Saturday, 3 December 2016

Welcoming to Worship--How to Do It


This is my format for the Welcome to Sunday worship
  • ·         Doxological Greeting
  • ·         Welcome visitors
    • Fill out the Welcome Card
    • Don’t be shy—reach out to the members
    • Exhortation
    • Post-service Fellowship
  • ·         Who We Are
  • ·         What to Expect
  • ·         Short prayer for visitors

Welcoming the congregation to worship affords good ministerial opportunities. First, it sets the tone for the worship service. This is well illustrated by the way that that radio talk show hosts or late night talk show hosts energize their audiences at the start of the program. The worst welcomes are the dull, lifeless, and unconsidered “Good morning” utterances, which are designed to elicit the obligatory response, “Good morning.” The congregation does so with equal dullness.
In contrast, our first words to the congregation should be inspirational and doxological, perhaps something like, “Blessed be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who has gathered us together in the name of his Son Jesus, who was crucified, buried, and risen from the dead in power and great glory.” The creative worship leader should prepare the welcome in advance, crafting a welcome that is appropriate for the People of God.
While worship leaders should formally welcome everyone, the emphasis should be on welcoming visitors. Visitors are often a bit unnerved by their unfamiliarity with a church. Worship leaders should speak words to reinforce visitors’ decision to attend and put their minds at ease. Be sure also to give a word of exhortation, encouraging visitors to grow spiritually or to get involved with the congregation, etc. Alert them to after worship fellowship opportunities.
Part of any welcoming is asserting to the visitors who the congregation is. Baptist theology teaches that the local congregation is nothing less than the People of God. The descriptor needs expansion. I suggest a four-point expansion, each reinforcing sermonic points. The first two points might recall
the previous week’s sermon, and the latter two might anticipate the sermon to be preached that day. Here is the “Who We Are” segment for one of my service in a sermon series on Philippians:

·         Who we are: First Baptist Church, the People of God
o   A people that has been granted the privilege of participating and sharing in the Gospel of Christ
o   A people that has been filled with a joy unspeakable, so that whether we are in chains for the sake of the gospel, or defending and confirming it, our joy overflows
o   A people united in Christ so that, despite the diversity of our backgrounds, perspectives, and cultures, we stand firm as one, contending for the gospel
o   A people confident that he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete in until the day of Christ

The “Who We Are” segment not only introduces the congregation to the visitors, but it also casts a vision of the congregation’s identity, which is exhortational.
The Welcome should inform the congregation of anything unusual that has been planned. If it is a Communion service, make note of it; likewise, announce special speakers or musicians, etc. I often joke that we will not be handling snakes today.
The Welcome usually takes 3-4 minutes, and should be concluded with a very brief prayer for the visitors. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Better Congregational Singing in Baptist Churches

A must goal for any church ministry is to develop or maintain good congregational signing. It’s easy enough to kill good congregational singing. Here are a top ten list of do’s and don’ts to strengthen congregational singing.

  1. Appoint a competent song leader to formally conduct congregational singing. The leader’s gestures and beat pattern give guidance for singing. Subtle movements can indicate contrasts in volume and tempo. The melody and rhythm of unfamiliar songs can be visibly seen by the congregation. Starts and stops can be more precisely and more confidently followed. The congregation can see the song leader’s lips sync perfectly with the starts and stops of the music. Well trained organists think they can do all this, but there’s no substitute for the good song leader.
  2. Choose songs having a well-balanced ratio of familiar to new hymns. A good rule is not to sing more than one unfamiliar song in a service.
  3. Don’t wear out the same old songs. Singing a specific song once every two or three months is more than enough, especially when most churches already have an expansive hymnody known to most members.
  4. Sing songs that are written specifically for congregational singing. Songs written for a band may sound good on the radio, but may be very difficult to learn by those who don’t listen to Christian music on their radios.
  5. Old songs sung in new arrangements may bring freshness, variety, and interest to congregational singing. This would include key changes or transitions into a second musically related song, or interludes between verses. Creativity is usually a good thing.
  6. Key changes or other alterations to familiar hymns need to be visibly indicated by the song director. Don’t leave your congregational singers stick out by themselves when the instrumentalist shift gears unexpectedly. If you repeat something, or if singing is suspended during some transition, call attention to it visibly.
  7. The song service should reflect intelligent design. Don’t choose songs arbitrarily. The effective worship leader chooses the Sunday worship music to reinforce the worship theme and sermon for the service. Woven together, the music will tell something of a story. In addition to consideration of lyrics, songs should be arranged in an order that flows emotionally and musically. If two songs occur together, proper transitions should be considered so that a song with a joyful, celebrative atmosphere is not jammed into the next song which is altogether sober or even sad (imagine WHEN WE ALL GET TO HEAVEN paired with THE OLD RUGGED CROSS).
  8. New songs should be introduced in a compelling way. Song leaders should explain why a new song is worth learning. Perhaps the song can be introduced with a testimony of how the lyrics of the song were personally helpful in a time of crisis. If the origin of the song or something of its composer is known, divulging such information may make the song more meaningful.
  9. Once or twice a year, feature a hymn sing service, one that substitutes the sermon with song. Allow requests for a few favorite hymns to be made in part of the service. Churches that have a Sunday night service often feature the fifth Sunday evening song service.
  10. Hymn commentary notes can be included in the church bulletin.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Pastor Installation Services for Baptist Churches

The Pastor Installation Service is a worship service that formalizes a pastor's call in the sight of God and many witnesses. It is in some respects like a wedding service; a minister gives an exhortational charge to the the congregation and to the pastor, and then the two parties exchange mutual vows. Elements are added to the ceremony to solemnify the occasion; celebrative elements are included, too. The service may range from less to more formal, from simple to complex.

Practically speaking, the installation service serves as a launching point for the pastor's new ministry. It conveys to the congregation and to those in the shadow of its ministry that an era is closing, and a new era is beginning. This can be important for churches dealing with conflict from a previous pastorate. The celebrative atmosphere and the required cooperation necessary to put on an installation service should energize the church membership so that they feel good about gathering together for worship in the coming services.

Here are some ideas.

  • Much advance promotional work is needed. The whole church membership should receive special invitations. This especially includes wayward or absentee members. An invitation list should be developed and expanded as widely as possible. The church may well take out advertizing in the local newspaper and radio stations. In some communities, flyers might be handed out door-to-door.
  • Baptists participate in processions as an act of worship, but not often. An installation service may invite a processional, since there are usually visiting ministers in attendance. I like to include children and youth into these acts of worship, and so I usually invite a child to lead the processional, carrying an appropriate size cross to represent Christ at the head of the processional. I might even add a child to carry in the altar Bible. 
  • Because of their tendency to erode distinctions between clergy and laity, Baptists are not typically fond of vestments. The installation service, however, might be a time when clerical robes might serve to solemnify the occasion; women don't normally wear bridal gowns and veils, but do so for the one special occasion.
  • Installation services call for all kinds of special music, and the church may well invite special musicians. Music tending toward the classical is especially appropriate for the processional, if there is a processional.
  • The installation service is a good time to emphasize the community relationships of the church with its affiliated and neighboring civic organizations. Leaders of these organizations may well be invited to bring short (2 minute) greetings and well-wishes to the congregation on behalf of their organizations. These would include representatives from the local church association, the state convention, other denominational representatives, local colleges and universities, and city and state such as the mayor or congressperson. Invited guests who cannot come may send written greetings and well-wishes which might be read to the congregation.
  • The new pastor should include people who have a deep connection with him or her into various parts of the service. In particular, the guest speaker to preach the installation sermon should be a significant mentor. Likewise, someone near and dear to the new pastor should render the installation prayer, and a vocalist who is a long friend to the new pastor might sing a meaningful song.
  • Participation in the installation, then, is determined by practicality and intimacy. That is, there is a dignitary class of participants (representatives from affiliated organizations and from the civic arena) and a class of participants who participate simply because they are dearly loved by the new pastor.
  • The installation service normally culminates in the installation prayer, which is usually done in the context of laying on of hands. Laying on of hands is an ancient biblical custom in which church leaders surround the individual and pray over him or her, with hand on the individual's head or shoulder. The person delegated to render the installation prayer should be someone who can pray with fervor and knows what it means to cry mightily to God.
  • The installation service usually involves food and fellowship afterward. New pastors may also help people get to know them by setting up a display of personal memorabilia which showcase the pastor's life, ministry, and various projects and achievements. In some cases, the pastor may wish to give a short presentation on a much loved project.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Program Notes for Six Hymns

For special occasions (in my case, pastoral installation), it is appropriate for a worship leader to include program notes for the hymns to be sung in a given service. The well trained church musician should be able to say some thoughtful words about both the hymn tune and its text. The model followed here is somewhat akin to that found in the program notes of a classical concert, although other models might be followed (background information, testimonial, etc.).

Regents of Our Lord and Savior. The majestic hymn melody soars to heights, befitting the praise of the one who is the king of heaven. Stressed notes of equal proportion lead to climatic final declarations to conclude each verse. The tune is sometimes sung to other more familiar texts. The text REGENTS OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR is the text selected for our service, and is especially meaningful to the Leonard’s since it is the alma mater of Regent College’s (Vancouver) where Pastor Jim received his Master’s.

Be Thou My Vision. The Celtic text is ancient (Rop tú mo Baile) and is attributed to the Irish monk Dallán Forgaill (c. 530-598). The tune is an Irish folk tune, not published until the early 20th century, but now interlocked with the English translation of the ancient Celtic text. This familiar hymn emphasizes Christ as the object of passionate affection and devotion, and as a guiding light that consumes all else. Pastor Jim claims this as his life hymn.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Full of allusions to biblical texts, this favorite hymn borrows the theme of God’s great promise of his enduring faithfulness and mercy from Jeremiah’s great lament over Jerusalem’s destruction. The repeated text “Great is Thy faithfulness” is a refrain that the members of First Baptist Church Grand Blanc may claim as their own, given the Lord’s goodness and provision through 184 years of ministry, whether through seasons of celebration or seasons of difficulty and lament. The hymn promises God’s continued faithfulness in the coming years of ministry.

When He Shall Come. Full of chordal sequences that convey mystery and ecstasy, the hymn text itself touches several scenes in the book of Revelation, including the parade of “blood-washed overcomers” who welcome the Lord’s return and who will “walk with him in white.” The Revelator writes, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear...” (Rev 19:6-8). The climactic phrase in the third line is breathtaking both musically and textually: “O may I know the joy at his appearing...” Although the hymn gained popularity in the mid-20th century, newer hymnals are not retaining it, and it is likely to be soon forgotten, to the great loss of future congregations. The hymn is sung today in honor of those who founded First Baptist Church Grand Blanc nearly 200 years ago, and to those who have sustained its ministry ever since. We long for that day when we shall join those overcomers and walk with the Lord in white.

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. The hymn and hymn tune both derive from Wales and have been closely associated with the Welsh revivals of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The tune itself was composed during a Baptist worship service. The lyricist composed many hymn texts and was known as the “(Isaac) Watts of Wales.” The text is heavily laden with biblical allusions and is well informed by a sound biblical theology. The Christian life has as its model Israel’s pilgrimage out of Egypt to the Promised Land, with a strong emphasis on God’s leadership and provision. Specific to our situation, First Baptist Church may sing this hymn confident of God’s divine guidance into this new era of ministry.

Wonderful Grace of Jesus. Given its demanding bass melody and four-part harmonization, this famous hymn may not be regularly sung on any given Sunday. Nonetheless, its robust musical lines, paired with memorable text, and celebrative feel make it a most favored hymn for special occasions, especially with a full house of singing congregants. The chorus begins with the male voices making general pronouncements about the grace of God, with the women echoing in like manner. The rolling and cascading melody climaxes with a powerful doxological cadence: O magnify the precious name of Jesus. Praise his name!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Hymn of Invitation--Worship Appropriate for Those who Profess to Worship Christ

The Hymn of Invitation typical follows a sermon in Baptist churches. Because of their commitment to a “believers’ church,” Baptists emphasize personal conversion and public profession of faith. They preach persuasively to this end, and have an expectation that their hearers will respond accordingly. During the invitation, Baptists are committed to praying fervently, asking God’s Spirit to speak to non-believers or wayward members, and that anyone under such conviction would come forward for public profession of faith or for prayer.

The hymn of invitation is designed to facilitate all of this. Baptist worship leaders will take care to choose hymns that might feature an invitational aspect (Billy Graham’s go-to hymn of invitation was “JUST AS I AM,” but there are many others, such as JESUS CALLS US). Worship leaders, however, may well opt to choose a hymn that underscores an aspect of the message of the sermon.

In any case, the hymn tune should normally reflect the somber significance of this portion of worship. All God’s people sing the hymn of invitation with great sobriety, while fervently praying for unbelievers in their midst, or for their wayward brothers and sisters in the congregation, all the while as sinners struggle under the Spirit’s convicting power. The hymn of invitation need not (and should not) be laden with manipulative affects, nor should exhibit a sense of excessive celebration.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Brief Prayer of Affirmation for Worship Visitors

For most people, visiting a new church for the first time almost always entails great trepidation. We might just as soon meet potential in-laws, or our new neighbors the Addams family.

I always include a short prayer for our visitors in each of our worship services, asking God to bless them and to make their time with us full of peace and joy. The prayer, however, comes after a doing some things to help matters.

  1. We try to ensure parking is available and clearly marked.
  2. We provide good signage to help visitors find their way to the sanctuary and restrooms. Few things are more awkward than accidentally walking into the front of the sanctuary.
  3. Our greeters know who our members are, and who are visitors, and we train them to engage them accordingly.
  4. Our greeters alert key members to the presence of visitors.
  5. I try very hard to introduce myself to visitors prior to the service, if there is time. This short greeting always entails a blessing such as, "Thanks for being here. I pray that God will really fill you up with his joy and peace."
At an early juncture in the worship service, we make a point to welcome visitors. We don't actually point them out or have them stand. We simply speak generally to our visitors. We express appreciation for the fact that they could have chosen to be somewhere else and that visiting a new church can be difficult. If there is something special or different about today's worship service, such as Communion service, or a guest speaker, I will give visitors advance notice.

After all this, without making a fuss and without printing it into the bulletin's order of service, I say, "Shall we pray." Here's a random prayer blessing for visitors: "Father, we thank you for sending us each visitor here today. Please grant them peace and solace for choosing to come for worship. Whatever challenges they may be facing, we ask that you would grant them wisdom and grant them courage to do what they need to do. May they see that despite the fierceness of our present day conflicts, Jesus is Lord. Amen."

Be aware that often there is some precipitating event or issue that has compelled the visitor to come to church. Sometimes visitors come to worship in a state of lament or disorientation about life, and God has used such circumstances to lead them to invest their time to visiting a church. No need to speculate on the specifics of why a visitor might be there, but congregations should be aware that below the surface issues may be simmering, and that the visit may mean opportunity for ministry.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Baptists are Evangelical, But Why? and What Does It Mean?

Because the Baptist church is a "believer's church," we Baptists are by nature Evangelicals.

Up to the Reformation era, church membership depended largely upon the accident of geographical location of one's birth. If you were born in a town under the authority of a Christian magisterium, or in a Christian kingdom, you were baptized as an infant, and you grew up Christian.

In contrast, Baptists contested that baptism should only be for those who profess Christ as their Lord and Savior (which infants could not). In order to belong to a Baptist church, you had to convert from your sinful ways, confess your sins, and publicly acknowledge and claim Jesus as Lord. If you did so, you demonstrated it symbolically through "Believer's Baptism."

For this reason, Baptists are evangelical. The National Association of Evangelicals provides a brief, but helpful description of Evangelicalism here. Baptist historian Prof. David Bebbington of Oxford University identifies four core characteristics of Evangelicalism that is universally applicable:
  • CONVERSIONISM: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • ACTIVISM: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • BIBLICISM: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • CRUCICENTRISM: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.
All four characteristics are closely linked with the Believer's Church commitment of Baptists. Conversionism is core to a Believer's Church. Because Baptists think that conversion is necessary to come into Christ's Church, Baptists are, of course, committed to Activism. Baptists readily accept and promote Biblicism simply because it is a core commitment of the Apostolic Faith--contending for the faith passed down to the saints through the apostles as Jesus taught them. Finally, Baptist are also Crucicentric since it is Christ's sacrifice on the cross that makes conversion possible.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

What to Call Your New Pastor

Rev. Leonard. Pastor Leonard. Dr. Leonard. Bro. Leonard. Minister Leonard.

Here are some protocols for the use of titles for Baptist ministers--not that it matters, but just in case you'd like to know.

But preliminarily, the whole discussion must be nuanced by Baptist commitments to equality within the congregation. The indwelling of the Spirit upon every believer emphasizes that God can use even the least maidservant to help lead his people as anyone. Thus, there are no rankings within the Baptist church--at least there shouldn't be.

Titles serve merely a practical function. By referring to someone with the title "Pastor," Baptists simply recognize that Jim Leonard is the pastor of the congregation and not some other person. There might be a modicum of respect being expressed, but no more so than addressing your child's teacher as Mr. Smith, rather than as John. Moreover, sometimes titles are important when signing documents or writing formal letters to the city council or to the newspaper, for example. For this reason, Baptist aversions to titles should not be absolute.
  1. Not your own pastor: Rev. Leonard
  2. Your own pastor: a) Pastor Leonard; b) Pastor Jim
  3. Any pastor in an academic setting, assuming he has a doctorate: Dr. Leonard
  4. Any pastor outside a religious context with whom you do not enjoy familiarity, assuming he has a doctorate: Dr. Leonard (or anytime that you'd otherwise refer to him as Mr. Leonard)
  5. Citation in public writing: a) Rev. James M. Leonard, PhD; b) the Rev. Dr. James M. Leonard

For Baptists, it is always appropriate to call your pastor "Brother Leonard" or "Brother Jim." Pre-Reformation, "brother" and "sister" were ranked positions in the Catholic Church. It was a lower level rank, but still miles above the ordinary parishioner. Baptists democratized church rankings, based on their emphasis of the indwelling of the Spirit on every believer, and started calling each other brother and sister, thereby ranking every believer.

As an interim minister, I heard one church member complain that a prospective pastor did not address an older saint in the church with the polite title "Mrs." In that unique context, no one dare address elder church leaders without some title. I'd prefer to use a more distinctively Christian title. For this reason, I am in the habit of referring to our church members as Brother Smith or Sister Jones.

Jesus' warns about taking titles too seriously, emphasizing the importance of humility. Fair enough. Of course, Paul is not shy about assigning titles to himself and to his colleagues. In some contexts, he is nothing less than Paul the Apostle, even if he also self-identifies as a slave of Christ. He's happy to refer to Phoebe as Deacon of Cenchrae. He addresses deacons and elders in his letter to the Philippians.

So, it is important to recognize that whatever title that is bestowed on us Baptist leaders, we accept it in humility, understanding that all good things that comes our way is a gift. We should also note that if we've been given much, much will be expected.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Pastoral Advice for the Pastoral Search Committee

Pastoral Advice for the Pastoral Search Committee
Rev. James M. Leonard, PhD

Ministry Is Hard Work
Members of the search committee have been entrusted with a task that is huge, time-consuming, and often frustrating. They usually work very quietly; the congregation generally does not know the many hours of labor their committee members must sacrifice to complete the task. Members can often feel underappreciated, and these feelings can be exacerbated when the congregation starts getting impatient about the pace of the committee work.
For this reason, as an interim minister, I want to encourage committee members. I understand a little about how hard the task is. I pray for you, and at nearly every church meeting, we encourage the whole church to keep you in prayer. There will come a time when all your hard work comes to fruition. Be faithful, then, and do not be downcast. Your reward is great.

Close Contact Leads to Closer Personal Relationships
As you spend hours each week with your fellow committee members, and as the weeks turn into months, and even years, you will get to know each other incredibly well. You will discover that each member has different abilities, gifts, perspectives, and urgencies. I ask you to appreciate these diverse gifts and these diverse perspectives. Rely on God’s gifting, so that the members carry the burdens equally. Don’t let any one individual carry too heavy a load.
Recognize that discernment is actually a charism—a spiritual gift. All of us have some measure of discernment, largely determined by the wisdom that we’ve developed over the years. Yet God gives to the church a Spirit-anointed discernment through individual church members. This is a supernatural gifting that goes well beyond natural wisdom. After working so closely together as a group, you may perceive that God has gifted one or more people with this Spirit-empowered gift. The members of the committee should recognize this over time, and judiciously lean on such individuals as God leads.
The crucible of the search committee has a way of yielding contention, arguments, and impatience. It has a way of bringing out idiosyncrasies and untamed character traits. For this reason, we must remember that love covers a multitude of sins. Or, in the case of church members, love covers a multitude of idiosyncrasies. You must deeply love one another, or else you will get on each others’ nerves! But if love covers a multitude of idiosyncrasies, then you just have to smile when any unseemly characteristics rear their ugly heads. Everyone is normal until you get to know them!

Your Ideal Pastor Profile Is important
You should review your list of characteristics you want in a new pastor, mostly as a reminder. Have confidence in that profile. It was created with great care by the collective wisdom of your entire committee. Keep it in focus. Every once in a while it might need to be modified, but mostly it should serve you well.
There are many characteristics that might be emphasized in any pastoral search, but among those that you should not overlook are high energy and creativity. Donald Trump sand bagged Jeb Bush with the moniker “Low Energy Jeb.” A low energy pastor might not sink a church, but a church is hardly capable of changing directions without a high energy pastor.

A Prophetic Minister Is Key
By prophetic, I mean that your installed minister should be cut from the same cloth as the biblical prophets who did not do so much foretelling. Rather, the biblical prophets preached the Mosaic covenant with great persuasion, and in ways that were relevant to their contemporaries.
The corollary to this point is that you should not seek the preacher whose sermons are easily “amen-able.” There is a whole crop of preachers whose preaching elicits quick and easy amens. It is not enough for your preacher to say, “Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor.” The preacher needs to be more specific, and some of those specifics should involve some stepping on your toes from time to time. The faithful minister will preach the truth, and the truth should hurt—at least every once in a while. The best sermon compliment is to tell the preacher that his sermon hurt, but that you needed it.


Be strong in the Lord, confident of his presence and guidance. Do not faint or grow weary, but press on toward the conclusion. There is such a thing as following the Lord’s leading.

Friday, 1 July 2016

A National Prayer for the Fourth of July

A National Prayer for the Fourth of July
for Three Choral Readers
Rev. James M. Leonard, PhD

Preamble (Unison)
Our Father who holds the destiny of nations in your hands, we thank you for the way you have guided our pilgrim forebearers and founding fathers in establishing our country. We recognize that we have not always been faithful followers, and we confess our national sins and failures. We ask that you renew our commitment to the Christian principles behind our nation’s founding so that our society would be free to pursue your calling, so that we may be a blessing to all the neighboring countries of the world.

#1 Our Land
Father, we praise you for our beautiful country, that it is blessed beyond measure in resources and natural wealth. We confess that there have been times that we’ve taken our land for granted, that we have sometimes abused it and harmed our environment. We thank you that much has been done in recent years so that we usually have plenty of clean air to breath and clean water to drink. We pray that you would help us be good stewards of our land.

#2 Our Freedom
Father, we praise you that we live in a country that cherishes freedom, that our forefathers recognized that you endowed all people with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and to pursue the life to which you call us. We thank you for those who have served to defend these freedoms, and we pray that we would live lives worthy of their sacrifice. We confess that we ourselves have often abused these freedoms and have sometimes denied them to others. Forgive us of such sins. We pray that you would preserve these freedoms for our children, and for our children’s children, so that they too may pursue the life to which you call them.

#3 Our International Relationships
Father, we thank you for granting to us an auspicious status in world affairs. We tremble at such a weighty status, knowing that we will be judged according to the way that our nation conducts its international policies. We thank you for our past international accomplishments that have paved the way for a more peaceful world. We ask forgiveness for our nation’s self-serving meddling that has led to hardships in other countries. In our efforts to preserve the interests and security of our fellow American citizens, we pray that you would teach us how to be good to our world-wide neighbors. Make us a channel of blessing, a beacon of light, and a city set on a hill for all the nations of the earth to emulate.

Conclusion (underscored by organ playing the hymn)
#1 God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

#2 Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;
Be Thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

#3 From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Unison: Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never-ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,

And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Ordination or Commissioning Charge: a Remix of Paul's Charge(s) to Timothy

Remix of Paul’s Charges to Timothy
(Culled from 1 and 2 Timothy)

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  
            But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.   Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

            In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.  Keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time--God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Monday, 16 May 2016

IMPLICATIONS OF A BELIEVERS' CHURCH: Membership Comments for 130th Church Anniversary

We are a community of believers covenanted together for Christian ministry. We celebrate our Baptist heritage and our Baptist distinctives. We are not contentious toward other denominational traditions, but we affirm and commend our Baptist ways as an authentic expression of the evangelical faith passed down to us by Christ through his apostles. I want to emphasize two elements of our Baptist covenant which we celebrate.

First, we are a covenanted community of believers. We seal this covenant through the waters of believers’ baptism. That is to say, believers who wish to join in covenant with us do so through the waters of baptism. We baptize only those who publicly profess their faith. This distinguishes us from those churches that offer baptism to infants. We hold sacred this rite, and only offer it to those who are able to assent or confess that Jesus is Lord. While we are committed to loving our youngest children and raising them in the fear of the Lord, we withhold baptism until they embrace Jesus in a genuine confession of faith. This is a doctrinal principle, and not a matter or preference. While we are happy to cooperate in ministerial endeavors with other denominations that baptize non-believers, we think that this doctrine is important enough to make it a defining issue for our covenantal community. Thus, we celebrate our community as a Believers’ Church.

Secondly, we think that covenant is best kept when the members of the congregation know each other. The first Baptist creed, or first Baptist statement of faith, included these words:

We believe and we confess…that the members of every Church or Congregation ought to know one another that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another both to soul and body. And especially the Elders ought to know the whole flock…. And therefore a Church ought not to consist of such a great multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another (Thomas Helwys’ A declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam, 1611, art. 16).

While we appreciate the impact and ministry of the large and mega-large churches, we do not envy them. Indeed, we affirm that the healthy smaller or mid-size church can accomplish God’s mission better since its members know each other and hold each member dear in their hearts, and therefore can keep covenant with one another much better than they can with strangers. For this reason, we commit ourselves to know each member. We work hard to make sure our children and youth know the names of our older members. We concern ourselves with learning names of our members which otherwise might be difficult or sound foreign to us. We spend time in intergenerational ministries, with our older members mentoring our younger members. We strive to know each other by name, and we aspire to recount the joys and sorrows of each member of our fellowship. These are the joys of a covenantal community that is small enough to share one another’s burdens. We think it is the model envisioned by the New Testament, and we celebrate our intimacy. Should we, as a healthy church, grow beyond this ideal, we look for God’s guidance to plant new churches so that we may minister the Gospel as effectively as possible.

As a covenanted community, we have a shared covenant, one which we recite on Communion Sundays when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This covenant obligates us….

We are thankful of our long term members who have faithfully kept covenant with us over the years. They have poured out their lives in ministry to our own members, to our local community, and to world-wide ministry through sacrificial giving and ceaseless prayer. I recently heard an 82-year-old pastor say, “If anyone knows the retirement age for God’s kingdom workers, I wish they’d let me know.” We now honor our long term members; please stand and remain standing as your name is called.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Author's Résumé Materials for Pastoral Ministry

    James M. Leonard

    Pastoral Ministry

    Résumé Materials

    (Notify me if any of these links are broken:

    Sermon recordings. These are more or less arbitrarily chosen, mostly recent. Most of my sermons are about 25 minutes in length.
    1. Detailed résumé, with my statement of faith (Doctrinal Statement): Résumé
    2. Powerpoint presentation of an overview of my ministry.
    3. Bulletin Order of Service
    4. Pastor's Detailed Order of Service for the Mar 6 service of Commissioning of Ministry Board Members (attached).
    5. Blog article on Baptist theology and worship
    6. Powerpoint presentation: Introduction Biblical Exegesis:!4606&authkey=!AC8xtwoV6H8pBvg&ithint=file%2cpptx This is a college level introduction which can be adapted either for church members or for graduate level teaching, when the actual lecture accompanies it; it is not a stand-alone presentation.
    7. Bulletin insert on my sermon series on Lament Psalms (Lenten Series).

    Wednesday, 23 March 2016

    Exegetical Overview of 2 Peter and Eternal Security: Forewarned Not to Fall from Your Secure Position

    Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position (2 Pet 3:17).

    Exegetical Overview of 2 Peter and Eternal Security: 
    Forewarned Not to Fall from Your Secure Position

    It is one of the great theological curiosities of our era that so many non-Calvinistic Baptists believe in eternal security (i.e., unconditional continuance in salvation). Two facts make the prevalence of eternal security among Baptists such a great curiosity. First, most Baptists have rejected the larger Calvinistic system in which eternal security is an integral doctrine. These “Majoritarian” Baptists are essentially Arminian who hold to eternal security in isolation from its Calvinist moorings, leaving the doctrine adrift in an incompatible system of beliefs, and making it logically vulnerable. Secondly, eternal security is a doctrine that is not sustained by a contextual reading of the Bible. Rather, Majoritarian Baptists base their doctrine of security on a hit-and-run list of scriptures that fleetingly touch on the issue without any substantial focus.  In so doing, they ignore several sustained discussions on continuance in faith which teach that believers can be at risk of forfeiting their salvation. In this article, I address one of those passages, the epistle of 2 Peter; it is one in a series (see also my articles on Hebrews and Jude).

    Preliminarily, I have argued elsewhere that Majoritarian Baptists proffer verses in support of eternal security that are characteristically extraneous “by the way” comments that occur in contexts that have little or nothing to do with continuance in salvation. For example, the larger discourse which contains Jesus’ famous statement about snatching sheep from his hand (John 10:29) otherwise lacks any reference to continuance; indeed, most Majoritarians cite the passage without having a clue about the polemics of its larger context. In contrast, Jesus’ warning that he will cut off every branch that does not bear fruit is part of a long discussion which counters eternal security, spoken to his closest disciples in an intimate setting (John 15:6). Passages which deal with the question of continuance in salvation in a sustained and focused way include John 15, the whole of the book of Hebrews, the letters of 2 Peter and Jude, and several passages in the letters to the churches in Rev 2-3. These passages seriously undermine the doctrine of eternal security since they warn believers to strengthen their faith, lest they forfeit their salvation; in contrast, no such passage of comparable length or focus give any hope of unconditional eternal security.

    Purpose in Writing
    The apostle leaves no room to wonder about his aim in composing 2 Peter. He explicates that he is writing to those who have received a faith as precious as his own (1:1), and that such recipients have everything they need for a godly life (1:3), so that they may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world (1:4). After an eloquent and powerful introduction, he urges them to “make every effort to add to [their] faith… (1:5), asserting that it is to this end that Christians have been given everything necessary for a godly life. He rounds out the introduction by explaining the letter’s purpose:

    “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:10).

    Thus, the letter was written to urge believers to grow in Christ so that they will not stumble, and so that they may successfully complete their pilgrimage to their eschatological reward. Of course, it would be wholly tautological to urge believers to make every effort to confirm their calling and election if they were, in fact, unconditionally secure therein. The introduction makes clear that the recipients are believers in possession of eternal security, yet assumes that present possession is no guaranty of a person’s final state.

    The apostle is duly courteous and not presumptuous: “So, I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory…” (1:12). Here and elsewhere, apostolic authors reflect a guarded optimism that believers will persevere, even as they warn that Satan is a roaring lion seeking to destroy them, and that there is a real possibility that they may “fall from [their] secure position” (3:17; cf. Luke 22:32; 1 Thes 3:5; Heb 6:4-6 with vv. 9-12; 10:19-38 with v. 39; 2 Pet 2:4-10). For these reasons, the apostle intends to keep reminding them to persevere for the rest of his life (1:14), and that his reminders will persist beyond his years since he has committed his warnings to holy writ (1:15). He affirms the validity of his gospel and warns that they “will do well to pay attention to it” and to persevere therein until the “day dawns and the morning star rises in [their] hearts” (1:19).

    Condemnation of The False Teachers
    The second chapter of 2 Peter focuses on the condemnation of the false teachers and their doctrine, but the author’s more immediate urgency is to warn believers against them. The false teachers and their doctrine posed a clear and present danger to the believers. They are particularly dangerous because “many will follow their depraved conduct,” and thus bring “the way of truth into disrepute” (2:2). He fears that these false teachers “will exploit you with fabricated stories” (2:3). The apostle’s tirade against the false teachers is sandwiched between his exhortation to grow in Christian virtue in chapter one, and his concluding exhortations to live holy and godly lives, and to make every effort to be found “spotless, blameless and at peace” with God in chapter three (vv. 11, 14). With these bookends, the apostle frames his warnings against the false teachers in chapter two: believers must grow in their faith so that they will withstand false doctrine. The intensity of the apostle’s warnings and their compositional framing defy any Majoritarian attempt to mitigate the danger by saying it is all merely hypothetical.

    The apostle cites God’s prior dealings with the fallen angels, with Noah and the flood, with Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot, and from them concludes that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment” (2:4-10). This reinforces the earlier assertion that God has given believers everything that they need to live the godly life (1:3). Although the passage affirms a strong optimism that believers will overcome the trials that would defeat them, the import of the passage is to warn that God will certainly hold the unrighteous accountable (2:9).

    In Ephesus, the false teachers in 1 Timothy were actually fallen leaders who at one time were followers of Christ, but had since made shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim 1:18-20). In contrast with those church insiders, the false teachers here in 2 Peter seem to be newly arrived outsiders. Still, the apostle denotes that they had “left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam” (2:15), allowing the possibility that the false teachers themselves had once been believers. Balaam is judged by the apostle as being better than the false teachers, for at least he was responsive to the Lord’s rebuke (2:16).

    The Threat to the Church
    The apostle turns his attention to the more immediate threat from the false teachers. They entice people who are “just escaping from those who live in error” (2:18). The situation depicted is that the false teachers are adversely impacting new believers who do not yet know any better. To avert this crisis, the apostle issues the most chilling warning of the book. He writes,

    If [the new believers] have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning (2:20).
    The statement is clear enough. The apostle is discussing the fate of people who experienced salvation from sin through a saving knowledge of Jesus as Lord and Savior. If after their salvation such believers find themselves overcome by the entangling corruption of the world, then their final status is even worse than their initial state, despite having previously experienced salvation. Although the statement is clear enough, the warning is so dire that the apostle feels compelled to clarify further:

    It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2:21).
    Here, again, the apostle elaborates the situation. He indicates that they had once “known the way of righteousness” but had since turned their backs on the gospel that was delivered to them. He laments that they would have been better off not experiencing salvation at all.

    To punctuate his pronouncement with all due emphasis, the apostle famously concludes his warning with illustrations of a dog returning to its vomit and of a washed sow returning to its mud wallowing. To their profound exegetical discredit, the most common rejoinder of so many Majoritarian Baptists is that believers are not pigs or dogs, but sheep. Rarely in the history theological debate do so many people attempt to dismiss and obfuscate so much with rhetoric so empty.

    What Kind of People Ought You to Be?
    The apostle begins the third chapter by countering those who scoff at the Lord’s coming (3:3-4). He affirms that the day of the Lord will come like a thief, prophesying the roaring disappearance of the heavens, and the fiery destruction of the very elements. This will lay bare the earth and everything done therein (3:10). The apostle then works his prophecy of world destruction into high exhortation:

    Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming (3:11).
    Thus, the opposition to the false teachers again serves as an opportunity to urge holy living. There is much judgment and destruction to avoid, even as believers look optimistically “to a new heaven and new earth” (3:13), which is all the more reason to “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace” with God (3:14).

    The apostle concludes his letter with a theologically loaded “therefore” statement which implies even more skepticism about unconditional security:

    Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (3:17-18).
    Clearly, the apostle thinks his readers’ secure position is potentially precarious. The Majoritarian simply cannot preach this message without speciously adding, “But of course we know that falling from your secure position could never happen.”  

    Hypothetically Not!
    Yet, securing their position by due diligence in spiritual growth is the whole purpose of the letter. The apostle has told them that God has given them everything they need to overcome trials and temptations, so that they will be able to live godly lives. Consequently, they desperately need to grow in grace, adding virtue to virtue. If they fail to add to these virtues in increasing measure, the apostle warns them that they will become ineffective, “nearsighted and blind, forgetting they have been cleansed from their past sins” (1:8, 9). Their growth in grace will serve to ward off false teaching that would otherwise entangle and overcome them and plunge them back into the corruption of the world, with the end result being worse than if they had never come to a saving knowledge of the truth to begin with.

    We see then that continuance in salvation is the major concern of 2 Peter, around which everything else is composed. In this letter, continuance in salvation is not just an isolated topic with unrelated “by the way” comments attached to other major concerns. We must pay all the more careful attention, then, to the warnings that we read in in 2 Peter, so that we do not drift away and, as seed sewn in thorny ground, become entangled once again and overcome by the corruption of the world.  Accordingly, these warnings against apostasy are less susceptible to proof-texting and theological manipulation than many texts otherwise proffered for consideration.

    We might be more inclined to take eternal security seriously if it were based on passages which have a comparable protracted focus on continuance. As it stands, Majoritarian commitment to eternal security is on shaky grounds. It lacks its native underpinnings of the Calvinistic theological system and it lacks sustained contextual support from holy writ. It is indeed quite the theological curiosity that so many Baptists think that eternal security is one of the clearest doctrines of the Christian faith.