Seven Guidelines for Peaceable Spiritual Leaders

Fireman in fire sparks and smoke.

A colleague of mine in ministry calls himself “a conflict magnet.” I can relate. When I reflect on my thirty-year tenure in pastoral work, I wince over more relational battles than I care to remember.

My 2018 Journey post included disappointment in the way I navigated two particularly painful meetings. I suspect most pastors identify with the challenges which come with inevitable church conflict.

The apostle Paul prepped young pastor Timothy for handling opposition in a God-honoring way:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

Paul addresses the way pastors must engage people in conflict. In terms of what not to do, he commands only this: do not be quarrelsome.

The Greek word for quarrelsome comes from the root mache from where we get our English word macho. In Acts 7:26 it’s used for an actual physical fight. Pastors are not to be fighters, combatants–tackling conflict in a belligerent, contentious manner. That pattern disqualifies elders from office (1 Tim. 3:3). It reveals heart idols and passions yet to be conquered (James 4:1-2). There is a better way!

Seven Guidelines for Staying Peaceable in Conflict

One, faithfully embrace your identity. Pastors are first and foremost servants. Paul may have in mind the prophet’s Suffering Servant (Isa. 42:1-3). We must take our cue from Jesus who did not quarrel (Matt. 12:19).

Two, kindly engage your world. Pastors must show love (1 Cor. 13:4) by being kind to all without exception. If every believer must avoid quarreling but be gentle and show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:2), how much more should God’s shepherds.

Three, diligently use your skills. Able to teach. Elders serve because God has equipped them to instruct others in godly living (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Guide opponents into passages which address issues at hand. Let the Word of God do its powerful work (Heb. 4:12).

Handsome man reading and praying over Bible in a dark room over gray texture

Four, patiently endure your offenses. Opponents will do you evil at times though undeserved. Plan on it. I’ve been called names. I’ve had my motives misjudged. What to do when attacked? Bear up under the evil with the Lord’s help (1 Pet. 2:21-24).

Five, gently correct your opponents. Whether for false teaching, immoral behavior, or other wrongs, people will need admonishment (1 Thess. 5:12). Do it gently (Gal. 6:1). Picture the way a mother cares for her children and a father exhorts the same (1 Thess. 2:7-12).

Six, humbly trust your God. No other truth in this text will help more to keep you from turning macho in a conflict. Pastors don’t make anybody change direction; God is the one who gives the gift of repentance leading back to the truth. Rest in that. He has to work and is always working (John 5:17).

Seventh, prayerfully fight your real enemy. Paul ends by reminding that Satan ultimately ensnares someone taken captive by sin. Never forget the true nature of the fight–spiritual warfare. Put on the whole armor of God and pray at all times for all the saints (Eph. 6:10-20).

Helps for Growing as Peaceable Pastors in Conflict

There are three resources that have helped me immensely toward a peaceable path as a pastor. A recent post featured Alexander Strauch’s book, Leading with Love. I commend it again. Alfred Poirier’s book The Peacemaking Pastor is another must read for pursuing peaceable ways in ministry.

Another terrific help is Ken Sande’s ministry RW360. Last year I worked through his online training in relational wisdom to great advantage. Check it out.

Pastors, let us be peaceable, non-macho servants of our gentle, lowly-in-heart Master (Matt. 11:29)!

Question: What is a lesson you’ve learned about spiritual leadership which is peaceable with others in conflict?

Leading With Love

leading with love

The Lord has me camped out of late in Alexander Strauch’s exposition of 1 Corinthians 13 as it applies to the realm of leadership in the local church. All I can say is very convicting. I have a long way to go in living out the law of love in the stewardship that is pastoral ministry. For a PDF version of the book click here.

This gem at the end of chapter one will give an idea of how close things hit to home:

A Modern Paraphrase

Picturing himself as the most extraordinary teacher or leader
to ever live, Paul would say:

If I were the most gifted communicator to ever preach,
so that millions of people were moved by my oratory,
but didn’t have love, I would be an annoying, empty wind-bag
before God and people.

If I had the most charismatic personality, so that
everyone was drawn to me like a powerful magnet, but
didn’t have Christlike love, I would be a phony, a dud.

If I were the greatest visionary leader the church has ever heard,
but didn’t have love, I would be misguided and lost.

If I were the bestselling author on theology and church growth,
but didn’t have love, I would be an empty-headed failure.

If I sacrificially gave all my waking hours to discipling
future leaders, but did it without love,
I would be a false guide and model.

The scary thing is that reading something like this usually guarantees testing in the area for the purpose of growth.

Prayers are definitely appreciated.

Toughest School Ever (3)

In Philippians 4:11, the Apostle Paul makes an amazing statement: I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. He doesn’t say, I am learning or I hope to learn. He speaks as if to suggest some degree of mastery of the contentment curriculum. He is adamant. He adds in v. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.

Honestly, I can’t yet speak so confidently. But this gives me hope. Such a lofty goal is attainable. Contentment, though often it seems the opposite, does not lie outside our spiritual reach in this world.

No doubt, as I explained in my previous post in this series, Christ’s school of contentment is a compulsory school. As followers of Jesus, shaped by the gospel, we must strive for the same gracious frame of spirit to which Paul attained. However, we should indeed think positively about our prospects for growth in light of the excellency of the Instructor.

I say this first, because of the nature of God Himself who teaches in this school. My Puritan friend explains:

‘Content’, signifies a self-sufficiency, as I told you in opening the words. A contented man is a self-sufficient man, and what is the great glory of God, but to be happy and self-sufficient in himself? Indeed, he is said to be all-sufficient, but that is only a further addition of the word ‘all’, rather than of any matter, for to be sufficient is all-sufficient. Now this is the glory of God, to be sufficient, to have sufficiency in himself. El-Shaddai means to be God having sufficiency in himself. And you come near to this. As you partake of the Divine nature by grace in general, so you do it in a more peculiar manner by this grace of Christian contentment, for what is the excellence and glory of God but this? Suppose there were no creatures in the world, and that all the creatures in the world were annihilated: God would remain the same blessed God that he is now, he would not be in a worse condition if all creatures were gone; neither would a contented heart, if God should take away all creatures from him. A contented heart has enough in the lack of all creatures, and would not be more miserable than he is now. Suppose that God should keep you here, and all the creatures that are in the world were taken away, yet you still, having God to be your portion, would be as happy as you are now.

So our first encouragement about the prospect of growth in contentment comes from the excellencies of His nature as the all-sufficient God, unshakably happy in Himself. In Him through Christ that character takes hold and transforms us over time from murmuring malcontents to rejoicing sons and daughters.

But there is one more word of encouragement about the seemingly impossible mission of attaining contentment related to the excellence of the Teacher. That has to do with the content from which He teaches. For example, consider again Hebrews 13:5-6.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

From where does the writer draw in backing the exhortation to avoid covetousness in favor of being content with what one possesses? God’s word from the Old Testament in Psalm 118:6.

Another wise saint from the past, J. C. Ryle wrote about the significance of this:

The main point I want to impress on men’s minds is this: we ought to make the texts and promises of the Bible our refuge in time of trouble and the fountain of our soul’s comfort. When St. Paul wanted to enforce a grace and recommend a duty, he quoted a text. When you and I would give a reason for our hope, or when we feel that we need strength and consolation, we must go to our Bibles and try to find out suitable texts. The lawyer uses old cases and decisions when he pleads his cause. “Such a judge has said such a thing; and therefore,” he argues, “it is a settled point.” The soldier on the battlefield takes up certain positions and does certain things; if you ask him why, he will say, “I have such and such orders from my general, and I obey them.” The true Christian must always use his Bible in like manner. The Bible must be his book of reference and precedents. The Bible must be to him his captain’s orders. If anyone asks him why he thinks as he does, lives as he does, feels as he does, all he has need to reply is, “God has spoken to such an effect: I have my orders, and that is enough.”

Does the Christian virtue of contentment seem far beyond your reach in the flesh. Take heart.  Though enrolled in the toughest of schools we have the best of instructors teaching the most superior content.

O happy day when we will say with Paul, I have learned and I know.

Every Pastor’s Priority Pursuit

My entrepreneurial son, Joel, calls me “old school,” but nevertheless I still conduct my ministry by means of a “to do” list. Any given week my legal pad version accumulates a lot of items. With a myriad of responsibilities on the pastor’s plate, how does a man triage them to keep the main thing the main thing, first things first? In 1 Timothy 4:11-16, Paul leaves no question in our minds as to what should be every pastor’s priority pursuit, regardless of what else may constrain his efforts.

Before we get to that remember that 1 Tim. 3:14-15 provides the controlling purpose to this first of the Pastoral Epistles. Paul wants Timothy to know how one ought to behave in the church. At the outset of chapter four, in the first five verses, he addresses the principal threat in Ephesus to that concern, namely the presence of false teaching. In v. 6ff Paul turns his attention as to how to counter that threat. In v. 11-16 he continues with that trajectory.

The main thought, I think, is this: To ensure right conduct in the church, pastors must give themselves to a fanatical concentration on the didactic dimension of their ministry with all its functions. As one writer has put it: The best antidote for error is a positive presentation of the truth.

Paul buries Timothy under an avalanche of imperatives in this paragraph – eleven in all. Command, teach, let none despise, set an example, devote, don’t neglect, practice, devote (again), keep a close watch, persist. Every single one of them without exception is framed in the present tense. This conveys continuous action. These things must represent Timothy’s perpetual focused concentration. And all have everything to do with his principal function – pastor-teacher. Three times, we find same root word – didaske – v. 11 – teach these things, v. 13 – devote yourself to . . . teaching, v. 16 – keep a close watch on  . . . the teaching.

Whatever pastors do they must be Acts 6:4 men above all else – we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. We must fight, claw, struggle, strain, hemorrhage to give adequate time to study, meditation, and the formulation of our sermons. While other components make up our worship services, to be sure, we must get this straight from this text: public reading of the Scripture, exhortation, and teaching — the sermon and its accouterments matter above all else and should command the lion’s share of time and attention in our corporate gatherings.

By way of overview, notice Paul’s concern that in this focused fanatical attention on his teaching ministry, he would have Timothy give attention to three emphases: authoritative confidence, exemplary conduct, and accurate content.

First, his authoritative confidence. Command and teach. Let no one despise you (kataphroneo – to think down). It seems due to his youth and perhaps timidity of character and temperament, Timothy suffered from an inferiority complex of sorts in his pastoral work. Paul charged him to take responsibility for that and teach with authority, even to the point of commanding. Recalling the conditions upon which he was set apart for ministry by the council of elders in the laying on of hands (v. 14) would contribute to that confidence as well and guard him from neglecting his unique calling and pastoral gifts.

Second, his exemplary character. The way to confident authority in ministry is not by throwing one’s ecclesiastical weight around, abusing authority by lording it over the sheep (1 Pet. 5:3), but by setting an example to the flock. Tupos means a pattern to follow. Notice that this must occur on a comprehensive scale — from the words chosen and tones employed in public speech to one’s scrupulous purity, treating all the women of the church as sisters (1 Tim. 5:2). This matters so much that Paul concludes in v. 16 – Keep a close watch on yourself. He echoes his teaching in Acts 20:28 – Pay attention to yourselves and all the flock. Matthew Henry said it well: Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their lives, else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.

Third, his accurate content. Teach these things. The these is emphatic in the text. Some eight times this Greek word tauta shows up. By which I presume he means what immediately came before but indeed the entire emphases of the epistle. Again, v. 16 – keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching. Second Timothy 2:15 must be the pastor’s rally-cry, his MO, his preoccupation, his fanatical obsession – do your best to present yourself approved to God as worker who has not need to be ashamed rightly handling the word of truth.

Why? Because the stakes are inordinately high. Consider the end of v. 16 – for in so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. The pastor’s is a rescue mission as a preacher and teacher of the gospel. It starts with himself and extends to his hearers. Everything depends upon his faithful communication of the biblical gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.

Who indeed is competent for these things?

Thanks be to God that He makes His shepherds competent as ministers of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).

Wanted: Weekend Warriors

Don’t know any other way to characterize my weekend.

Today at 3 PM – Allmand/Taylor wedding.

Tomorrow at 8:30 AM – prayer on the property.

Tomorrow at 9:30 AM – adult equipping hour teaching – So Many Questions: How to Answer Common Questions about Christianity.

Tomorrow at 10:45 AM – worship service preaching – Faith’s Ultimate Display (Part Two), from John 12:1-11.

Tomorrow at 6 PM – annual congregational meeting – state of the church at OGC.

Have already scheduled a complete meltdown for Monday.

Anyone care to join the fray?

The Need for My Pastoral Best

Apparently I need to do better at ducking snowballs. We woke up to the white stuff this morning. Before Bible study we slipped outside for some fun and frolic. One of the sheep got a little frisky and pelted me in the noggin. Good thing I had my hat on.

But I’m not referring to my need to move with greater quickness in this post. Rather I have a far more serious matter of required excellence in mind as it pertains to the role of the pastor of a local church. Paul speaks to it in 2 Timothy 2:15.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

The Lord brought this verse to mind this morning as I heard yet another teacher here at Urbana handle the Scriptures in a less-than-tidy manner. Frankly, it has alarmed me how loose so many have been in their handling of their presenting duties. We have heard good things (this morning’s presentation of the gospel hit a doctrinally sound home run), but some of the ways the text has been manipulated at times to serve a foisted agenda in this conference has left me shivering in my already cold boots.

At that moment this morning I quietly heard the Lord say, not audibly, but intuitively, Curt, do your best as a teacher. Work hard in the study. When you stand in the pulpit for Me, do so prepared to drive a straight furrow through the field of any given text that I might may be glorified and each listener may have joy.

Lord, you make me want to be a better pastor.