideal pastor in feminine terms, you’re going to wind up with women wanting to be pastors, and they will actually be better at it than men (what with being women and all). If your job description is laden with descriptions that appeal to women, then you shouldn’t be surprised that women show up to fill out an application. So while it’s all well and good for Bible-believing Christians to simply say, “The Bible says a pastor should be a man, so that’s what we require”, there’s more to the story. If you try to hold the line on reserving the office of pastor for men while at the same time modeling a kind of feminine ministry, there will be consequences. You might wind up with frustrated masculine men because they are A) not every going to be considered for the pastorate, and/or B) never get to experience being led by a masculine pastor. You will wind up with fewer men in church generally because it turns out men will leave church when it starts to resemble a group therapy session. Or you might end up with masculine women because in the spirit of Genesis 3 they sense there is a real opportunity here to gain some authority over men.

But as several have cogently pointed out to me, I did not define or describe what a masculine pulpit looks like in my previous post. Certainly what has passed for masculine behavior in the past included ranting and raving from the pulpit about a variety of soap box issues, some of which involved people made in the image of God and for whom Christ died. I would agree that this not indicative of masculinity from the pulpit, but just because there’s such a thing as false/sinful masculinity, it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t pursue biblical masculinity. So the premise of this post is simple:

If God intends the pastorate to be occupied by men, it is likely that the pastorate requires masculine virtues.

That seems to me to be a pretty logical conclusion. But before my keystrokes cause the incense of burnt tire in your nostrils as the rubber meets the road, here is a necessary disclaimer. Men and women are more alike than they are different. This is a biblical truth and a truth borne out in the daily lives of 7 billion people. Men and women are made in the image of God and so they have overlapping virtues and vices. It would be difficult to say something of masculinity that doesn’t also apply in some lesser measure to feminity and vice versa (with the exception of a woman’s ability to have children). So as I speak of a masculine pulpit, of course some joker out there is going to say, “But women can be _________, too!” Yes, and indeed. Men and women both share a set of personality potentials because they are both made in the image of God. And yet, for all their similarities, the differences really do matter, as the Word of God testifies.

So what is a masculine pastor? Well we can reject out of hand any caricature or perversion of masculinity that Scripture rejects. To be masculine is not to be “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast. One route for getting a clue to masculinity is to look to the biological markers that distinguish men from women. For example, after puberty, men average roughly 20X the testosterone level of women. The male body is larger, denser, and has more muscle mass than a woman’s body. It seems men are built for action, for confrontation, for resiliency, and for strength.

My suggestion is that all of this indicates that men are to be ambitious and assertive, not to mention adventurous and audacious. And it’s not only because all those words start with the letter A, as if I was watching too much Sesame Street lately. There are a cluster of “hard” virtues that men are to exhibit, and which our culture has either demonized in the name of “male toxicity” or downplayed to a point that they become irrelevant. In a carnal man, these attributes are self-serving and destructive. But in the hand of the Redeemer, the wild world is tamed and families are protected and civilizations are built by these virtues.

The absence of these hard virtues results in a pastor makes the pulpit far too passive. I think “passive” is a word that fits the modern Western church. Where we should be leading, we have become followers. Where we should be confronting, we are compromising. Where we should be bold, we are obsequious. The New Testament remarks multiple times of the boldness of the apostles to preach the gospel in the face of fierce opposition and persecution. And the gospel they preached wasn’t confined to a worship hour on Sunday: it was the gospel for fathers, the gospel for wives, the gospel for children, the gospel for slaves, the gospel for masters, and the gospel for governors. It was a gospel that had Jesus at its center but proclaimed the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of life. So we can’t excuse ourselves by retreating into a “gospel center” theology where the gospel is the size of a pinball and the rest of life is the size of the galaxy. Perhaps we should listen to some words from our Presbyterian friends:

The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand that the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this, he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all.

The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer

“In these times, let us remember the stages that our evangelical leaders have brought us through:

1. There will not be any need to fight.

2. There may come a time when it necessary to fight.

 3. It is too early to fight.

4. It is too late to fight. This is a post-Christian era.

Doug Wilson, Twitter

The absence of these hard virtues in the pulpit is reflected in many cases by a lack of these hard virtues in the pew. The roux from which the sauce is made is the family, and there is a huge amount of statistical data depicting the sad decline of male participation in the family. Were we able to statistically capture the presence of male headship in the family, do any of really doubt that we would see a corresponding decline, even in families where men are active? We have spent the last several decades telling men that they are to be “servant leaders” without telling them that the way they serve is by leading.

If you promote a masculine pulpit you will have to weed out the power hungry, the perpetually angry, and the brawlers. But you’re always going to have to weed something out. There is a reason that a man is to attain the pastorate, not be given the pastorate. What the church cannot afford is passivity in the pulpit. As a matter of fact, my greatest ministry regrets are not the times I did something clumsily or counseled someone indistinctly, but rather the times I did nothing and said nothing. I regret my passivity far more than I regret anything I actually attempted out of a desire to serve God or love people. (Of course, there are times when my motives were self-serving and carnal, and any fruit sprouting from such seeds is bound to be corrupt).

A few years ago, a church member told me that she was praying that God would give me a “Timothy”. In other words, a young man who would be useful to me in the ministry and that I could train/mentor. My response was that I, also, would like that, but on the condition that he be the kind of young man that I had to rein in, not prod to action. I would rather say, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “a better way to do that would have been …” rather than have to motivate him to do something (I am speaking here not of essentially moral actions, but of ministry activities). I would rather temper a fire that exists than have to walk around with a gasoline can trying to start it.

In the next post – Lord willing – one final thought on the issue of the masculine pastor.


On Ordaining Women to the Pastorate

The SBC has officially excommunicated disassociated Saddleback Church from its fellowship as a result of Saddleback’s ordination of women to the office of pastor. I am not a member of the SBC and have little understanding of its internal workings, so there is no commentary from me on that subject. But as a pastor, and one who tries to do it biblically, the issue of women being ordained to the office of bishop/elder/pastor is of significance and importance.

 While I also have no personal experience with Saddleback Church, they – along with their founding pastor Rick Warren – have a very public ministry. The Purpose Driven Church  was, sadly, a textbook in my Ecclesiology class in Bible College (just writing that sentence hurts my heart). The follow up book, The Purpose Driven Life, became a best-seller. So the ministry philosophy of Saddleback Church has been intentionally packaged and sold as a template for others to follow. In a tweet responding to getting the boot from the SBC, Warren notes just how influential Saddleback is (as if to say “Who needs the SBC?”) by stating their newsletter reaches 600,000 church leaders, one million alumni pastors list, and 11 million social media followers.

I’m going to limit some observations to the issue of women being ordained to the office of pastor, but its worth questioning at the outset whether the foundational philosophy of ministry didn’t orient this church to this outcome a long time ago. In other words, I don’t think you can say, “Well, we can follow the ministry philosophy of Saddleback and just NOT ordain women to the pastorate and all will be well.” As surely as Bird and Magic were destined to meet in the post season, so the ministry of Saddleback was destined to cave on this issue.

I think it’s fair to say that many see Rick Warren as a pastor to pattern themselves afterSuccess – or what appears to be success – has that effect. Warren has been influential in shaping the idea of what a good pastor is like, how he should conduct himself, etc… In fact, he might represent the product that many Bible Colleges and Seminaries wish to produce in a pastor, and its clear by his response that he thinks others should follow in his footsteps. Just as Teddy Roosevelt in many ways reshaped and then defined the role of President, Rick Warren has reshaped and then defined the role of Pastor.

So what is that shape? What mark has Warren left on the role of Pastor? My argument is that we can best answer that question by looking at those who are going to fill it. What kind of person fits in that space the best? In other words, if Rick Warren has shaped the pastorate and is now retiring, what shaped puzzle piece is going to fit in that void he will leave? We don’t have to wonder because it is happening in the present. The person who fills that space the best (or at least equally best) is a woman.

This issue is larger than one church, but because of its public ministry it is easy to see at Saddleback. The point I’m trying to make (probably very poorly) is endemic to Evangelicalism. We are treating the issue of whether or not women should be ordained to the office of Pastor as a standalone issue, when in fact it is simply the concluding chapter to a long story we have been writing. And it’s the kind of story that would fit in real well with the Amish Romance novels and Joyce Meyer Bible studies down at your local Christian bookstore

You see, the die is already cast. We have destined this outcome by creating a pastoral paradigm that actually best fits a woman, not a man. And if we have shaped the office of Pastor with curves in all the right places, what right do we have to tell a woman who happens to have just such curves that she can’t occupy that office? How can we tell women they cannot be pastors when we have spent the better part of the last half century creating just such a role? In a way, it would be unjust to deny ordination to a woman at Saddleback after Warren spent so much time making sure that a women would succeed best in that role.

So if Evangelical-types really want to hold the line on the issue of ordaining women to the pastorate, we are going to have to dig deeper to uproot the effeminate pastoral paradigm that we have been cultivating in our churches. If we want our pulpits to be filled only by men, then we must demand that our pulpits be masculine. The longer we encourage or even tolerate effeminate pulpits, the more likely (and in reality fitting) it will be when that pulpit will belong to a woman.  


2 Hats the Pastor Must Not Wear

Over the last couple of years as ministry has changed for many churches, I find myself occasionally talking to a friend or colleague who left pastoral ministry and has found himself looking for employment in the secular world. Job interviews inevitably get around to asking about employment history, experience, and skill sets. How does a man who has pastored for twenty years explain his experience and skill set? In secular terms, he has played the role of CEO, CFO, HR, Facility Supervisor, Complaint Department, Office Manager, and “Environmental Service Technician”. In other words, the pastor wears a lot of hats.

Apart from larger churches where roles are carefully defined, most pastors are comfortable being flexible in their responsibilities and responding to needs as they arise. Despite this necessity, wise pastors define themselves by their spiritual role in the church. They see themselves as shepherds of the flock, as heralds of the gospel, as teachers of the eternal truth of God, and as evangelists. While the pastor may every once in a while have to don his accountant visor, or his “van is broke down again” overalls, or his “time to get the plunger out” gloves, he knows these are secondary responsibilities.

The pastor’s perception of his role in the church is foundational to the execution of his responsibilities before the Lord. Some pastors get their priorities mixed up. Some pastors lose sight of their calling. But in twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have learned there are 2 hats that I must never don. There are two ways that I am tempted to view myself that are simply devastating to my effectiveness as a minister of God.

The Martyr’s Halo

The martyr’s halo is what I like to wear when I feel like no one loves God quite as much as I do, or no one sacrifices quite as much as I sacrifice, or no one appreciates sufficiently the level of service that they receive from my hand. Just writing those words is shameful because they are all thoughts that I have entertained over the years. Is there anything more self righteous than putting on the face of one who is bravely enduring the stripes of ministry simply for the sake of drawing more attention to one’s own deeds? Flow those phylacteries. Trumpet those tears. Drop the silver coins of your service from far above the offering plate so they might ring louder when they land.

There are certainly martyrs in Christianity, but legitimate martyrs are joyful. They gladly watch their property plundered and they sing praises in the prison cell and they count it a blessing to be able to suffer as their Lord suffered. But you, dear pastor, who labored hard over your message only to receive not one compliment, are not a martyr. Refuse to be one. Especially when the the devil whispers those delicious morsels in your ear, “If they only knew how much you did for the Lord…”

The Hero’s Hood

Conversely, the pastor must also never think that he is the hero of the story. Perhaps yours is not the ministry of martyrdom, but the ministry of a grateful and growing people who receive the Word with gladness and constantly express appreciation for the blessing you are. How tempting it is to see yourself as the hero of the story! The pastor is uniquely positioned to be present when God works wonders and is often the very instrument for good in God’s hand. Being an instrument is not to be confused with being the One who wields it.

Perhaps the tempting thought for this tendency sounds something like, “You could be the one to turn this around!” or “Think about the opportunities you’ll have when everyone sees what you did with this ministry!” Rushing back into my mind are all those introductions for speakers at Bible College that went like, “When Pastor Awesome first came to Lowly Baptist Church, they were meeting in a cardboard box on the fire escape of a condemned building, but after fifteen years they are now running six hundred, have a 12-acre facility built on top of a gold mine, and have changed the name to Synergy!” I joke, of course. But from Bible Colleges to book publishing to tweet counting to conference speakers, it’s easy for our hearts to get caught up in becoming a hero instead of pointing to the Hero.

Hang Up Your Hat

The solution for both false identities is to make sure that our service for the Lord never exceeds our gratitude to the Lord. The sobriquet of hero or martyr quickly fades when we live in awe of the grace that we have received. When your evaluation of what you do for the Lord exceeds your understanding of what God has done for you in Christ, you are nearing the tempter’s snare. So the next time you find yourself marching with plunger in hand to the rescue of the plumbing pipes, sigh not for the tragedy of your life. The next time a thankful believer testifies of how your sermon changed her life, puff not up with pride but instead, remind yourself that God once used an ass to speak, a rock to water a nation, birds to feed a prophet, and blood to wash away the sins of even the proudest sinner.


A Simple Paradigm for Pastoral Ministry

Our family’s first computer, purchased in 1995, used an MS-DOS operating system that required typing individual commands at a prompt. My dad purchased “DOS for Dummies” and was off to the races. Now, many many many years later, the complexity of those earlier code based systems has a simple interface that only requires users to “point and click” or even simply to push on a touch screen. All the complexity is going on in the background; the only thing that has changed in the simplicity of the interface.

Format Command (Examples, Options, Switches, and More)

After 15 years of pastoral ministry, I have come to value the simple. I am not a “detail person” and I do not have great gifts of administration, so overly complex systems, approaches, or paradigms weary my soul. On the other hand, to boil complexity down to simple principles allows me the freedom to pursue goals with hope and energy. There is something elegant in reducing complex tasks, such as pastoral ministry, to a few simple principles that inherently absorb the complexity and translate it into something achievable for minds like mine. Below are three principles derived from Acts 6:4 that have become my “interface” for the complexities of pastoral ministry.

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 

Acts 6:4

Pastor in Prayer

I think it is reasonable to say that a pastor should pray for everyone in his congregation regularly. As a bi-vocational pastor in a smaller congregation, I think I can reasonably pray for every member on a weekly basis. When we gather for corporate worship on Sunday morning, I want to have remembered each person I see in prayer. This doesn’t just mean “Lord, Bless __________and _________ today.” Depending on the occasion, I may give thanks for them, I may pray for a spiritual need, I may seek wisdom in how to pastor them, I may ask for favorable outcomes to trials in their life, etc… Every week is a little different.

By pastoring them in prayer, I am acknowledging that these sheep belong not to me but to the Good Shepherd. By pastoring them in prayer I am acknowledging my limitations to bring about change in their lives. By pastoring them in prayer, I am cleansing my heart from fleshly sins that arise in all earthly relationships when given the opportunity. By pastoring them in prayer I am regularly preparing for the day when, face to face with my Lord, I will give an account for those in my care.

Every congregation is different and every pastor is different. Perhaps some would find a weekly prayer too little while others find it too frequent. I can imagine the pastor of a church of 400 would struggle to do anything else if he prayed for each member weekly. Perhaps in a larger church the ministry of prayer could be divided up among the spiritual leaders of the church so that members were cared for in prayer more frequently. But I think it is safe to say that if a member walked up to their pastor to seek some advice or ask a question about a sermon and the pastor didn’t remember the last time he prayed for this person, it would be a problem.

Pastor in the Pulpit

By pastoring in the pulpit, I mean the reading, exposition, and application of God’s Word (1 Timothy 4:13). I should be familiar with my text so that when I read it, I do not stumble. Furthermore, I should be able to read it aloud with an emotion appropriate to the text. I should be able to expound it clearly (never exhaustively as we continue to grow in our knowledge and abilities) so that the truth is made plain. And I should have an understanding of how this text is intended to shape God’s people in His image.

God’s people are shaped by God’s Word, and the pastor/teacher is the gift God has given to the Church for the purpose of communicating the Word. It is a solemn responsibility to stand and deliver the Word. It may be the one time in a week when Truth rings loudest to the man who works a difficult job, or to the teenager who comes with neighbors and whose own family is a mess. It may communicate the needed strength to a parishioner who has always been faithful and appears strong yet is being sifted like wheat in her heart. The pastor cannot judge the effectiveness of the Word by the number who come to an altar or who compliment the sermon when it is finished: the Word is unfathomably effective in ways that cannot be measured.

Of course, this requires study and preparation. Most of my sermons are written on the basketball court or while walking or jogging, but the form only comes after texts have been read and meditated upon. There have been times in my pastoral ministry where I have used curriculum or study guides from books that I think are beneficial. Depending on the various requirements of a ministry, I think that is completely reasonable. But I also think that the pastor should endeavor to preach an original sermon for which he has labored during the weekly assembly of the saints and deliver that which God has first worked into his own heart.

Pastor Personally

The ministry of prayer and pulpit can become an “ivory tower” affair if the pastor is not connected with his people. In order for prayer and pulpit to be most effective, they must be informed by the personal relationship a pastor shares with his flock.

Many times, these relationships develop naturally over the course of time. There are weddings and funerals in every family that are natural times in which to observe, speak truth, serve, and simply be together. Conversing with people over coffee before Sunday morning church begins or staying after on a Wednesday night prayer service may be my best opportunity to find out how God is working in lives.

There may be other times when a pastor needs to be more intentional. Making visits to a home (a la Richard Baxter) or meeting for coffee might be appropriate ways to get to know and shepherd individuals/families in the church. Hospitality may play an important role in the personal aspect of pastoral ministry as your home is opened to your church family. A pastor need not be an extrovert, but he must love enough to get to know those in his flock.


After many years of pastoral ministry, I concluded that there were too many Sundays when I came home knowing I had spent too much time working on a building or planning an event to have actually pastored well. Even with this simple paradigm, I still struggle. So, dear reader, say a prayer for me and for your pastor: we are not sufficient for these things, but our sufficiency is of God.


Why Are Elders Held to A Higher Standard?

There are two issues that make this a pertinent question to ask: 1) the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, and 2) the egalitarianism of our culture. The priesthood of the believer states that all believers share a priestly status so that no mediator outside of Christ is necessary. The protestant Reformation broke from the medieval church with its practice of class distinctions to eradicate the chasm between laity and clergy. The result was an emphasis on ministering among the people as opposed to above the people. I hold to this doctrine as true and biblical.

black and brown sheep close-up photography

The issue of egalitarianism is more cultural, more complicated, and much more dangerous. Egalitarianism is based on the concept of equality and has manifested in various ways throughout church history. Modern egalitarians, for example, do away with any requirements for church leaders to be men, promoting the view that men and women are equal. At times, egalitarianism also reigned in some sects of Christianity where there was no “leader”, but all were considered equal. This was the theology of the Quakers. Egalitarianism is complicated (but really not that complicated) because it is true that in Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, bond or free. But this describes our fundamental relationship to God, not our function within the world God made nor within the Church God is building. There is little doubt in my mind that the modern church’s confusion over this issue is largely a result of cultural pressure, not a result of biblical clarity.

Scripture teaches that, although all believers have direct access to God and all believers share in the inheritance of Christ, the Church is a place of structure and hierarchy. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves” (Hebrews 13:17) is an explicit declaration of this, but the concept is found throughout the New Testament. The roles/positions that God has established within the church are Pastor/Elder/Bishop (all the same thing) and Deacon. In light of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, why are elders held to a higher standard? Below are several reasons why, in light of the responsibility borne by elders, they must be held to a higher standard.

Those Who Represent must Reflect

Within the church all are to be growing in Christ-likeness, but not all have the same starting point, the same circumstances, or the same attributes. Saul of Tarsus came to faith with a great amount of education, zeal, and sincerity. His conversion led to a quick promotion within the church. But some come to Christ through other paths that do not lend themselves as quickly to attaining a position of leadership. Everyone is to grow, but everyone has a different starting point and pace. I think even those outside the church understand this and can appreciate the efforts a church makes to welcome those being redeemed from the effects of life altering sins – whether their own or the sins of others. But that same grace that an outsider might show to an individual within the church will not be shown to the pastor of the church. The pastor ought to know better.

1Ti 3:7  "Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. "   

To those who are outside the church, the pastor is the one who should most embody the character of Christ. In other words, the pastor is the one held responsible for reflecting Christ to the community, therefore the pastor/elder must be held to a higher standard.

Those Who Protect must be Strong

One of the functions of the elders is to

Act 20:28  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 
Act 20:29  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 
Act 20:30  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 
Act 20:31  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 

The responsibility to guard the flock against false teachers is a serious business that requires strength. The elder has to know the Word well enough to spot false teaching, and judging by the content of many Christian best-sellers this is a rare quality. The elder must also not be afraid to confront, ask difficult questions, and make difficult decisions. The distinction between a worthy pastor and an unworthy pastor is described in Scripture as the difference between a shepherd and a hireling. The shepherd risks all for the sake of the sheep, while the hireling runs when there is trouble.

Those Who Restore Must be Spiritual

In the course of ministry, the elder will have to restore a fellow believer who has been overwhelmed by sin. Scripture specifically calls those who are “spiritual” to this task, in contrast to the one who is carnal. The reason for this necessity is that when pulling someone out of a ditch, it is not helpful to get pulled into the ditch. But gravity tends to work that way.

Gal 6:1  Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 

It takes a grounded individual to enter into the sinful circumstances of another and not be drawn himself into sin. It takes wisdom to address the various aspects of life that have been affected by personal sin. It takes persistent love to lead someone away from their sin and into the light. It takes patience to teach a saint that is overwhelmed how to bear their own burden.

Those Who Lead Must Be Ahead

In the New Testament, Paul the apostle presents an audacious challenge for the saints
“to be followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16, Philippians 3:17). As one who began pastoring at a young age, I have had the uncomfortable experience of knowing that certain of my flock (not all, mind you) were farther ahead in their sanctification than I. Of course, being farther ahead than I, they were often the most patient and kind.

It’s not a necessity that the pastor be the most spiritual person in the church, but it’s definitely a problem if he is not numbered among those who are. How can one teach what one does not know? How can one model behavior to which one has not attained? There is no such thing as leading from behind. The very qualifications of the elder require that he exhibit spiritual maturity.

The One Who Labors Must Give an Account

A surprising feature of God’s dealing with men is how frequently God leaves it up to them to take what He has bestowed and do something with it. He appears in brief and startling ways throughout redemptive history, and then seems to retreat to allow His followers to carry on the work. If a pastor does not teach well (apt to teach), then his congregation will not learn. Perhaps that’s a little too simplistic and stark, but it has all the advantage of being generally true. God expects His servants to do their jobs well so that the work of the Lord can be established. One day God will demand an account of your ministry, and those who built with wood, hay, and stubble will see their reward vanish while those who build with gold, silver, and precious jewels will see their work shine.


There persists the problem of a “super Christian” vs “normal Christian” dichotomy in the Church today, which is wrong and needs corrected. The normal Christian life is a life of growth into Christ-likeness, and those with the mentality of “sure, but he’s the pastor” are ignorant of their calling in Christ. We are all meant to grow up in Him. Nevertheless, the requirements for those called to exercise spiritual authority in the church limit such positions to the ones who exhibit spiritual maturity and the character necessary to perform the functions of eldership.


Resources for Laymen

A friend recently asked me to post some resources I would recommend for laymen in leadership position in the church. Essentially, those who are doing or assisting in the shepherding of the body but who also work full time and may not get the opportunity to “deep dive”, take seminary courses, etc… I thought it was not only a great question, but an excuse to write. Any excuse will suffice. The headings below represent a subject that is pertinent to those in these kinds of situations, and then underneath that is a suggestion or two of a book/resource that addresses that subject. Feel free to leave any of your own recommendations in the comments.

books on bookshelf


You may think this should go without saying, but the Bible should be your primary source for all that you do. I cannot tell you the number of conversations I have overheard where all sorts of authors were quoted, except the guys who wrote the Bible. When my dad was young, he worked for this pastor who read one entire gospel and the rest of the New Testament daily. Nothing beats knowing the Word. Nothing.


Your ministry will not rise above your worship of God. Furthermore, a right knowledge of God will cover a multitude of ministry errors. If you get God “right”, it’s a lot harder to mess everything else up. Conversely, a failure to properly understand the God you serve will result in a lot of pain and loss. So above all else, think rightly about God.

My first recommendation for this s Knowing God, by JI Packer. For a thorough and yet readable text on the nature and character of God, I don’t think anything else is its equal. Published in 1973, I doubt anyone would have predicted that a straightforward teaching of theology would become a best-seller. But it did, because nothing is more interesting than God. Along with the book, invest in the study guide and get a small group together to work through it.

My second recommendation is Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. The tri-une nature of our God is what so often distinguishes Him from other fancies of mankind, and yet it is an often neglected doctrine. This short book is well worth spending some time reading.


If you are a leader in your church, you really need some kind of understanding of progressive sanctification, which may also fall under the name of discipleship, growth in Christ-likeness, etc… Whatever term you use, your job is to help people walk through life in such a way that they reflect Christ and become more like Him. Soon after my own conversion, I was given Watchman Nee’s The Life that Wins. While I have come to disagree with him in some key areas, I will always be grateful that this little book challenged me to seriously deal with sin in my life in such a way that Christ would be glorified.

One type of resource you might use is a book like How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. David was a leader in the biblical counseling movement and had spent a lifetime listening and helping people. This books really shows the diverse ways that God uses to bring His children into conformity to the image of Christ.

But another type of book you might choose is a book that challenges you to be holy, and I can think of no better one than Jerry Bridge’s The Pursuit of Holiness. It’s been a while since I read this book, but just thinking about it makes me want to re-read it.

Ecclesiology / Practical Church Ministry

As someone who is leading in the church, it would behoove you to know more about the church. If you go to a Christian bookstore, you will find a huge section of books telling you how to “do church”. There are conferences dedicated to this type of thing. I think most of them are about as useless as a one legged man in a butt kicking contest.

One great resource for this type of thing is 9Marks. This organization exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision for building the church. They have a quarterly journal with great articles, they have books, study guides, podcasts, and all that good jazz. No bad jazz there. Just the good stuff.

One other book I might mention is The Trellis and the Vine, from Matthias Media. I think Matthias puts out good stuff in general, but this may be (to date) their most impactful book from the standpoint of helping churches develop a biblical ministry mindset.


One of your responsibilities as a leader in the church will be to interact with visitors and unbelievers. You should be able to articulate the gospel and answer some basic objections that people might have. There are entire ministries dedicated to apologetics, but it isn’t necessary to become an expert on creationism or post-modernism or anything else. I would find a book that shows you how to present the gospel well. My advice for that is CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity. My favorite is Orthodoxy, by GK Chesterton, but Lewis is more accessible and the issues he addresses still pertinent today.

Church History

If I could teach a course at Bible College, I might request to teach this one. Since graduating from college, I have spent a lot of time education myself on the great characters of church history. As you study church history, you are studying theology, evangelism, God’s providence over time, etc… A good start is Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language.


Sometimes you just need fuel. I confess that I sometimes read just for enjoyment and never feel guilty about it. The believer is to fight with joy. I am fueled by various authors and genres, from theology by puritans (although this is rare) to satires by Doug WIlson to absolutely anything GK Chesterton ever wrote about anything. Sometimes biographies are what I crave. Other times I go back and read Tolkien for the 100th time. Find what fuels your heart and makes you love God more. If you pick something by Joel Olsteen…just get out of the ministry.


Here’s my advice: if you have a limited amount of time, don’t use it learning Greek (or Hebrew) unless you have some very significant interest. The odds are you will not learn it well enough to do any good with it. But that’s just my opinion.


There you have it, my friend. The only additional comment I would make is that I purchase the vast majority of my books on my Kindle, which saves a ton of money and space. The best place to find Kindle deals on Christian books is here, where a guy named Tim Challies collects deals every deal. For example, at the top of his list today is Knowing God. Sounds like Providence, to me.


Ravi could have used some guardrails: Re-Examining the “Billy Graham Rule”

The egalitarian culture in which we live provides endless opportunities to conflict with a clear vision of God creating man and woman as distinct. Within conservative evangelical circles these distinctions have been addressed most robustly – outside of the teaching of individual churches – by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The Billy Graham rule, which came into the national spotlight again a couple of years ago when Mike Pence spoke about the precautions he takes in his relationships with women, is a practice in which evangelical men seek to never be alone with a woman (this is a simplistic overstatement; no one has an issue with riding in an elevator with a woman, etc…). This precaution is taken in order to avoid sexual temptation as well as to avoid accusations of impropriety. Below are some thoughts regarding this rule that I have assembled in some semblance of order, but it’s the kind of order you might see as a group of kiddos are told by the teacher to line up at the door. So please, limit your expectations.

Fallout from Ravi Zacharias’ abuse begins

We Still Have A “Flesh” Problem

Men are still attracted to women, and women are still attracted to men. Men can be deeply sinful (think David lusting over Bathsheeba) and women can be deeply sinful (think of Potiphar’s wife lusting over Joseph). And while we most often hear about the failure of prominent Christian men, such as the recent Ravi Zecharias tragedy, there are also cases involving women intentionally seducing men. When it comes to the sexes, sin is a two way street. On this issue of sexual attraction, we should not underestimate how overwhelming and intoxicating this temptation can be. We should also not underestimate how the ubiquity of pornography use has desensitized many consciences to the exceeding sinfulness of sexual immorality.

We Have a Problem on Top of a Problem

The #MeToo movement is a classic case of how worldly solutions to sinful problems tend to compound the problem rather than solve it. I am very glad that women who experienced abuse felt confident in coming forward and exposing the likes of Harvey Weinstein. I hope every woman who experiences abuse seeks justice. But I also hope that as a society we can cling to important principles of justice like “innocent until proven guilty” and a right to a fair trial. When the media and the mob simply pile on someone without giving that person a chance to mount any sort of defence, we are no longer living in a just society. So as with sin, justice is a two way street. In this day and age, men not only need to guard their own hearts but to guard their reputations.

The Problem Starts in the Heart

One biblical qualification for an elder is that he be “a man of one woman”. Or a one woman kind of man. The best defense any pastor has against temptation as well as impropriety is to be in love with his wife. Of course, celebrities can fake it in front of the camera, and Christian celebrities are no exception. But local church pastors can’t fake something like this for very long. (On a side note – This is the advantage of the biblical model of having local church pastors as opposed to celebrity leaders). The temptation for a man to stray is intensified when he is not loving his wife the way he should. Sin starts in the heart.

But There are Such things as Best Practices

Most church elders are now familiar with risk management regarding everything from church finances to a potential deadly shooting during a worship service. Churches with a robust children’s ministry will have best practices in place to minimize the potential of an abuser. These best practices discourage potential abusers from even attempting to gain access to kids. In the same way, elders should have best practices for guarding their own hearts, their own reputations, and the reputations of women in the church. Recent books such as “Why Can’t We Be Friends? Avoidance is Not Purity” suggest that policies of avoidance – like the Billy Graham rule – are not the solution. Note the quote below from a recent TGC blog post:

Withdrawing from women isn’t the solution. In fact, it’s part of the problem. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and it’s not good for men to be without women in the church. Men need mothers, sisters, and daughters in the faith, just as women need fathers, brothers, and sons. We are a family, a beautiful body made up of many parts. We’re vitally connected to one another, and every part is essential for us to function properly. Avoidance isn’t the remedy. Drawing near to God is.


I don’t know of any evangelicals who advocate for a complete avoidance of women. We worship together, we eat fellowship meals together, and our families form friendships together. The Billy Graham rule is specifically targeting one on one interactions between men and women, often in private places such as personal offices or vehicles. Flee youthful lusts….use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh…abstain from all appearance of evil…if your eye offends you, then pluck it out…Scripture has plenty to say about the nefarious nature of our flesh, even post salvation, and the lengths to which we should go to limit sin’s influence over us. Should I be the kind of person that is trustworthy in a situation where I am alone with a woman? Of course. Should I still have rules? You betcha.

While the author above does not single out the Billy Graham rule, she must be talking about something. She goes on to say “However, I’m concerned that certain well intentioned guardrails have the potential to harm women.” That is a pretty weak argument compared to the argument that a lack of guardrails have definitely harmed women. Ravi Zacharias could have used a few more guardrails. At some point, I assume that Ravi was faithful to his wife, and then at some point he was not. Would he have kept his marital vows if he had had more guardrails?

Wisdom and Rules

Legalism is the idea that righteousness can be achieved by rule-keeping. We understand that this is anathema to the salvation that comes by grace. But having rules does not turn one into a legalist. Discipline is not opposed to grace if discipline is born out of grace. Could we imagine a man who has a lot of rules about his interactions with women but is at the same time a lusting Lothario? Sure. But we can also imagine a good man who doesn’t have a lot of rules and in a weak moment ruins his ministry. In fact, we don’t have to imagine that because we see it around us all the time. Arbitrary rules woodenly applied will make for a clumsy and awkward ministry, but a lack of wise rules will lead to greater tragedies.

This Egalitarian Age

Because of the egalitarian nature of our age, I think it is much more common to see men and women together and much harder for men in the workforce to hold to the Billy Graham rule without compromising their employment. Should we advise men in our church to risk their jobs to hold to a certain standard? These are the types of issues Christians need to think through. For the moment, I see nothing in the news or the culture or the nature of mankind that makes me think that a pastor needs to spend more time alone with a woman who is not his wife.


Pastors, Be Content with Your Church; Church, Be Content with Your Pastor

The road to Branson is adorned with billboards. (Surely, as an aphorism, it will go viral.) Shows, restaurants, hotels, and assorted other venues that make their money off of the tourism industry promote themselves along Highway 65 in hopes of capturing more of the visitors who are the economic lifeline of the town Homer Simpson called, “Las Vegas run by Ned Flanders”. Billboards are ubiquitous (and in my opinion, ugly) features of every major highway in America. In our consumer culture, the goal of advertising is not to inform, but to inflame. Advertising is not aimed at the mind, but at the lusts. Advertising is designed not just to satisfy desire, but to create desire that was previously unknown. Covetousness is rooted in our flesh.

rectangular beige board

In recent decades the Church has variously battled, scorned, embraced, and baptized consumerism as a church growth mentality. One of the more pungent odors of consumerism in the church is discontentment. Who knew they needed heated seats in their car until they had tried them? Who knew they needed a pastor that could rock designer sneakers until they saw one? You get the idea. (The issue is not whether a pastor should wear designer sneaks, but whether wearing designer sneakers becomes some sort of desirable focus for pastor and congregation alike). Since discontentment comes standard on all fallen natures, we have a potential sinkhole that has been enlarged by intentional excavations around it. And many, including myself, have teetered on the edge of that sinkhole.

We are all tempted to think that a change in circumstances will resolve our problems. The problem with the employee who changes jobs every time he has a conflict with his boss is that he manages to change his circumstances while remaining the same unmanageable person he has been the whole time. The problem with the church that swaps out their pastor every time his preaching grows dull to their ears is that they never address the dullness of their hearts. The problem with the pastor who changes churches every time the honeymoon period is over is that his ministry careers consists of all the excitement of dating and none of the fruit of marriage.

There are times when a change in the pastorate is necessary. Some men never met the qualifications of an elder to begin with. Others fall into sin. Some churches are viper pits looking for fresh victims to poison. And there are legitimate moves in ministry as directed by God whereby both parties (pastor and church) are strengthened by God through these changes unto His glory. But in my opinion, too many changes happen as a result of unrealistic/unbiblical expectations that result in a growing discontentment between pastor and church.

Pastors, don’t let discontentment grow in your hearts. You may sow, water, and plant, but only God can give the increase. Focus less on what others are doing (or not doing) for the Lord and how you can preach faithfully, minister gladly, and use the opportunities that you have. Imagine that you are a fresh candidate for this pastorate and think how you would see the opportunities differently. Discontentment will rob the time you could be doing something in ministry and replace it with time spent searching the internet for other jobs, or techniques to overcome your problems, or even more deadly temptations that will provide excitement in your dreary day. Determine to love the sheep – especially the wayward ones – over which God has made you overseer. Place your confidence in the power of God’s Word instead of in your own skills. Don’t let past failures or disappointments affect your faith in God’s promise to complete the work He started (you didn’t start it, dear brother) in your congregants. Let your discontentment lead you to become a better pastor instead of leading you to a different church.

Churches, don’t let discontentment with your pastor grow in your heart. If you have a pastor who faithfully demonstrates the character qualities recorded in Scripture, faithfully preaches God’s Word, and faithfully loves your church, don’t even think of replacing him. If there are areas where you think your church needs to improve, then volunteer to help. Don’t think those who have turned away from God will return just because you bring in someone more charismatic. If your pastor is burnt out, then don’t make him ask for a vacation: send him on one. If he comes to you and says that he is contemplating a change, handcuff him to an old heavy filing cabinet. If you have a faithful man of God at the helm of your boat, then do whatever you possibly can to help him – short of actually handcuffing him to a filing cabinet! Let your discontentment lead to a rallying around your leader instead of a replacing of your leader.

Thou shalt not covet applies to ministry. Don’t covet another man’s ministry, and don’t covet another church’s pastor. Be content. Godliness with contentment is great gain.


Personal Piety isn’t Enough: The Church is More Important Than Ever

The Water In Which We Are Drowning

With all of the hubaloo regarding the inauguration of Biden yesterday, I had intended to add my two cents to the overflowing coin bank of opinion on the recent 2020 elections. But due to unforeseen events, I am late to the party. That’s ok, my understanding is that if it’s mailed in it will be counted regardless of the posting date. Which remark probably indicates my political leanings, but be that as it may, this post is more about the Church than politics, although politics are the context in which I frame my thoughts.

whtie and brown cathedral

The next four years promises to be challenging from a political perspective to orthodox Christians, and I shall lay out some a priori assumptions that explains that assessment. 1) All forms of government are not created equally: there are forms of government that are more realistic about the nature of our world and that are designed in principal and practice to pursue righteousness (Proverbs 14:34). 2) The extremism of the Left (collectivism) is currently more dangerous than the extremism of the right (fascism), although that could change quickly. 3) The intolerant, censorious nature of Leftist policy is a danger to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. 4) The idolatry of Statism exhibited by Leftist government is threatened by bonds outside of the State, which has led to an assault on the family, on the nature of masculinity and femininity, and on the life of the unborn – to name a few. 5) The doctrines of the Left are embedded in our culture through institutions such as government via legislation, education via government schools, storytelling via entertainment, and control of information via Big Tech and traditional media.

Idolatry to the Left, Idolatry to the Right

As one of my friends recently pointed out, the last year has been a good one for exposing idolatry. In my part of the country and in my circles, the idolatry of the right involves a certain kind of nationalism. I think nationalism is good and something that will last for eternity: the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). But even good things can become idols, and we can tell that they have become idols by the response of their worshipers when they start to slip and fall off their pedestal. There are those within Evangelicalism who have placed their trust in horses and in chariots (Psalm 20:7). There are those who have risked personal integrity, who have railed against the appointed rulers, who have lost sleep, who have denied reality, and in short acted like pagans because they were worshiping at the wrong altar.

But the Left is not short of idols. If I were to compare, I would say that the main difference between the Left and the Right is that the Right tends to elevate good things (patriotism, family, liberty) to the level of worship (which is a sin) , whereas the Left tends to worship that which is more intrinsically wicked. To love fornication is to love that which is twisted. To love death is to love that which is the opposite of the Lord of Life. From evolution to transgenderism, the gods of the Left are an abomination.

Personal Piety

In the midst of this, it should go without saying that personal piety is foundational. The individual who claims to know the God who is Holy and yet lives daily without evidence of holiness (or growth in holiness) is a problem. Salvation – the pardoning of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – comes to the individual. Then the salvation that is worked in by God must be worked out by the believer through the power of the indwelling Spirit. This is basic Christianity. In every age, the lack of personal piety rears its ugly head. In every age the Church can lose her saltiness because those who make up that blood bought Body of Christ are living in carnality.

The Church

But there is also something above and greater than the individual: the Church. While comprised of individuals whose personal piety determines her character, the church is greater than the sum of her parts. She competes in society – not on a personal level – but at an institutional level. She has righteous laws to compete with secular legislation. As the pillar and groundwork of Truth, she is the True Teacher of our race. Her Wisdom competes with secular dogma and philosophy. She tells the One True Story against secular fiction. The Revelation of God is expounded from Her pulpits. As such, the Church is always under attack because She embodies the Light of God in a dark world.

Christians CANNOT allow their aspirations to end with personal piety. It is the Church that must not fail. We may expect, particularly in progressive States, oppressive legislation and uncooperative legislatures. We should anticipate onerous regulations at our schools where we teach our children that God is our Creator and man is made in His image. We know that proponents of homosexuality and transgenderism and collectivism are marshaling their forces NOT against the main stream media and giant corporations, but against the Chosen of God who will not declared that Caesar is Lord, but that Christ is Lord.

And so we must attend. We must give. We must serve. We must worship together. If your attendance to your local assembly is sporadic, then sharpen it up. If you give your hard earned money to the very corporations that promote wickedness while withholding your money from the mission of God then change your financial habits. If you haven’t missed a football game but you have missed the worship of your Creator…well, that’s a problem. The best way you can stand against the secular wave is not via social media or activism or even voting, it is by faithfully attending church with your family. Get your kids in church!

But there’s one more thing. We can’t do all this with the attitude of the guy smoking a joint in the Capitol Rotunda. We can’t serve God while hating our fellow man. We can’t gripe and spew vile hatred against sinners and then bemoan that no one will listen to us when we proclaim the gospel. If we would be crucified with Christ, then we must forgive as Christ forgave. If we would bear the reproach of our Savior, we must also bear the compassion of our Savior. If gaining a soul means the plundering of our property, we should gladly lose our property so that others might gain their soul. Anything less is idolatry. And the world has enough of that without the Church adding to it.

1 Dimensional Problem Solving

Several years ago – during my electrician days – I wired a house. For some reason I returned a week or two later, probably to add something or make a change at the request of the home owner, when I happened to notice where the HVAC guy had installed his return air duct. I knew something was wrong but couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so I grabbed a ladder and went into the attic to investigate, where I found the wire I had run for the dryer simply cut in pieces. In order to solve his problem of wanting to put a return air vent in that spot, he just got rid of the wire that was already there. I call this 1 dimensional problem solving. Sure, it fixes the presenting problem, but it ignores anything outside of that narrow focus.

pen on paper

There are some problems that require a simple solution. Maybe the sink will stop leaking if you just tighten the nut up a little more. Maybe you’ll get out of bed on time if you move your alarm device (it used to be a clock but now soon it will just be the floating ephemeral head of Zuckerburg yelling at you) across the room. But then there are problems that incorporate more than 1 dimension. Perhaps knocking down that wall between your dining room and kitchen will solve your space problem. But perhaps it is a load bearing wall. Uh Oh.

A complex problem may require a simple solution, but that simple solution needs to actually fix the problem without causing other problems. I bring this up because when we hear people propose solutions to problems, we often hear a one dimensional approach. As soon as Covid-19 began spreading and impacting our nation, everyone should have realized that there are (at least) 2 axes in the problem solving graph. There is, of course, the problem of death and sickness and hospitalizations all brought about by the virus. But secondarily, there is the issue of government policy/authority. Anyone who wants to approach the issue one dimensionally will be – at minimum- annoying. On the one hand, you’ll get the rich actors and actresses who send out videos encouraging everyone to just stay home and flatten the curve and mask up ….from the comfort of their ridiculously large mansion (which has a far great carbon footprint, BTW, then the average American’s house) where they are sitting back and counting their money like Scrooge McDuck. Or they could become that person that thinks that every action of the government is a curtailing of liberty to be defied at all costs. Either way, the conversation will becoming increasingly polarized and summed up by memes or tweets. If you are able to keep both axes in mind, you can have intelligent conversations (even with those with whom you disagree) where the various risks and side-effects are discussed.

But we could really take this a step further and talk about a third dimension that exists every time you try to solve a problem that involves human beings, because humans respond in real time. Check out the first couple minutes of Thomas Sowell responding to AOC’s “tax the rich strategy”.

What Sowell understands that AOC doesn’t is that “human beings are not like inert blocks of wood or chess pieces that you can move around the board.” Does anyone in their right mind really think that if Nancy Pelosi were to spearhead an effort to pass a 65% tax on the super-rich that she would pay anything close to that at the end of the year? Rich people didn’t get rich by being stupid with their money.

Recently I received a little post-card in the mail from a gentleman running for office in my district. He seems like a decent man and is generally well respected. On the back of this post-card he had a list of priorities that he would address, and among others there were things like poverty and education. Well, who is running on the pro-poverty ticket? Who is running on the bad education ticket? These are obviously things that any moderately decent person would be against. But the first question that came to my mind is not whether he cared about those issues, but what exactly he thought he do as a Congressman to address them?

The reason I tend not to vote against men like this is because their solutions are one dimensional. Set some new educational standards and teachers learn to teach to the test so that their students are just as ignorant of history as ever but very adept at filling in circles. Pass prison reform and drug addicts learn how long it to takes to pass a pee test and begin scheduling their highs so that they can pass drug court and avoid jail. That isn’t to say that government doesn’t have a role to play in a society, but it does betray my frustration with the idea that some new legislation is going to fix the problem of a lack of virtue or the collapse of the family. Especially since those espousing such solutions tend to exacerbate the underlying conditions that led to those problems. That is not “loving my neighbor”.

There are some genuine social issues that exist between conservatives and liberals that are clearly in conflict, such as abortion. But I don’t know of a single conservative who wants more poverty or worse education. So why can’t we get together on issues like this and make some progress? Often the answer lies in the fact that conservatives tend to think that a government response is the most inefficient kind of solution possible.

However, if this attitude is adopted as a way to avoid actually helping one’s fellow man it is cause for shame. If I say that the Government has done a terrible disservice by creating a welfare state that positively encourages poor decision making and poverty, am I willing to actively engage in ways to improve my community and benefit my neighbor through other means? If I believe that the benefits offered by neighbors, churches, family, and community are far better solutions that political ones, am I contributing to my family, my church, my neighborhood, and my community? Probably more on this down the road.