Preaching with Simplicity

john-newton

The church I pastor meets on Sundays at 5 p.m. I thus have most of the day to contemplate preaching. I’ve found the wait to be a blessing and a challenge.

Blow the Whistle Please

Whenever I used to play in a significant soccer game, the match almost always happened at night. The day was spent feeling nervous anticipation come to a boiling point. By the time we lined up on the field the common consensus was, “Just blow the whistle, Ref!” Once the kick-off happened expectation became reality; nerves moved into actions.

Most Lord’s Days are similar. Nervous anticipation has changed to eager anticipation these days, but the wait still builds and builds. The challenge comes when you realize The Worm has an extra twelve hours or so to shoot forth his arrows. His aim and fire are relentless. So, on some weeks the phrase,”Let’s get this show on the road,” is not so much a ready declaration, but an exhausted supplication. I often think, “If only we met in the morning, Satan’s weekly ambush wouldn’t have as much time.”

Hours to Use

I’m not trying to post a pity part here, however. Gathering for worship at 5 p.m. brings numerous advantages. The greatest of which is that I get more time to prepare for preaching. Sunday morning is indeed a battlefield. My counter to The Serpent’s scheming is simple: fight Satan with the Spirit’s filling. Something is odd—and off—if I need to do anything to the sermon itself on Sunday morning. My aim then each Lord’s Day is not to spend time sharpening the sermon, but praying and reading. I’ll read my Bible. Then I’ll go to the study and grab the last volume of some Puritan set. I turn to the index and look at the entries under topics like “Christ,” “ministry,” or “preaching.” Once I’ve settled on a selection, it’s time to feast.

If you haven’t read the Puritans on such topics, you are missing out. For example, yesterday my eyes feel on the works of John Newton. I hadn’t picked them up in some time. After thumbing around a bit in the index, I settled a letter Newton wrote: “to a young minister, on preaching the Gospel with the power and demonstration of the Spirit.” Oh, how it was what I needed!

Listen Here, Young Man

Newton’s letter is one of congratulations to a younger minister on the occasion of his ordination. Never one to let a chance for encouragement to pass, Newton writes, “I wish you, upon your entrance into the ministry, to have a formed and determinate idea, what the phrase, preaching the gospel, properly signifies.” Here are six choice bits from Newton’s counsel. May they encourage you as they did me.

  • “Merely to declare the truths of the gospel, is not to preach it.”
  • “It is not so easy to account for the presumption of those preachers, who expect, (if they can indeed expect it,) merely by declaiming on gospel subjects, to raise in their hearers those spiritual perceptions of humiliation, desire, love, joy, and peace, of which they have no impression on their own hearts.”
  • One criterion of the gospel ministry, when rightly dispensed, is, that it enters the recesses of the heart. The hearer is amazed to find that the preacher, who perhaps never saw him before, describes him to himself, as though he had lived long in the same house with him, and was acquainted with his conduct, his conversation, and even with his secret thoughts!”
  • “If, therefore, you wish to preach the gospel with power, pray for a simple, humble spirit, that you may have no allowed end in view–but to proclaim the glory of the Lord whom you profess to serve, to do his will, and for his sake to be useful to the souls of men. Study the Word of God, and the workings of your own heart, and avoid all those connections, friendships and pursuits, which, experience will tell you, have a tendency to dampen the energy, or to blunt the sensibility of your spirit.”
  • “Let your elocution be natural. Despise the little arts by which men of little minds endeavor to set themselves off; they will blast your success, and expose you to contempt. The grand principle of gospel oratory, is simplicity.”
  • “Sometimes vociferation seems to be considered as a mark of powerful preaching. But I believe a sermon that is loud and noisy from beginning to end, seldom produces much good effect. Here again, my friend, if you are happily possessed of simplicity, it will be a good guide. It will help you to adjust your voice to the size of the place or congregation, and then to the variations of your subject.”

You can read the whole letter here.

Overcoming the Eclipse of God

ligonier-logo-og

I spend most afternoons running a ten-mile route on some country roads near our house. For the last couple of years, I’ve passed this time listening to audiobooks. For a variety of different reasons I’m listening less and less to books, and more and more to theological lectures. Trying to fill up 50-60 miles a week with listening material is no small task.

Last week I ransacked Ligonier’s archives and came across the resources from their 2004 Pastors Conference with R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever. What a hidden treat! Each lecture provokes, and each panel illuminates. Any pastor would be wise to listen to the seventeen mp3s. Tolle audite!

Making Changes in the Church

Last week I attended 9Marks’ “First Five Years” conference in Ft. Worth. From my perspective, Garret Kell’s message on “Making Changes” was probably the most rewarding talk of all. It’s full of biblical truth and practical wisdom. Every pastor, whether or not he’s in the first five years of ministry, will find encouragement aplenty.

Book to Look For: On Sanctification

I consider Sinclair Ferguson the greatest living guide for pilgrims on the way to heaven—at least when it comes to biblical/theological books. His publishing output is broad and comprehensive. Rarely does a year go by without another contribution from the Scotsman. In late October he’ll published Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. It surely will be a candidate for book of the year.

devoted7a-810x1280According to the Trust

The Banner writes:

Christians are transformed by the renewing of their minds. They understand that in large measure how they think about the gospel will determine how they will live for God’s glory. They learn to allow the word of God to do its own work, informing and influencing the way they think in order to shape the way they live.

In a series of Scripture-enriched chapters Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Devoted to God works out this principle in detail. It provides what he describes as ‘blueprints for sanctification’—an orderly exposition of central New Testament passages on holiness. Devoted to God thus builds a strong and reliable structural framework for practical Christian living. It stresses the foundational importance of fundamental issues such as union with Christ, the rhythms of spiritual growth, the reality of spiritual conflict, and the role of God’s law. Here is a fresh approach to an always relevant subject, and a working manual to which the Christian can turn again and again for biblical instruction and spiritual direction.

According to Ferguson

Here’s what Ferguson himself had to say about the book in an interview with Fred Zaspel:

Zaspel:
Do you have any new books in the works that we can expect?

Ferguson:
Thank you for asking, Fred. The Lord willing, yes. The next one is entitled Devoted to God, and is a treatment of sanctification. I realize there are excellent books on the theme of holiness (Walter Marshall’s classic, Ryle’s great work, and more recently Kevin de Young has written on the subject)—so obviously one needs to “justify” writing another one. The subtitle is Blueprints for Sanctification and the book begins with a somewhat different “take” on what “holiness” means. If there is a distinctive feature that justifies another book on the theme (can we have too many?) it probably lies in the approach. I have tried to focus on a selection of central New Testament passages that provide the groundwork for sanctification (“blueprints”) and work through them in a progressive and cumulative way. If readers know George Smeaton’s two great classic volumes on the atonement, Devoted to God is a kind of more modest (and doubtless very inferior!) attempt to do something similar with sanctification. In harmony with the principles of our Lord’s prayer in John 17 that sanctification takes place through his word, my aim has been to draw the blueprints for sanctification from within both the context and the atmosphere of the text of Scripture itself. I think the book is due out by the Summer of this year.

Tolle lege!

Real Leadership

9781433551222mOne of the most useful books I’ve read so far in 2016 is Mark Dever’s Discipling: How to Help Other Follow Jesus.

The final chapter offers nine basic steps to raising up church leaders. Tucked away in Step #6 (“Give Feedback”) is a sagacious point no pastor should miss—especially young pastors like me. Dever writes,

So many times I’ve seen men, particularly younger guys, act as if real leadership is shown in correcting others. That’s why young men’s sermons often scold. What they haven’t figured out is that you can often accomplish more by encouragement. There are times to scold. But 80 to 90 percent of what you hope to correct can be accomplished through encouragement.

As another pastor often says, “You can’t say, ‘Amen,’ if you don’t also say, ‘Ouch.'”

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2 Reasons Why You Should Go to Seminary

Seminary Wide

I’ve uttered many things over the years I wish I could take back. I’m sure more foolish proclamations will end up in my “Hall of Shame.” One of the more egregious examples is what I said about seminary while at my uncle’s house back in 2006.

Well, You See . . .

Several of us were seated in my Uncle Dary’s plush study reviewing the goings on in the extended Stone family. For just over a year I’d been serving in the student ministry at FBC Prosper. The Stone side of my heritage has always valued education. Thus, whenever the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were present, it wasn’t long until the question came out. Up to this point, I’d handled the issue with what I thought was appropriate deference. But for whatever reason (I’m still not sure what caused it) when the inevitable ask arrived on this occasion my response was bubbly—bubbles of the boiling kind.

The question: “Jordan, when are you going to go to seminary?”

My answer: “I’m not planning on ever going. I don’t see any need for it.”

Filling My Mouth with a Foot

For the next two and a half years I was content to let my heart only harden more. By this time, I’d joined the staff of an Acts 29 church when Driscoll was at the height of his MMA-pastor phase. The ethos of the network at the time was mainly anti-seminary. My boss at the time (in)famously declared seminary was worthless. “I can teach you everything they will, and I’ll do it for free!” he shouted across the hallway one afternoon. I soaked it in. Sometime during this era, I told my father I was going to “beat the system.” By that, I meant I would successfully move up the pastoral ladder without graduate education. Hubris rarely has rung so loud in my life. And that’s saying something.

Some dear mentors of old ran me down in late 2008 to inquire about my new role at the new church. If ever there were poster children, in a good way, for seminary work it was these two brothers. They looked like and sounded as if they’d just left a rousing theological debate at the local library. But the disposition was far from off-putting. It was oddly compelling. They asked if I’d considered going to seminary and, cut to the quick by their kind sincerity, I said, “I am now.”

And So It All Began

About eight months went by, and I hadn’t done anything related to seminary. So my mentors summoned me, literally, to the office. I showed up at their church’s office, they took my lunch order, grabbed the grub, and we broke bread. I was well on my way to eating my third chip when the ambush arrived. “So, Jordan. When will you be going to Charlotte?” one of them asked quite casually. RTS Charlotte was their alma mater, you see. My feeble response was, “My wife and I are trying to get pregnant. I’m not sure it’s wise to head east and forsake my current salary.” I’ll never forget their response, “Jordan, now is not the time for a baby! Now is the time for study!”

Sure enough, just a few weeks later my wife found out she was pregnant. After further counsel with my wife and these assertive fellows it was decided, I’d get my M.A.R. through RTS Global. I’m convinced it was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.

A Seminary Apologia

Six years later I have the M.A.R. in hand; I’m one semester away from a Th.M. at SBTS, and—Lord willing—just under two years away from finishing a Ph.D. Seminary education is almost as much a part of my life as soccer used to be. As a former adversary of seminary work, let me try to offer an apology for theological education under two simple points.

Seminary education grows ability. This is, in many ways, the reason we go to seminary. We go to learn things we wouldn’t learn otherwise. Radical outliers aside, who honestly would study Hebrew on their own initiative? Would you really read Donald Fortson’s Colonial Presbyterianism: Old Faith in a New Land if you didn’t take his “History of Christianity II” course? Would you spend a weekend parsing through the communicatio idiomatum for Dr. Swain? Probably not. But my seminary experience has made me do those things. Furthermore, it’s enabled me to do them. Theological tools I never had now lie in my soul’s workshop.

Seminary gives you the ability of familiarity. It acquaints you with scholars, movements, theologies, and interpretations you’d likely never have otherwise. Sure, some students sound a lot like the caricature of seminarians—after seminary, all they can do is speak in a way no ordinary church members does. But my experience and observation say that’s not the norm. All in all, seminary will sharpen you skill with Scripture. And that’s something from which every pastor (and congregation) can profit.

Seminary education grows humility. Many young men I’ve talked to over the last five years fear the exact opposite; they’re convinced seminary is little more than “Prime Pride Fertilizer.” But that’s not the fault of the seminary. It’s the fault of the sinner attending seminary.

I’ve found few things in my life so adept at fostering humility like seminary. Many in my local church think I’m unusually smart. I might be tempted to believe them if it wasn’t for the students I spend time with in classes and seminars. They are the truly smart ones. And the professors are even smarter and more skilled. When I walk through the hallways at SBTS, I’m reminded how much I don’t know. That’s quite a good thing for humility.

The Apology in Action

Perhaps the best illustration I can offer on these benefits of ability and humility happened last May. I was in my first Ph.D. seminar with Dr. Michael Haykin on “Patristic Spirituality.” I stood up to present a paper on Eusebius of Caesarea’s work on Constantine. With a fluttering heart, I stammered through the paper. The subsequent interaction I had with Dr. Haykin was . . . well . . . humbling. He didn’t rip the paper apart, but he did tear some holes in it. He was right to do so. He then sent me on my way to consider a few sources to strengthen the work.

I left the seminar that week humbled and instructed. It seems that experience is an excellent microcosm of why seminary education can be so useful.

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5 Truths for Real Revival

Revival Truths

For the last few weeks, I’ve been tinkering away on a paper comparing Jonathan Edwards and Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s defenses of revival. I won’t bore you with the academics of establishing a link between the two men; you’ll just have to trust me on this: no one (outside of Thomas Chalmers) had such discernible influence on M’Cheyne as Edwards.

A Spark and The Sun

On March 20, 1832, M’Cheyne wrote in his diary, “Read part of the life of Jonathan Edwards. How feeble does my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun! But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me.” This first recorded encounter with the Northampton pastor was powerful enough to cause M’Cheyne to purchase Edwards’ works three months later and begin to read them in earnest. Andrew Bonar, his closest friend, and biographer, remarks, “It was [during his first pastoral charge] . . . that [M’Cheyne] began to study so closely the works of Jonathan Edwards—reckoning them a mine to be wrought, and if wrought, sure to repay the toil.”

M’Cheyne’s toil was repaid in full. I think we can see that in how similar the 1838–1840 revival at St. Peter’s Dundee (described in Evidences on Revival) was to the 1734–1735 awakening in Edwards’ Northampton church (famously defending in A Narrative of the Surprising Work of God). One simple way to trace this is how each man used revival history in his congregation.

In the Faithful Narrative of a Surprising Work of God, Edwards tells his readers, “There is no one thing that I know of which God has made such a means of promoting his work amongst us, as the news of others’ conversion.” M’Cheyne too stoked the fire of awakening by recounting God’s great act in revivals of old during weekday services. I thus ask, “How then might Edwards and M’Cheyne encourage awakening in our own time? How might we pursue similar experiences of revival?” I believe to note and pursue five key commonalities each man emphasized.

5 Truths for Real Revival

Revival is the work of God’s sovereign spirit. Each pastor k he could not manufacture an awakening. There were no “new measures” to be discovered. Instead, a rediscovery of dependence upon God’s Spirit was needed, to see Him move in extraordinary power. Today, particularly in the Western church, temptations to pragmatism lurk in every place. Many ordinary pastors lead stagnated congregations. The bones are dry. But God’s Spirit is no less powerful today than he was in 1734–1735 and 1839–1840. Edwards and M’Cheyne challenge us to be patiently urgent in waiting for the Spirit’s breath to whistle forth a rattling sound through our age’s dry bones.

Revival depends on earnest prayer. Edwards and M’Cheyne each recount how the awakenings came after prolonged periods of prayer. Increased devotion to and delight in prayer became one of the clearest fruits of the Spirit’s work in revival. Pastors today will know an awakening has come—or is on the way—when the weekly prayer meeting is full. Another marker will be when multiple prayer meetings take over the church’s ordinary corporate life. Prayer calls upon the Spirit to begin blowing and keep blowing. M’Cheyne’s convicting conclusion at the end of Evidences on Revival is that only pastors “given to secret prayer” will experience an authentic awakening.

Revival comes through preaching Christ. Preaching is the chariot that brings down Christ to a church’s soul. A heralded Christ is what ignited the revival fires at Northampton and Dundee. Haykin reminds, “The deeply held pneumatological conviction in Edwards (and M’Cheyne’s) Reformed heritage [is] that the Spirit is a Christ-centred and Christ-exalting Spirit.” “Nothing but preaching the pure gospel of the grace of God,” M’Cheyne said, can bring about awakening. Let us then continue to preach Christ—crucified, risen, and ascended—believing it is only when He is lifted up continuously in our sermons that He will draw all men to Himself.

Revival increases the weight of God’s glory. A striking feature of both accounts is how revival brought reverence to the respective congregations. Instances of extreme ecstasy happened, but awful solemnity swallowed them whole. Edwards, with relentless attention, shows how fear and solemnity plowed through sinful hearts to plant salvation’s seed. “There seems to be far more of a solemn awe upon the minds of men than formerly . . . There is far more solemnity in the house of God,” M’Cheyne recounts. Our modern age exalts exuberant authenticity, which surely has a place in Christ’s church. Edwards and M’Cheyne remind us, however, that God also deserves our trembling, reverent worship. When the Spirit falls, He does so with heaviness. God’s glory bears eternal, incomprehensible weight. In awakenings, souls feel its force and respond with reverence.

Revival includes the children. While Edwards and M’Cheyne do tell us how the awakenings touched people from all walks of life, they nevertheless single out one special group: children. God used the youth in each church to raise a cup of gladness and shout a song of praise. Our Savior rebuked those who prevented the children from coming to Him. Let not His rebuke fall on us. In our preaching and pastoring, let us bend the knee and speak with tender hearts. Require not an unreasonable degree of theological or moral assent from your covenant children—they too may find Christ’s blessing.

Imitate Their Faith

In Philippians 3:17 Paul exhorts, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Jonathan Edwards and Robert Murray M’Cheyne are heroes to whom we should look. M’Cheyne thought Edwards to be a mighty sun in history’s spiritual galaxy. May we, like M’Cheyne, find the star of our life reflecting such absorbing trust in the Spirit who blows wherever He wills.

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Using the Beatitudes

Praying the Beatitudes

One of the things we hope to be true about IDC is that we would be “a praying church.” We want our ordinary life together reflect that desire. One way we do that is by having different times of prayer throughout our gathered worship service. We also have a monthly prayer night where we invite the church body to spend a little over an hour praying for all manner of spiritual matters.

An Obvious Discovery

I thus often feel the pressing need to be creative in how I lead our church in prayer. By creative, I mean scouring Scripture for anything and everything applicable to our church’s prayer life. The Psalms and prayers of Paul are common companions. It only dawned on me last weekend that I’ve never (in the last 3.5 years) used the Beatitudes to guide us. So I got to work. I found a confession of sin framed around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 and reworked it a bit. Then I put together a few supplications for each beatitudes Christ gave and we used them in for corporate prayer.

I’ve copied what we did below. I hope you might find it useful as you lead your congregation in prayer.

Using the Beatitudes as a Confession of Sin

Leader: Our Lord Jesus, you offered us all your blessings when you announced, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”
Church: but we have been rich in pride.

Leader: “Blessed are those who mourn”
Church: but we have not known much sorrow for our sin.

Leader: “Blessed are the meek”
Church: but we are a stubborn people.

Leader: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”
Church: but we are filled to the full with other things.

Leader: “Blessed are the merciful”
Church: but we are harsh and impatient.

Leader: “Blessed are the pure in heart”
Church: but we have impure hearts.

Leader: “Blessed are the peacemakers”
Church: but we have not sought reconciliation.

Leader: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”
Church: but our lives reflect the world.

Leader: “Blessed are you when people insult you because of me”
Church: but we have hardly made it known that we are yours.

Leader: Your Law is holy and your words are perfect; You alone are blessed.
Church: We plead with you to forgive our sins and give us the blessing of your righteousness.

Using the Beatitudes for Corporate Supplication

For our Prayer Night, I simply added three suggested petitions for each beatitude. You can of course change/add/remove any and all of them. I mean for this to just be a catalyst for what you might do.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 
– Pray for dependence on God’s power
– Pray for hope in heaven
– Pray for satisfaction in Christ alone

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
– Pray for greater awareness of sin’s evil
– Pray for greater hatred of sin
– Pray for increased comfort from God and in the gospel

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” 
– Pray for submission to God’s word
– Pray for humility towards others
– Pray for joy in our spiritual inheritance

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” 
– Pray for souls that long for God
– Pray for lives that are hungrier for heaven 
than for the world
– Pray for hearts eager to put on the 
righteousness of Christ

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” 
– Pray for increasing compassion towards the hurting
– Pray to have mercy on the doubting
– Pray for joyful resting in Christ’s mercy

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
– Pray for the Spirit’s help in covenanting with our eyes to look on no impure thing
– Pray for homes marked by purity
– Pray for earnestness in seeing Jesus

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
– Pray for the church to maintain unity in the 
bonds of peace
– Pray for wisdom to aid reconciliation
– Pray for delight in our spiritual adoption

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
– Pray for steadfastness in suffering
– Pray for the persecuted church
– Pray for unwavering allegiance to Jesus

“Blessed are you when others revile you . . . on my account.”
– Pray for courage in speaking of the gospel
– Pray for fear of man to decrease and fear 
of God in increase
– Pray for perseverance in knowing our 
ultimate reward lies in heaven

Preaching & Piety

Preaching and Piety

“It is, perhaps, an overbold beginning, but I will venture to say that with its preaching Christianity stands or falls.” So began P.T. Forsyth when he delivered the Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale University in 1907. Trepidation may have constrained the Scottish theologian as he stood in the throes of New England modernity, but we can confidently acquit him from the charge of being “overbold.” He simply read his Bible well.

Preaching Has Power

God’s word tells us the Christian life is, this side of heaven, is lived “by faith, not by sight.” In other places we are told, “Faith comes by hearing,” and “anything that does not proceed from faith is sin.” Because faith is central, we can boldly declare preaching to be central. For preaching is the ordinary means by which God awakens cold, crusty, and callous hearts to breathe in the grace of faith. Preaching is the chariot that carries Christ to sinners’ bosoms and breasts. It is the spiritual sword God uses to assault hell’s gates and ruin Satan’s strongholds. The Sun of Righteousness dawns upon the earth in His heralded word to harden clay hearts and melt icy souls. Preaching convicts, illuminates, rebukes, encourages, and enlivens the soul.

Power for Piety

It is then, perhaps, my overbold beginning to say that with its preaching Christian spirituality stands or falls. There is a direct correlation between the substance of preaching and the promotion of spirituality. Our Lord Jesus proved this to be true when He asked the Father to sanctify His people in truth. Hearing God’s truth sanctifies God’s people. Preaching promotes piety. Do you want to know what a church believes theologically? Listen to her preachers. Do you want to know what a congregation confesses about spirituality? Sit in on the sermon.

Not only do Scripture and experience bear witness to the correlation between preaching and piety, church history does as well. Memorial plaques of mighty preachers line the hallowed halls of our faith. These were preachers who compelled particular visions of spirituality. In this hall we hear of Chrysostom’s zeal, Augustine’s understanding, Patrick’s earnestness, Bernard’s compassion, Calvin’s reformation, Edwards’ learnedness, Whitefield’s affection, M’Cheyne’s love, and Spurgeon’s power.

What Kind?

If my thesis is true—that there is clear link between a church’s preaching and piety—we pastors have here a reason for stop and stare at our spirituality. Not just our individual spirituality, but our corporate life as well. We should often ask (however painful it always is), “What marks our church’s life together? Where are we strong? Where are we struggling?” Honest examination is good for the soul. Honest evaluation is always needed. The point of this brief post is that how you answer those questions reveals much about your church’s pulpit ministry.

What kind of piety does your preaching promote?

Every Pastor is a Writer

The Pastor's Writing

Sometime during third grade our class had a writing contest. The contest was one of description. Our teacher made each student look at some object in the room and make it come alive on the page. The teacher then picked the best two submissions. The winners went to an all-expense paid “Future Writer’s Workshop.” The teacher—Mrs. Yoke, as I recall—happened to pick my paper and I promptly declared to my parents that I would be a writer when I grew up.

I still hope to grow up and be an author. I have a folder on my computer titled, “Books to Be Written.” Hundreds of thousands of words are in that folder. And not a single one has been published. Only the Lord knows if one will ever be published.

“Stop Longing and Listen,” He Says to Me

There are times when I pray for a bit of margin to slam out a book proposal or polish off that manuscript. I long to make good on that third-grade declaration of future occupation. It’s in those moments, however, that I often sense an inspired voice saying, “You already are a writer. Remember 2 Corinthians 3:1-3.” There the Untimely Apostle says, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Oh, the comforts of Scripture! God calls every pastor to be a writer.

Real, But Unreadable Writing

For the next two weeks, I’m at The Institution working on a couple of Ph.D. seminars. I will speak with professors who publish books as often as Messi puts the ball in the back of the net. I will be around other students who are under contract with a publisher or have just published a book. Literary ambition is palpable around these halls. I confess I often get caught up in it all.

So, think of this short post as nothing more than an exercise in personal reminding. God doesn’t hold his servants accountable to writing pages for reading. He holds us accountable to writing real books, but books you can’t read. The congregation’s life in Christ is the book we write. The families we shepherd are the chapters. The individuals we oversee are the paragraphs.

The pastor has three pens he must wield in this work: word, sacrament, and prayer. These ordinary means are how the pastor writes on hearts—they are our Spirit-wrought epistolary tools. We wield this spiritual quill and ink unto exhaustion. Here we agonize with all God’s energy that he powerfully works within us. Here we write.

In Praise of Pastor-Writers

Maybe you are like me—you hope to publish a book eventually. Or maybe that sounds as enjoyable to you as watching turtles race.

Whatever your literary ambition is, God’s word unites us all in this spiritual writing ministry. Every pastor must be a writer. We should say, “Every pastor is already a writer.“ The great question is, “What spiritual book are we writing?” Let us desire, with Paul, to say to our churches, “You are Christ’s letter.”

We write Christ.