Thursday, 11 January 2018

Journeying through Grief--Stephen Ministry and Encouragement for Those who Grieve

Stephen Ministry is a parachurch ministry to encourage those who suffer loss or experience significant grief. I use their grief booklets--a series of four ($10). I send the first of the four booklets, with a personal letter within a month of the funeral. The other three are sent out roughly every quarter.

The booklets are helpful--my mother really appreciated them in light of my father's death, for example. It's an effective tool that does not require much time and effort, if the church secretary manages the calendar and prompts the pastor accordingly.

Stephen Ministry Grief Booklets

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Well-Rounded Bible Teaching Ministry

Well-Rounded Bible Teaching Ministry

The healthy church has several venues or opportunities each week or month to develop a well-rounded teaching ministry:

  • The pastor’s pulpit ministry. People should leave worship knowing a bit more about the text on which the sermon was based, including larger and smaller contextual issues. Far too often, people hear what they think is a great sermon, but they learned nothing about the inspired text. Essentially, many preachers give a “TED Talk, with a scripture attached to it, as someone once said. The focus of the sermon, however, is not the exegesis of the text. Rather, sermons should focus on the application of the well-examined text. The sermon affords five to ten minutes of actual Bible teaching ministry.
  • Sunday School ministry. Sunday School is traditionally designed to survey the Bible’s content, so that children will grow up to know most of the Bible stories, and adults grapple with the setting and background of the 66 books, along with the larger flow of argument or narrative in them. The emphasis is on what the Bible says. Historically, Sunday School curricula is formulated on a seven-year cycle, so that the devoted Sunday School student will have surveyed the entire Bible.
  • Midweek ministry. Midweek ministry should include an element of training in Christian ministry. Many churches still refer to the midweek meeting as Prayer Meeting, although the role of prayer in the midweek meeting has been significantly reduced in most churches to allow more time for Bible study. The way most midweek Bible studies are conducted is essentially the same as the Sunday School ministry, except that there is no Sunday School book, and the pastor just simply opens the Bible and divulges what he knows about a given passage. A well-rounded Bible teaching ministry, however, should give ample instruction on how to read the Bible, rather than repeating the Sunday School’s mission of merely teaching what the Bible says. The idea is that the midweek faithful hone Bible study skills that increase their competence to teach the Bible. Thus, midweek ministry is more than just Bible teaching, but also training in Bible teaching.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

I Pronounce You “Pastor and Congregation” ***** The Purpose and Intent of Pastor Installation Service

The beginning of a new pastor’s ministry at any church involves joy, high hopes, great anticipation, and not a little fear and trepidation, for both pastor and congregation. The Pastoral Installation Service is meant to capitalize on the enthusiasm of new beginnings as well as to redress anxieties.
In many ways, the Installation Service is akin to the Wedding Ceremony. Certainly, there is joy in both kinds of services, and some measure of anxiety, no doubt. What is at the root of both ceremonies, however, is that two parties make vows to each other in the sight of God and many witnesses. These are the most serious promises we can make to each other, “so help us God.” Indeed, the exchange of vows between pastor and congregation culminates the service.
Like a wedding, the Installation Service features invited guests who witness the exchange of vows. In accord with the auspiciousness of the occasion, we have invited both civic dignitaries from our community and area ministerial leaders with whom we partner in mission. They are invited not only to witness the exchange of vows, but also to celebrate our mutual interests and calling by bringing greetings and well wishes from our community and from their respective organizations.
In addition to the exchange of vows, ministers will admonish both pastor and congregation about their obligations to one another. Both the charge to the pastor and to the congregation are meant to be delivered with a Spirit-filled zeal and urgency, so that the words press mightily on the hearers’ hearts and minds for many years to come.
There will also be an Installation Sermon. While the sermon and the charges emphasize the magnitude of the stewardship that is bestowed upon the pastor and congregation in their new ministry together, they also serve to allay fear and trepidation, for the Lord promises his enabling presence: “Fear not! For I am with you always!”
The Installation Service may well be further solemnized by special music. Extended pre-service music (perhaps by a guest musician) is appropriate, as well as special processional and recessional music. A choral anthem and perhaps a vocal solo or trio, etc. may also be in order. The congregation will sing majestic hymns appropriate for the occasion.
While processionals and recessionals are not typical for most Baptist churches, they may well add to the auspiciousness of the occasion, especially if clerical regalia (robes) are requested. If the church does not have enough robes available, often a neighboring church with high church tendencies may be willing to loan some.

An important goal of the Installation Service is to bring the whole congregation together, with an eye especially for our members who have not been attending regularly. We want them to meet the new pastor and see for themselves the joy of our new beginning. The Installation Service also is a fine reason to invite extended family members and neighbors to come see what is happening in their community. While the church office should send out invitation letters to many people, all church members—each and every one of them—should do their part to reach out and invite their friends and loved ones. In the end, we hope that the Installation Service not only energizes pastor-congregation relations, but also serves as an Evangelism-Church Growth opportunity.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Eternal Security and the Early Baptists, Free(will) Baptists, & Northern Baptists

The earliest Baptists were Arminian. This is true of both Anabaptists of central Europe and the English Baptists that gave birth to Baptists in America. Thomas Helwys was the first to write a Baptist confession, and Helwys, his confession, and his congregation were all Arminian. Indeed, there is good circumstantial evidence that Helwys was influenced by Arminius and his circle.

Calvinism came to dominate Baptist circles, largely due to the influence of English Puritanism, although there remained throughout the 18th century a strong, vibrant, and theologically sound Arminian Baptist movement, led by Thomas Grantham. Calvinistic Baptists made their way to the colonies and established the very strong Philadelphia Baptist Association and other Calvinistic Baptist Associations, eventually organizing as the Northern Baptist Convention. Arminian Baptist churches were also established in the Carolinas in the early colonial period, but were poorly organized and eventually succumbed to pressures from the Philadelphia Baptist Association.

Although the Philadelphia Baptist Association’s theological commitments were strongly Calvinistic, the Calvinism of their churches quickly began to wane. As new churches were formed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, their statements of faith trended more and more toward Arminianism. At the same time, large numbers of Baptist churches that were distinctly Arminian were being organized in the northern United States, largely under the influence of Wesleyan Arminianism. They were organized in associations as Free Baptists, or Freewill Baptists.

By the early 20th century, Calvinism in the Northern Baptists had waned so much that Northern Baptists and the Free(will) Baptists merged together. This was no small matter given the sparse population, as the merger included a thousand churches and seven educational institutions, not the least of which was Hillsdale College. Individual churches could retain their own theological commitments, but generally the theological polemics were all toned down. Simultaneously, Southern Baptists also trended away from Calvinism, but while Southern Baptists urgently pressed the importance of the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional eternal security, Northern Baptists muted the point and trended toward a doctrine that believers are eternally secure so long as they persevere in the faith and not make shipwreck of it as Hymenaeus and Alexander did (1 Tim 1:18-20).

Northern Baptists eventually became known as American Baptist Churches—USA. Today, American Baptists trend toward Arminianism, but generally do not engage in theological apologetics or polemics. There are some American Baptist churches that do emphasize the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional eternal security, but these are largely due to the influence of Independent Baptist pastors who have recently pastored them.

For a well written summary of American Baptist history HERE.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Special Sundays as Outreach Tools

Every church has special Sundays, but not every church uses them to offer outsiders the excuse to attend church. I’m happy, for example, to observe Veteran’s Day in Sunday worship, but do so pragmatically, with the intention of making it a big attendance day. Most churches give some minimal recognition of the day, and then hurry on to the next item in the church bulletin. For me, however, Veteran’s Day (and other such events) is something to be exploited as an opportunity to increase attendance and to expand the scope of the ministerial radar.
We make the day special by putting on display veterans’ memorabilia —uniforms, pictures, medals, etc., for perusal before and after the worship service. As part of the service, we invite a color guard (JROTC, VFW, Boy Scouts, etc.) to present the colors in procession, with our veterans in parade. A roll call is taken, and the veterans are recognized individually. I set aside some time to discuss Just War concepts and we pray for world leaders’ wisdom, world peace, and protection of our own military personnel.

We are sure to invite the veterans’ own family members to this special service. This gives family members an excuse to attend, and the pastor gets to meet them, thereby getting them to blip ever more prominently on the ministerial radar. The same is true for the visiting color guard.
While other churches might observe Reformation Day, my churches observe All Saints Day. Baptist observance of All Saints Day entails the recognition of all those church members who died in the past year. I recruit church members to offer a short remembrance or eulogy for each one, as time permits. We strongly promote this special day. It fuels the memory of our recently departed members and urges us to follow their example in running with perseverance the race set before us. We also use the service to invite the surviving family members, thus boosting our attendance and, again, increasing the scope of our ministerial radar.

The same is true for all special events. Vacation Bible School Sunday, high school and college graduation day, baby dedications, baptisms, Thanksgiving, etc. If the church happens to have a cemetery, we will host a special community service at the cemetery on Memorial Day. Increased attendance may not be the primary purpose for observing any of these days, but the church should avail itself of the opportunity to increase attendance for each one of them. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Statement of Faith--More than What We Believe, but also How We Live

I read many statements of faith produced by churches and individuals alike. I just came across a fresh statement of faith produced by a church. It was more than just a statement of what they believed, but also a list of implications that arise from their faith statements.

What a brilliant idea. I've adapted my own statement to fit the template, and you can see it here. I'm still revising it--leave feedback if you have suggestions, except that I'm not going to add anything about KJV-Onlyism.... ;)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Big Theology on Narrow Shoulders: a Brief Outline of Arminian Baptist History

Here is the amazing thing about the Arminian Baptist theology espoused by Reformation Arminians like Robert Picirilli and his long time colleague Leroy Forlines.

Thomas Helwys???
Arminian Baptist theology is a Baptist theology with a long pedigree going back to the first Baptist congregation (Thomas Helwys) and Thomas Grantham--one of the best known Christian writers in 18th century England. (Arminian Baptists preceded Calvinist Baptists by a few decades.) It was imported into the colonies (Roger Williams and the first Baptist church are said to have begun as Arminian), but largely succumbed to a highly resurgent Calvinist strain of Baptists in the Philadelphia Baptist Association which aggressively preyed on disorganized Arminian Baptist churches in the south in colonial times (especially in South Carolina).

With the explosive growth of Southern Baptists after the Civil War, Arminian Baptist theology mixed with Calvinist Baptists theology to produce the Majoritarian Baptist position in SBC. Southern Baptists liked Arminian views on the extent of the atonement and election, but preferred Calvinist views on continuance in salvation (who wouldn't like a doctrine of once saved always saved?).

In 1907-1911, the Calvinistic Northern Baptists and the Free Baptists [= Freewill Baptists] in the north merged, having decided that their soteriology was compatible enough to cooperate as a unified denomination (1100 Free Baptist churches merged at that time, along with denominational infrastructures such as 7 colleges and a press). Free Will Baptists in the south were never really organized and mostly languished until their organization in 1935. 

Now, the very narrow ecclesiological swath of the modern FWB denomination preserves the much larger Arminian Baptist theology of Helwys and Grantham. That is to say, this venerable and very significant Arminian Baptist theology in its pure form is carried on the very small shoulders of a minor and mostly regional denomination of about 2200 churches. Its preservation and dissemination is largely the result of the efforts of two capable theologians, Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli, both octogenarians who are still very active. They were hardly known outside of their denominational context until the Calvinist resurgence of the 1990s when Arminians began desperately seeking good Arminian books to read.

But here is my point: despite the frail denominational structure that undergirds this Arminian Baptist theology, I have found the theology itself to be incredibly strong. I carried it with me through J.I. Packer's systematic courses at the graduate level, and tested it in the most rigorous exegetical courses of Fee and the Calvinist Bruce Waltke. I carried it with me to Cambridge where it was tested by my PhD supervisor and by Cambridge NT scholar Simon Gathercole. I may not have convinced those who were already committed Calvinists, but many of my peers felt that I satisfactorily presented a system that passed exegetical muster and the logical demands of a unified theological system. Forlines' overall view of Romans has survived even the New Pauline Perspective debate (indeed, he was making comments similar to E.P. Sanders for years prior to the publication of his 1987 commentary).

Click on Helwys for more info on Helwys.

For more on Reformation Arminianism click here.