Last week marked a milestone in the history of the Church I have the unmerited joy of shepherding, as well as my young ministry: we finished preaching through an entire book of the bible. Since 2009 I have climbed up to the pulpit nearly every Sunday and preached verse by verse, chapter by chapter through the Gospel of John. Last Sunday I preached on Jesus’ amazing heart to heart with Peter, as our Lord in no uncertain terms commanded that fallen shepherd to prove his confessed love by doing his job and feeding the sheep. And, just like that, after two years, we were finished. These are not small potatoes. Allow me to explain.
In 2009 the Pastor who this 152-year-old-newly-independent-from-the-liberal-Disciples-of-Christ-congregation had prayed and hoped would reform and lead our church back to her biblical gospel centered rootedness, instead insisted that God was calling him to take two elders, and several other key leaders to start a new Church. This action in conjunction with several other rocky circumstances left our church without elders. The shepherds had abandoned the flock, and the flock turned to their single, 26 year old, bi-vocational youth pastor for direction.
“The shepherds had abandoned the flock…”
So it was that with fear and trembling I sat upon a stool in front of the congregation and explained to them that they had indeed been dumped, but not to fret, for even though they were hurting and betrayed, God still had a plan for this little Church. I then walked over to the pulpit and did what the professors at my not-so-famous bible college had taught me to do. I walked over to the pulpit and did what my role model preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Dr. David MacLeod had done. I walked over to that pulpit, way over my head in the job looming before me but clinging to the power of the Holy Spirit for dear life and opened my bible to John chapter one, and I expounded the Gospel of John, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.
“I then walked over to the pulpit and did what the professors of my not-so-famous bible college had taught me to do.“
Two years later God has resuscitated First Christian Church. God has steadily grown us with 20 or so new members and more attenders. People are going deeper in their faith as they count the cost of following Jesus. Slowly but surely people are becoming serious about Jesus.
Through a John Piper study my people have come to understand that Jesus is their joy and that God has a plan to refine them in suffering. The Holy Spirit used mightily Mark Driscoll’s tiny book, “A Book You’ll Actually Read: Church Leadership” to inspire and equip 3 men to step up and answer God’s call in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to mature Christian manhood and eldership. These elders fall upon their faces in prayer for this congregation to close every meeting, literally. A head nurse has changed her view on abortion. The church financed the building of a water tower in Niger. The church led an effort to bring a domestic teen mission organization to town named TeenServe, which repaired 52 homes and preached the Gospel. The youth group is thriving. And the baptistry which for years served as home for dust and dead bugs is now being used as people follow Jesus in obedience in baptism.
For all these things and more I give glory to God. I am humbled, and I worship God for His good plan, for I know I had nothing to do with the resurgence of this church. All I did was follow Paul’s command to Timothy found in
2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV) “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
All I did was doggedly preach the word. Week after week. Month after month. I believe in expositional preaching of the books of the bible because this practice not only gives us the teachings of Jesus but it also gives us those teachings in the Holy Spirit’s proportionate ratio. There are many churches that preach the words of the bible, but when a Church sits under verse by verse preaching they start to see the stuff Jesus emphasizes. There is simply no escaping the themes He goes back to time and again. This will change hearts.
An article by Washington D.C. Pastor Mark Dever named, “Staying for the Glory of God: The Sibbs, Simeon and Stott Model” encourages me more than I can describe. Dever’s point is that there are some things a pastor simply cannot do in a short pastorate, things like helping saints die well. Where I sit now, I am the 28 year old Senior Pastor of First Christian Church, a 154 year old independent bible Church. We are not D.O.C. nor are we part of the restorationists. We are a Church whom affirms the great doctrines the reformers joyfully rediscovered in their bibles. I have had a crash course in hospital visits, nursing home visits and preaching, funerals, and weeping with the mourning. I have tried to learn from the saints of the older generation, and they for their part have put up with me, a grace for which I will always be thankful. I once heard Pastor Dever exhort Churches to give younger guys a shot in the pulpit because if they put up with a cub chewing up on the furniture they’d eventually get a lion. I am no lion. I may, perhaps be on my best days, a lynx. One thing I know: this church which other shepherds thought beneath them to shepherd has taught me more than I’ve ever taught them.
So you see, for this Church to embrace a young guy preaching exegetical messages is a big deal. Closing out the Gospel of John is a mile stone at which I pause to reflect upon the goodness of God. Next we will boldly delve into the book of Acts.
While studying for that last sermon in the Gospel of John I ran across something John Calvin wrote about Pastors in his commentary on John 21 (Calvin John, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 292. Baker Books, 2009) This is spine reinforcing encouragement for Pastors who would dare to tackle rough Church situations. I leave you with it.
“After having exhorted Peter to feed his sheep, Christ likewise arms him to maintain the warfare which was approaching. Thus he demands from him not only faithfulness and diligence, but invincible courage in the midst of dangers, and firmness in bearing the cross. In short, he bids him be prepared for enduring death whenever it shall be necessary. Now, though the condition of all pastors is not alike, still this admonition applies to all in some degree. The Lord spares many, and abstains from shedding their blood, satisfied with this alone, that they devote themselves to him sincerely and unreservedly as long as they live. But as Satan continually makes new and various attacks, all who undertake the office of feeding must be prepared for death; as they certainly have to do not only with sheep, but also with wolves.”