Considering Grief

My kids love stories, and honestly, I would argue that we all do.

I remember around the age of ten, my dad would read a chapter of the Hardy Boys before bed. As my brothers and I listened, we would become engulfed in the story. However, as exciting as it was, there was always a quiet depression that would begin to set in upon realizing that the chapter was ending. 

As we consider grief there are three points that we should consider:

  1. Realizing Grief Will Come

Many times, the experience of a loved one’s death will bring the same sense of Déjà vu as their story comes to an end. Since the fall, loss has become a continued reality. The scriptures explain that as the descendants of Adam, humanity longs to do whatever can be done to add to the story of life. In the book of Hebrews, the author explains this by saying, that because of the fall, all have been placed under the bondage of death and will do anything and everything to outrun it. (Heb. 2:15) However, just as God brought grace to the garden after the fall, there is grace for our grieving as well.

  1. Redeeming Our Grief

The good news, the grace, is that the scriptures also give the hope that there is One that has already outrun death on our behalf. When faced with grief, the story of redemption and the new Creation gives hope and comfort. Without the story of redemption pointing to the future, those who grieve must settle for memories of the past. Memories that, while they are wonderful to enjoy, only leave emptiness, longing, and sorrow. (1 Thess. 4:13) But it is in the story of redemption that graces for grieving can be found. Isaiah writes that Christ took our griefs and bore the sorrows that we could never bear. (Is. 53:4) Grief for the sins that we or a loved one committed were borne by Him. The grief over times of failure has been swallowed up by His success. The grief that the loved one has departed is turned into a hope that we will see them again. Because of Christ, even in grief, redemption can be celebrated.

  1. Resting in Peace

The time at the grave is utterly difficult and the pain of loss is terrible, but it is at an open tomb that we can find an unexplainable peace. As believers, we don’t have to grieve like the rest of the world. (1 Thess. 4:13) We know that because of Christ’s declaration that “it is finished”, we have the promise that the sting of death has been taken away. Because of this, we can rest in peace knowing that at the end of the book of the believer’s life, God has written: “to be continued.” 



Why Your Students Need a Reading Plan

To be totally honest, I didn’t start reading the Bible on a consistent basis until I was in college, I didn’t read much of anything until I was in college. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Bible or think it wasn’t important, I just didn’t know where to start. The Bible is a big book with 66 books within it, where would I begin and why would I begin there? It took getting a reading plan before my daily Bible reading took off. It gave me a rhyme and reason to the daily grind of jumping into God’s word. Sure, some days I didn’t feel like it, but I had a passage to check off, a place I was going, the hope I would soon finish Leviticus! I had a guide taking me through the Bible one day at a time, and the fact is your students need one too.

Of course, there is the main reason of having a reading plan, spending time with the Lord, it is the best way to nurture a relationship with Him, and to grow in Christ-likeness and seek God’s will for our lives. However, I want to offer some practical benefits a reading plan can give students that will hopefully carry on into their adult lives.

Biblical Literacy

I don’t know about you, but in teaching every week I usually found myself giving 10+ minutes to the explanation of overall general biblical ideas. Everything from who Noah was to why Israel is such a big deal in the Bible. This is not because I want to study more and impress all my students with my vast biblical knowledge, it is because I cannot assume most of them know what I am talking about. I have found that most students are simply biblically illiterate, and so are many members of our churches.

You cannot just jump right into Jonah and expect students to know that Tarshish is the opposite direction of Nineveh, or why he didn’t want to go there in the first place. In many cases, most students don’t have any context of a passage and how it relates to the overall story of the Bible. Therefore, having a reading plan can help a student understand the story of the Bible. Reading through the Bible gives them a context to fit passages in, and helps them locate what part of the overall story they fit into. Two great plans for this is the Bible in one year plan for ambitious students and the Bible in three-years plan, reading one chapter a day for students who are maybe just starting out.

Vocabulary

Justification, sanctification, propitiation, and redemption are all amazing words packed full of books and books of theological truth. They are words that describe the depths of the gospel and the foundation of our faith. However, many of our students have no idea what these words mean. They don’t know that sanctification is the process of becoming more Christ-like, or that Christ is our substitute, our propitiation. Having a reading plan will put these words in their view and cause them to seek out their meaning by looking it up themselves or coming to ask you. Having a reading plan allows students to become more familiar with the vocabulary of the Bible that is used in church services, conferences, and a plethora of Christian books. A great reading plan for this is the one year plan through the new testament. This can help them get more acquainted with the theological vocabulary used to describe the gospel and possibly allow them to see aspects of the gospel they haven’t seen before.

Habit

We’ve all been there. It’s time for you to spend time in the word and prayer, your quiet time, or whatever you like to call it. But there are 100 things on your mind that need to be done. So you make a list, send that email, or make that phone call. It will only take a second right? Then you realize 30 minutes later your time is gone.

Our students do the same thing. They have the best intensions. They are going to read right before bed, then the Xbox calls their name or they had practice that evening and are whipped out. There goes their good intentions. Having a Bible reading plan helps make the practice of spending time with the Lord a habit, just like brushing your teeth, eating a meal, or having a date night with your spouse. Planning the time with the Lord already gives you a place to go in the word and leaves you looking forward to what will be read tomorrow. Having a plan to spend time in the Word can lead to a healthy habit of Bible intake that can carry on into adulthood.

So as January kicks off the year of 2023, be sure to have some reading plans available for your students. Create an atmosphere of expectant Bible reading, check up on those students who take a plan and ask where they are. Share what the Lord is teaching you through your reading plan and it can act as an everyday guide taking students to the scriptures and into a deeper walk with the Father.



How to (Actually) Reach Your City for Christ

This is a story about how a really discouraging Easter led to one of the healthiest seasons in the life of our church.

We had been working hard for months to plan the service, outreach events, and more. We spent money on door-hangers, invitation cards, and Facebook ads. Mission teams and church members went door-to-door, inviting thousands of people to our Easter services. Finally, when Easter arrived, I stood in our church lobby, eagerly waiting to see who the Lord would bring into our doors that day.

And after all of that effort, we had a whopping grand total of two first-time guests, one of which was a Christian visiting from out-of-town. Incidentally, neither of them heard about our services as a result of any of our expensive, labor-intensive “marketing” efforts.

After all of those weeks of planning and really hard work, we had one non-Christian from our city come to our service that day.

After a long morning of church activities, my kids fell asleep in the car while we made the hour-long trek to my parents’ home for more Easter festivities. And as our car rolled down the interstate, I began to reflect on the day.

That Easter, I was reminded that hosting big, splashy services wasn’t going to be an effective strategy for seeing lives changed in our post-Christian city. I realized that if we were going to see people come to Christ, it was usually going to happen as individuals reached out to their friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

So we launched an effort in our church, encouraging every member to read Mark’s Gospel with a non-Christian friend. I created some discussion guides to use, a simple tool to help our church members have confidence to open God’s Word with people that don’t know him.

In the past six months, our people have responded incredibly. More than half of our members have started one-on-one Bible studies with non-Christians, and God’s Word is going out to more and more people.

Jesus seemed to do ministry this way. He spent much of his time and energy investing in twelve and he frequently departed from a place once a crowd began to form (Matthew 8:18, Mark 1:38). In the same way, Paul’s letters to Timothy don’t contain practical guidelines on attracting a big crowd. Instead, they encourage Timothy to teach a few “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (1 Timothy 2:2). The norm in the Christian life seems to be the gospel going from one person to another. One at a time.

So pastors, work to equip every member in your church to “do the work of an evangelist.” Just consider these comparisons:

  • An attractional service enables a few people to use their gifts in a public setting. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then everyone is involved in God’s work and using their God-given gifts.
  • An attractional service enables us to reach people one day a week. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then we know God’s Word is going out from our church seven days a week.
  • An attractional service enables us to invite people to an event. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then people are engaged where they already are. People may be uncomfortable to come a church service but are willing to read with a friend.
  • An attractional service enables us to reach a few guests every week. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then we have the potential to reach many more. Everyone in our churches knows a bunch of people. What are we doing to equip them to share Christ with those people?

Whenever I encourage our church to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend, I always tell them that they will be surprised by three things:

  • You will be surprised about how equipped you are to do it. God has given you gifts. If you know the gospel, you can share it with others.
  • You will be surprised about how willing non-Christians are. Our church has been asking non-Christians to read Mark’s Gospel with them for six months, and I’ve only heard about one person getting rejected. People are willing to read the Bible and consider the claims of Christ.
  • You will be surprised about how much fruit comes. God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11) and faith comes through hearing the Word (Romans 10:17). When we share God’s Word with non-Christians, the Lord will act. And it will be glorious.

 

Pastors, you have been called by God to pursue a “ministry of reconciliation,” calling sinners to know the one true God (2 Corinthians 5:18). This ministry comes to us (and all Christians) “by the mercy of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1). So don’t hog God’s mercy; invite your church to get involved.



Keeping the Faith: Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy

As Christians, we are called to share our faith, but we are also called to keep it. Like the Apostle Paul, every believer should aspire to the epitaph, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Perhaps no one in Baptist history better kept the faith than the illustrious Charles Spurgeon—especially as seen through the prism of the Downgrade Controversy.

The year was 1887, and Spurgeon was in the winter of life. For more than three decades, he had enjoyed singular status as the world’s most well-known preacher, but just over the horizon, storm clouds gathered.

The Downgrade Controversy began slowly at first, with three anonymous letters appearing in the March, April, and June (1887) editions of the Sword & Trowel. The three letters (later revealed to be authored by Spurgeon’s friend, Robert Shindler) warned of doctrinal slippage on a downhill slope, thus, a downgrade.

While the anonymous letters drew interest, the controversy did not explode until a few months later when Spurgeon directly entered the fray. In the August 1887 issue of the Sword & Trowel, Spurgeon threw down the gauntlet in his six-page editorial entitled, “Another Word on the Downgrade.”

At that time, Spurgeon was less than five years from his death. He was near the height of his popularity both in the Baptist Union and globally, but near the depth of his personal anguish.  Physical ailments like failing kidneys and chronic gout wracked his body, and depression plagued his soul. Simply put, he did not need, nor was he much poised for, the conflict he was about to enter. Withdrawing the largest Baptist church in England from the Union would have dire consequences.

Nevertheless, Spurgeon entered his Westwood study, fountain pen in hand, and proceeded to join the battle himself by drafting for publication the six-page article.

I own the original six-page manuscript Spurgeon wrote that day in 1887. It is fascinating to review his words, penned in his hand, with his markings, alterations, and emphases. It radiates the spirit of Paul and the urgency of keeping the faith.  The first paragraph especially has taken on immortality:

No lover of the gospel can conceal from himself the fact that the days are evil. We are willing to make a large discount from our apprehensions on the score of natural timidity, the caution of age, and the weakness produced by pain; but yet our solemn conviction is that things are much worse in many churches than they seem to be, and are rapidly tending downward. Read those newspapers which represent the Broad School of Dissent, and ask yourself, How much farther could they go? What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them!

Spurgeon goes on:

The case is mournful. Certain ministers are making infidels. Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith… Germany was made unbelieving by her preachers, and England is following in her tracks.

Most prophetically, Spurgeon argued true believers cannot be ministry affiliates with those who have compromised the faith. His words portended the schism to come. Spurgeon was a lone voice, but he was the loudest and most revered voice of all, calling for doctrinal fidelity over programmatic confederation.

Spurgeon’s “Another Word on the Downgrade” landed like a bombshell. It sent shockwaves throughout the Baptist Union and British Evangelicalism. It reverberated throughout the Protestant world.

For decades the press had attacked Spurgeon, but now he would be savaged by his own Baptist Union. Prior to the Downgrade Controversy, if the Baptist Union had a papacy, Spurgeon would have been its unquestioned pope. But now, his erstwhile brethren brutalized him. They charged him with pugilism, and being a schismatic. They even questioned his sanity with a whisper campaign that his physical maladies had made him mad. Graduates of Spurgeon’s College turned on him, and the leaders of the Baptist Union pilloried him.

Over the next two months, Spurgeon penned two more articles on the Downgrade in the Sword & Trowel. Then, on Oct. 28, 1887, Spurgeon wrote the General Secretary of the Baptist Union, Samuel Harris Booth, to announce his withdrawal from the Baptist Union.

Three months later, in January 1888, the Baptist Union Council voted to accept his withdrawal, and then, the Council of nearly 100 members voted to censure Spurgeon, with only a meager five men supporting the Prince of Preachers.

The Baptist Union adopted a compromise doctrinal statement, which was altogether too weak, neither clear nor comprehensive enough. Though outside the Union, Spurgeon opposed the statement for its obvious deficiencies. Nonetheless, it passed overwhelmingly, by a vote of 2000–7, and can appropriately be interpreted as a second vote against Spurgeon. Most tragically, Spurgeon’s brother, James, seconded the motion to pass the compromise doctrinal statement.

Spurgeon, the “Lion in Winter,” was prophetic, if not popular. He said, “I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years, but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

Indeed, Spurgeon has been vindicated. The British Baptist Union is a shadow of its former self. Moreover, Spurgeon’s Downgrade foreshadowed the Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and the great SBC Controversy at the end of the 20th century. Doctrinal decay always brings dire consequences.

The controversy cost Spurgeon dearly. It cost him his friendships. It cost him his reputation. Even his own brother disowned his decision. Yet, for Spurgeon, to remain within the Union would be tantamount to theological treason.

Less than five years later, Spurgeon would die. Against his previously stated wishes, his supporters erected a massive burial tomb in the Norwood Cemetery. Ensconced on the front of it, beneath the marble replica of his likeness, is a marble Bible, open to 2 Timothy 4:7 –  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Indeed, Spurgeon kept the faith, and his accomplishment must be our aspiration—to keep the faith even when confronted with our own Downgrade Controversies.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at JasonKAllen.com.



Worship: The Completion of Our Affection

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. One of the most impactful things he has written in regards to worship isn’t about the subject of worship in particular, but it definitely helps my heart to feel and my mind to know what is true. He says this in “Reflections on the Psalms” :

    “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . . The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Lewis helps crystallize in this short paragraph what I feel immensely when I am leading worship. It’s what I want my church to understand. It’s what I aim for as I am leading. Lewis helps us understand that our affection and our delight is incomplete until it is expressed. Imagine if you never told, showed, or acted upon your affection for your spouse. They would feel dejected, unloved, and unimportant. If we have affections… we act on them. This is true in all of life as we worship and in the corporate gatherings as we sing, feast on the Word, and partake of communion together. If we have affections for the Lord and His gospel, then we will worship Him with all of our lives as we obey His commandments, serve Him in gospel ministry, and join Him on mission. Our affections will be completed as we act upon them.

This is also true when we gather as the church to worship Him corporately. Our affections well up within our souls and we complete the delight by expressing our worship with hands lifted, songs raised, as well as hearts and minds reveling in the glory of our Savior together. I truly believe we are missing out when we stand with arms crossed, sipping coffee, and half-way singing out. Our affections are either dim in our hearts, or we are missing out on completing the cycle by expressing them to the Lord. We don’t do this because the worship leader is singing our favorite song or because all of our preference boxes are being checked. We complete our affection by acting on them because God is worthy… so, so very worthy.

If there are two things I want you to take away from this very short treatise on affections and worship, it is this:

  1. As a worship leader: a major part of our job is to stir people’s affections towards Christ. No, you cannot make them worship… that isn’t your job… but you can (over and over) point people’s affections to the Son of God who came, died, and rose again. Then you can encourage them to complete that affection by expressing their delight in Christ alone. They are missing out if the affection stays hidden in the depths of their heart.
  2. As a worshiper: what if this Sunday you made the worship leader’s job easy? What if you came with your affections having been freshly stirred by your own heart prep in the Word of God, on your knees in prayer, and in just daily delighting in the God of the Bible? What if your affections were bursting in your heart… ready to be completed in their being acted upon through engagement in song, prayer, and the Word? Let your affections lead you to smiling, lifting your hands in victory or surrender, singing with all you have, and delighting in the beauty of your Savior.

There is nothing better than on a Sunday morning standing next to brothers and sisters in Christ and (metaphorically) “to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur”. And instead of having no one to share in the beauty of the Savior with,… to look around with delight in your heart and point to the glory of Jesus in song with others and say, “look at how great He is!” May we find this to be more and more true in our lives: “… we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.”



A Plea for Sound Doctrine

If you could write a letter to someone before you died, what would you say? Many of us would write to our spouses, children, or close friends to remind them how much we love them. Or perhaps some of us would write to that person who we had withheld forgiveness from for so long to try to make amends before our passing. Death has a way of shedding off the insignificant matters of life and highlighting what is most important.

This perspective from death is seen in the life of the Apostle Paul. Thirty years prior to his death, he had an experience that changed his life forever: He met the Risen Lord Jesus (see Acts 9:1-22, 22:3-16, 26:9-18). This encounter opened his eyes, literally and figuratively, and he finally understood the truth of God’s Word revealed and fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He understood that God had made a way of salvation for all peoples through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

What good news!

With this good news, Paul spent his life traveling the world to tell as many people as he could of the salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ. He founded many churches. He led many to faith in Jesus. He spoke before the political, religious, and philosophical elites of his day, and he spoke to the down-and-out everyday people. Paul accomplished much for Christ, and His life is an excellent model of faithful living and witness for Jesus.

Yet, like all men, Paul soon found himself face to face with death. Near the end of his life, Paul decided to write letters to two of his dear disciples (Timothy and Titus) to encourage them as he prepared to depart from this world. Remember the question: What would you say? Notice Paul’s main themes in some of his final letters: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus:

1 Timothy 4:6: “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”

1 Timothy 4:16: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…”

1 Timothy 6:3: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing…”

2 Timothy 1:13: “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me…”

2 Timothy 2:2: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many faithful witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

2 Timothy 3:14-17: “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word…”

Titus 1:9: “An elder must be…able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”

Titus 1:13: “For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.”

Titus 2:1: “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.”

Titus 2:7: “…in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine…”

Do you see the recurring thought throughout these letters? Sound teaching. Sound faith. Sound doctrine. Of course, this list is not exhaustive what Paul says on this topic in these letters, but the point is clear: Paul, more than anything else, wanted ministers to be faithful to the word of God amid a world that would be unaccepting of it. Sound doctrine was the primary focus of his last words. More than anything else, our churches need to heed this plea today, and the responsibility lies with the ministers. 

At this point, two reminders are helpful as we reflect on Paul’s plea for sound doctrine from the pastorals.

First, as ministers, we teach sound doctrine because that is God’s will for our ministry. We often fail to grasp the fact that refusal to do so is disobedience to God. God has given the church His word so they may know Him, and ministers who shy away from the word for a more attractive method of ministry deprive their people of God.

Second, although a commitment to sound doctrine may be difficult and discouraging when so many are unwillingly to hear, we must remember that there are those who will hear, and it is what they need most. I am only a young man in ministry with much to learn on how to be faithful to Paul’s plea, but that should be an encouragement. I am representative of many young men and women in the church who truly hunger for deep truths. Who long to know God deeply.

With these two exhortations in mind, may we hear the plea for sound doctrine, and press onward to answer the call!



5 Books Every Student Should Read Before Graduating High School

When I was in high school a pastor put Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper in my hands and it changed my life. It helped reorient my worldview around a sovereign God who called me to spend my life for the things that mattered. That book was a cheap, but enormous investment in my future spiritual life.

As a student pastor I often have parents or mentors ask me what books they should be putting in front of their high-schoolers to help equip them to both grow in their faith and learn to defend it. There are no shortage of books marketed at teenage Christians, but not very many of them are helpful—where some are downright harmful. Over time, these 5 books have become mainstays that I recommend and hope they will for you too!

What is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert

It’s hard for students to get anywhere spiritually if they’re unclear on the Gospel. This small, accessible book is a great entry point to understanding the Gospel. The Gospel is the best news in the world, and this book will help your student understand how to define it.

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years by Jaquelle Crow

If What is the Gospel defines the gospel for your teen, This Changes Everything will give them an on the ground look at how the gospel changes their life. Written by a teenager for teenagers, it gives a unique and biblically rigorous look at gospel living for highschoolers that I haven’t seen repeated anywhere else.

The Jesus I Wish I Knew in Highschool by Cameron Cole and Charlotte Getz

Teenagers live in a complicated world full of failure, loneliness, anxiety, sin, shame, and more. The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High-School is a one of a kind book that covers everything from rejection and shame to disability and tragedy. It is written by adults who are chronicling how a better understanding of the gospel would have transformed their teen years. This is a new book that is becoming essential reading for my students and leaders.

10 Questions Every Teenager Should Ask and Answer about Christianity

Challenges to the Christian faith have shifted quite a bit over the last 20 to 30 years. Objections have shifted from being primarily scientific to primarily ethical. This leaves a lot of older apologetic resources answering questions no one is asking. The same cannot be said for this book. McLaughlin answers 10 broad questions that every student will be confronted with in this day and age. Written for high-schoolers, it is an accessible resource from them.

Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper

This book was influential for me and it is as relevant today as ever! The American dream still beckons to many of our students. Worldly success at the expense of joy in Christ is a temptation in every culture for every age. Don’t Waste Your Life is a classic work that helps students see the emptiness of mere success, health, and wealth—calling them instead to a life of joyful sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. Don’t let your student waste their life on success. Help them spend it for joy!

Teenagers today face a host a unique challenges that necessitate unique answers. Books like these manage to confront the specific challenges present with this generation of high-schoolers without compromising the Gospel. They are also readable, applicable, and easy-to-use in a discipling relationship. Getting the right book in a teenagers hand at the right time just might change their life—I know it did mine.



What I Have Learned About Pastoring Senior Saints

I recently visited with some of the senior saints in the church I pastor. I have been asking them this question: What do you wish young pastors knew about pastoring senior adults? The responses have been interesting but perhaps not that surprising. In this post, I will share some insights from these conversations and provide some practical ways, as pastors, we can love and lead our senior saints better. 

I sat with the wife of the long-time pastor of our church. Her husband has since gone to be with the LORD, and she has remarried, but this sweet 90-year-old saint shot straight. She said I’m old, not dead! During our conversation, I realized the danger of solely focusing on children, students, and families. The LORD has been blessing our church in recent months, and we have seen good and healthy growth. This growth has mostly come from families with young children. As we have seen this growth, we have intentionally invested in the children’s ministry. I fear we will unintentionally create age-specific silos if we are not careful.

Your seniors have wisdom and experience, not just in life but in their walk with the LORD. They do not want to feel like the old bull being put out to pasture, and sometimes this is the message we send them when we focus exclusively on the young families in the church. 

Another sweet widow, a woman who is nearly 85 years old, shared with me the reality of loneliness. She lives on a substantial piece of property just west of town. Her husband passed away several years ago as well as her only child. She has no close relatives and lives alone on her property. I visited her on a Friday and took my wife and three-year-old daughter. This sweet lady was so happy to have someone spend time with her. It is easy to get caught up in the craziness of our pastoral schedules, but dear pastor, do not miss the joys of visiting with your senior saints!

Finally, just a few days ago, I was sitting in a hospital room with our last remaining charter member. She is 95 years old, and her mind is still sharp as a tack! She was joking with me about the music she wants to be played at her funeral. She said, “Don’t play any of the new stuff; I want the old hymns!” Now our church does an excellent job at blending hymns of the faith with new, theologically sound music. Her statement was not out of displeasure for what worship sounds like at our church. Instead, it was a glimpse into her fond memories of church as a child. The reality is we will all be there one day. We will think back about how things used to be and will likely have specific songs of the faith we want to be sung because they hold a special place in our hearts; this is ok! 

Out of these conversations, I want to give you three pieces of practical advice as you pastor older saints. These three points are areas I have been convicted of over recent months as I have had these conversations. I hope you will find them edifying and encouraging.

  1. Do not forget about your seniors. They are at a point in life where they are being dismissed. They are losing their physical mobility and freedoms, such as living alone and driving. These are huge aspects of life that, as a young pastor, I tend to overlook. Remember what it was like when you wanted a seat at the table? Now think about how you would feel if the chair you had waited for was pulled out from under you. I believe that is how many of our seniors feel, and our job is to pastor them through this challenging season. 
  2. Make time for your seniors. We must remember our older saints are often raised with the idea that the pastor is a big deal. We must also not forget our older saints are often alone. If they think you are a big deal because you are their pastor, and if they are generally alone, 30 minutes of your time can significantly impact them. I feel so convicted about this takeaway that my wife and I are committing to spending intentional time with every one of our senior saints in 2023.
  3. Be gracious to your seniors. Generational gaps are significant because each generation has its own culture. This is why we hear things like “back in my day” and “this is how we have always done it.” These are cultural cues. Be gracious to your seniors as you navigate change. Our identity is connected to our cultural realities, and when you change the church’s culture (which is often needed), you threaten identities. Be gracious. 

I am so grateful for the senior saints the LORD has blessed me with at our church. They are the cream of the crop! I desire to pastor them well, and I hope these points of practical advice might help you as you pastor your senior saints. For their good and God’s glory, amen!



The Other Gospels of Our Day

He cuts straight to the point because the issue is that serious. In most of Paul’s letters, he spends some time praying for and blessing the church he is writing. But in Galatians, he says “hello” and gets right to it.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel…” (Galatians 1:6)

Paul had spent time in Galatia preaching the true and only Gospel to them: Christ died for their sins and rose again so that all who repent and believe can be made right with God and have forever fellowship with Him. And false teachers had crept in, telling the people they also have to be circumcised. Paul calls this a different gospel and a curse (Galatians 1:9).

I don’t know many churches today teaching salvation by circumcision. But we must be on guard against other gospels in our day. What would they be? Perhaps we can narrow them to six.

The Fire-Insurance Gospel

This is the gospel where all that is emphasized is that you make a one-time decision. You walk down the aisle and pray the prayer and you are set to go. You won’t go to hell when you die, no matter what. You “accepted Jesus into your heart” (a phrase that never appears in Scripture).

When this gospel is believed, you get people who pray a prayer at seven at VBS or at twenty-six when an emotional preacher at a revival moved them. And then church memberships have hundreds of people on it five decades later that nobody can identify. But you also have hundreds of people who believe they are going to heaven because they prayed a prayer once, but who are out living unrepentant lives, thinking nothing of God.

The Moral Gospel

This is the opposite of the Fire-Insurance Gospel. This is the gospel where the main point is that you are a good person. Jesus came to give you an example to follow, so you just have to try your best to be an example to others. 

In this gospel, you’re never allowed to struggle again. If you ever slip into sin, you know there will be somebody who condemns you as a hypocrite and says you are the reason they don’t go to church.

This gospel is not about the goodness of God. It’s about your goodness and you can’t be a perfectly good person (Romans 3:10-12). It robs God of His glory and it exhausts you because you can never measure up.

The Social Gospel

This gospel makes our standing with God based on how much we are working to make society better. It’s usually masked behind the idea that we are to love others. God is love, so Christians will be loving others by helping the poor and feeding the hungry. Or fighting against racial injustice. Or serving the pro-life movement. Or political involvement. Or building wells in Haiti. You fill in the blank.

This gospel takes the effect and makes it the cause. The gospel of Jesus Christ moves us to serve the least of these and work for righteousness and justice in society. But that’s not the gospel itself. It’s a result of the gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel

This gospel is dramatically seen in the “health and wealth” movement where God’s will is that you will never be poor or sick and that if you are, you don’t have enough faith. Most Christians know that is silly.

My preaching professor at Southern Seminary, Dr. David Prince, used to say, “Most of us hold to at least a Wal-Mart prosperity gospel.” We don’t necessarily believe we will become millionaires as Christians. But we tend to believe if we follow God faithfully, He will keep us from any hardship or suffering. Things will go pretty well for us. 

But we know that’s not true. Our Savior suffered and so will we. We will one day have a glorious life of no sickness and pain in the New Heavens and the New Earth. But not yet. In this world, we will have tribulation. Our hope is in the One who has overcome the world (John 16:33).

The Sentimental Gospel

“We’ve always done it that way.”

If I did what I had always done, I’d still be dead in my sins. This gospel says that faithful Christianity is doing it the way our traditions say. Any deviation is heresy. 

There is a difference in truth and practices the Bible prescribes and the traditions of man. We hold to those Biblical prescriptions, but we recognize traditions of man are going to change every generation and across every culture.

This gospel makes righteousness before God no longer based on repentance and faith but on whether you wear a necktie to church or sing the right music. 

The Inclusive Gospel

This one has become pretty rampant in the last ten years. It applies wrongly the fact that Jesus welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes. It says the point of the gospel is to welcome sinful people and not judge them. It says we must accept people exactly as they are and never challenge them to change. 

But that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus welcomed sinners and those sinners always left changed. Zacchaeus agreed to repay everyone he had defrauded. The woman at the well found the thirst she had been searching for in men. Jesus welcomed sinners and lovingly called them to repent and we must do the same.

——

Notice that none of these other gospels are flat-out rejections of Christ. They actually take an aspect of the true gospel and make it the only thing that is important. That’s why it’s so easy to be deceived by them.

There is no other Gospel (Galatians 1:7). There are only those who want to trouble you and make you accursed by believing a message inferior to the good news of Jesus Christ. Don’t believe them.



How Guilt and Shame Can Bring Us Closer to God

When Adam and Eve rejected God’s goodness and authority by eating the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they suddenly recognized that they were naked. This new, hyper-self-conscious reality set in motion a series of actions, each one a strategy to hide the shame that they felt over what they had done.

The more they hid themselves, the more distant our first parents became from God and each other. Their nakedness, once a symbol of freedom, self-expression, and mutual enjoyment, suddenly became a symbol of shame. No longer feeling safe about being seen, they sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves.

To keep up the façade, Adam ran and hid from God. When God found him, Adam proceeded to make excuses and shift blame toward both God and Eve. To God, he says, “I was afraid when I heard your voice, so I hid.”

Quite audaciously, Adam continued, “The woman you gave me, she presented me with the fruit, and so I ate it.”

Eve also deflected responsibility, declaring that she ate the forbidden fruit because the serpent deceived her (see Genesis 3:1-13).

This theme of deflecting, blaming, and hiding has remained with us since Eden. Painfully aware of our own nakedness and shame, we, too, have become masters at cover up. Instead of fig leaves, we use other, more sophisticated strategies to cover the things about ourselves that we don’t want others to see. If anyone really gets to know us, if the real truth about us is exposed, surely no one—not even God—will love or desire us. If we let our guards down, we will surely be found out, abandoned, and forgotten.

And yet, we may be surprised to find an opposite dynamic also occurring in Scripture. Instead of running and hiding and creating masks with which to cover their nakedness, the Bible’s most exemplary saints shed their masks in favor of transparency and self-disclosure. Not only do they confess their sins, blemishes, and weaknesses privately to God; they also openly confess the worst things about themselves to each other and the world.

In the telling of his own story, Jonah reveals himself to be a grumpy, entitled, selfish, and hate-filled man (Jonah 1-4). Paul shares openly about his ongoing battle with coveting, bellowing out, “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:21-24) He also reflects on his prior life of being a blasphemer, persecutor, and violent man and concludes that he must be the worst sinner in the world (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Psalm 51, a beautiful and painfully transparent confession of sin, is introduced with the words, “A Psalm of David…after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” With these words, David admits his lust for Bathsheba and how he had adulterous intercourse with her while she was the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers and friends.

Jonah, Paul, and David were not seeking attention through melodramatic over-sharing. Rather, they saw the value of sometimes putting their worst foot forward as a way to show a watching world how long, high, wide and deep is the love of God. They wanted their readers, whoever they would be throughout the world and through the centuries, to become convinced that where sin abounds, the grace of God abounds even more (Romans 5:20). In other words, they viewed the transfer of grace as not only something that happens between a people and God, but also between people and people. It’s a community affair, not a private affair.

Their confessions are a setup for celebrating grace and for reassuring people everywhere that if God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness can reach and transform the likes of them, it can also transform any kind of person.

They wanted to convince the world that the one, true God forgives not just once or twice, but repeatedly, and that he forgives not just so-called “little” sins, but also supremely shameful and significant ones.

God, these ancient saints want the world to know, is above all gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8).

As Brennan Manning has written, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

So how about us?

Do we believe these things like Jonah, Paul, and David did?

Do we believe them enough to shed our fig leaves and come out of hiding?

I pray we can go there.

Because the health of our souls depends in it.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at scottsauls.com.