Praise God for Learned Men and Women

There is a temptation in some circles to view serious study with suspicion, but any temptation to disparage learning should be dismissed by anyone who values reading the Bible in their own language. Imagine being required to know Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) or Koine Greek (New Testament) just to be able to read the Bible that sits by your bedside. According to John Gill, Bible translations are a gift of God’s providence that should result in gratitude for all who take up that weighty task.

Here I cannot but observe the amazing ignorance and stupidity of some persons, who take into their heads to decry learning and learned men; for what would they have done for a Bible, had it not been for them as instruments?…Bless God, therefore, and be thankful that God has in his providence, raised up such men to translate the Bible into the mother-tongue of every nation…” (John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, 13-14)

One of the first pastoral visits I made after being called to Hermon was to a retired missionary couple who served in Brazil for 40+ years. What did they do in those forty years? They translated Genesis-Revelation into a Portuguese dialect. As I held the Bible in my hands I couldn’t help but praise God for their studious spirit, serious intellect, and sacrificial service.

I can only imagine how grateful the believers were to receive a copy of the Bible in their own language for the first time! And How did they receive it? Did it fall from them sky? Did it self-generate? No. This Bible was the product of God’s gracious providence through well trained and learned translators who love God and his Word.

Do you own a copy of the Bible in your own language? Praise God for his providence and provision to raise up learned translators! Praise God for learned men and women.

God Made a Deacon

We’ve all heard Paul Harvey’s famous speech God Made a Farmer. This morning I decided to open my second sermon on 1 Tim. 3:8-13 with God Made a Deacon inspired by Harvey’s speech. I hope you find it encouraging.

And with the institution of his church, God looked and said, “I want a servant, someone behind the scenes, unheralded but exemplary.” So God made a deacon.

God said, “I want someone that frees elders to pray, preach, and shepherd. I need someone willing to meet practical needs, so pastors aren’t overwhelmed and neglect spiritual needs.” So God made a deacon.”

God said, “I want someone who can be where pastors can’t, to hold hands they can’t hold, and to encourage saints in the pastors stead.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone to serve the widows, the vulnerable, and the poor. I need someone who loves to be near the needy, someone to whom the poor are precious.” So God made a deacon.

God said, “I want someone to support the members, meet their needs, and care about their concerns. Someone who loves  transitioning small into spiritual talk over a hot cup of coffee.” So God made a deacon 

God said, “I want someone to assure the Baptismal pool is full and the elements are ready. I need someone who will assure the aisles are clear, the elements accessible.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone who will pray over the offering, collect it, and assures its security.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone with a benevolent heart, who will listen to the needs of those in the community and coordinate support.” So God made a deacon. 

God said, “I want someone to follow the the example of Jesus by not coming to be served, but to serve.” So God made a deacon. 

Five Priorities for the Local Pastor-Theologian

“I’m on the side of pastors.” These were words to me from a theology professor while seeking counsel about whether to pursue pastoral ministry or academic theology. I was, after all, enrolled at a theological seminary that exists to train students for ministry. My professor was humble and gracious, reassuring me that there was nothing wrong with graduating with my M.Div., serving in ministry, and never finding a way into academic theology. He was a theologian on the side of pastors. As a professor of theology, he trained local theologians for the local church.[1] 

Every pastor is a local theologian. The theological life does not find its pride of place in the academy, but in the church. The church is the premier place for theological practice, for there the Spirit ministers to the people of God through the Word of God.

That’s not to say that your average pastor is the same as trained scholars who have made theological reflection and writing their life’s work. The church needs formally trained theologians, and we should praise God for them. But the pastoral life is necessarily theological. Since the church is the premier place for theological practice, pastors should make it their pursuit to be as faithful as possible when thinking and speaking about God. 

Todd Wilson and Gerald Heistand have distinguished between three types of pastor-theologians: Local, Popular, and Ecclesial. Their acknowledgment of the local theologian freed me from thinking of the theological life in exclusively technical terms. Since then I have aspired to cultivate this theological life, but until recently without clear priorities and direction.  In what follows, I would like to offer five priorities for the local theological life. 

  1. Personal Holiness

Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14) and so without holiness one should be hesitant to think and speak about God with authority. Gregory of Nazianzus raises this concern, “It is not for all people, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul. For one who is not pure to lay hold of pure things is dangerous, just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s brightness.”[2]

For Gregory mere intellectual preparation falls short for the aspiring theologian. The necessary preparation involves the whole person, “body and soul.” Proper thinking and speaking about God comes from properly formed persons who are in submission to God and his Word. 


2. Prayer

When we pray we are in communion with the triune God whom we think and speak about. The life of prayer assures the theological life is not one of intellectual assent, but affection, adoration, and communion. It is not enough to enjoy talking about God, we should long to commune with God. Prayer is the means of increasing our love and knowledge of God as we seek to commune with Him. Christopher Holmes captures this beautifully, 

Prayer denotes ‘inexpressible devotion’ to the one who does not need us in order to be. Prayer is not simply the fruit of love but the means by which love is further kindled. Prayer is the crucible that determines what we say about God and how we say it.” [3]

A private life of prayer is vital, but so is corporate prayer on the Lord’s day. The pastoral prayer ushers the congregants into God’s presence and serves as a didactic example for lament, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving. This time not only informs the intellect, but forms the heart.  Corporate prayer is a means of “perfecting the appetites” of the congregation, so that they desire God more and more.[4] Over time congregants are formed as a people who pray without ceasing.

3. Pursuit of Intellectual Community 

Every maturing moment in my life took place in community with others. If local pastor-theologians are going to continue to grow in their ability to think and speak about God, it is important to pursue an intellectual community to foster that growth. For many, this is the most challenging priority. There are not a lot of fellowships or institutes coordinating these types of opportunities for the average pastor. Online networking has some benefits, but there are limitations as well. Pastors may very well find members who can provide this, but for most it will involve looking outside the congregation. 

This means it may be necessary to create opportunities through more informal communities like reading and discussion groups. So whether it be in informal reading groups or formal fellowships, look for ways to learn with and from others. This community does not necessarily need to be among fellow ministers, but will be most helpful if made up of those who share a common interest in thinking well about theology, church, and culture. 

4. Private Study and Contemplation 

A pastoral and theological life must prioritize time for study and contemplation. The pastor’s task involves knowing and heralding God and his works in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do this faithfully, time must be given to the Scriptural texts, exegesis, reading, and theological reflection. Although it takes discipline, protected time to read the Scriptures and faithful readers of Scripture throughout church history reaps great benefit.  

The practice of contemplation frees us from the constant current of content and allows us to listen to what God is saying to us in his Word. In order to listen we must embrace a habit of both solitude and silence. I confess to be a work in progress in this regard, but I hope to find more peace as I adopt habits to this end.  

By contemplation I don’t mean a Zen like state, but an intentional act that allows for thoughts to develop and mature. A simple act like walking provides an opportunity to think. Likewise, writing forces you to wrestle with words, phrases, and concepts as you attempt to best communicate your ideas.[5]

5. Pastoral Practice: Word and Ordinances

Eugene Peterson defines a pastoral work as “…a ministry of word and sacrament.” This is the primary task of the pastor: to minister through the preaching of the Word of God and to minister through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Prepared for opposition Peterson recognizes the difficulty of this sin-plagued life and asks, “But in the wreckage what difference can a little water, a piece of bread, a sip of wine make?”[6]

A great deal. The question we need to reflect on is this: who will do the ministry of Word and Sacrament if not the pastor? Of course, there are many good and important things a pastor could do, but why do them when there are vital tasks a pastor is called to do.

In response to the expected opposition Peterson writes, “Yet century after century Christians continue to take certain persons, set them apart, and say, ‘We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel…This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament.”[7]

Conclusion

Not every pastor will finish a PhD, become a professor, or contribute to an academic journal. A robust theological life still awaits them because the premier place for theological practice is not the academy, but the church. By pursuing these five priorities all pastors can cultivate the heart and mind of a faithful theologian for the edification of the church and the glory of God. 


[1] The professor was Dr. John Hammett of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

[2] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and ChristThe Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Claudius (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Press, 2002) 27.

[3] Christopher R. J. Holmes, A Theology of the Christian Life: Imitating and Participating in God (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021) 51.

[4] Christopher R. J. Holmes, A Theology of the Christian Life, 141. 

[5] I owe these thoughts to conversations with Shawn Wilhite. 

[6] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 23. 

[7] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, 24. 

Him We Proclaim: Christ as the Subject, End, and Power of Preaching

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that preaching is the primary activity of the church because God never changes and man’s need never changes. 

“…the moment you consider man’s real need, and also the nature of salvation announced and proclaimed in the Scriptures, you are driven to the conclusion that the primary task of the Church is to preach and proclaim this, to show’s man’s real need, and to show the only remedy, the only cure for it.” (Preaching and Preachers, pg. 26)

For Lloyd-Jones, the preaching of the gospel is not one task amidst a host of equal priorities, but the primary activity of the church. If this is so, we need to have a robust theology of Christian preaching. In my mind there is no better starting point to that end than Colossians 1:28-29. There we learn that Christ is the principal subject, end, and power for preaching.

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col 1:28–29)

The antecedent of “him” is Christ in 1:27,  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Jesus Christ is the principal subject of all Christian proclamation.

The words “Him we proclaim” remind us that ministry is not about the minister. The minister is not the point of ministry and churches do not exist to make the minister’s name great. Gospel ministry is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Like the focus on a camera these words bring the priority of ministry into clear view. That priority is summarized in the brief phrase “Him we proclaim.” 

Along with a principal subject, preaching also has a primary purpose, “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The maturity or perfection that Paul is speaking of here is the end of the Christian life, that final day when the the church is presented to Christ in glory. If this is the purpose, we can say that preaching does not just aim for the conversion of sinners, but the perseverance of the saints. 

When this becomes our aim, we avoid the error of bringing the church into conformity to ourselves. John Calvin helpfully reminds us, ”If ministers wish to do any good, let them labour to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers.”

The motivation to adopt this end for preaching is found in Colossians 1:22,. Paul tells us that Christ, “…reconciled (us) in his body of flesh by his death, in order that he might present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” When pastors prayerfully aim to present the saints mature in Christ they are aligned with Christ’s own purposes for the church. 

Christ is the end of preaching.

If this type of preaching is to be done faithfully, it must be done with necessary discipline and in the appropriate power. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he works powerfully within me.”

There is a story about the famous evangelist D.L. Moody, who on his first Sunday as pastor in Chicago recounts visiting Charles Haddon Spurgeon in London. Here is a summary of Moody’s impression of Spurgeon.  

“What impressed him most was not the praise, though he thought he had never heard such grand congregational singing; it was not Mr. Spurgeon’s exposition, fine though it was, nor even his sermon; it was his prayer. He seemed to have such access to God that he could bring down the power from heaven; that was the great secret of his influence and his success.”1

I think the Pauline prayers throughout his letters support the idea that the power of God is accessed through prayer. There is not an ounce of power in and of ourselves that can accomplish preaching’s great end, but we can trust that those who depend upon God in prayer will be empowered by God in Christ. If we are going to be faithful preachers of Christ for the maturation of the church, then we must both toil and labor while depending upon the power of Christ.

Christ is the power of preaching 

Fellow pastors, we will preach many sermons and in all of them it must be Him that we proclaim. Those sermons will be preached from a variety of biblical texts and from them all it must be Him that we proclaim. We will preach those sermons to a number of people (some of us more than others) and to each one it must be Him that we proclaim. As we do, may we depend on the power of God working in and through us.

My Prayer for Preaching

 I’ve often heard it said that Spurgeon ascended to preach repeating the words, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, I believe in the Holy Ghost, I believe in the Holy Ghost.” It was his prayer for power and an expression of dependance on God for the task of preaching.  Andy Davis, one of my favorite expositors today, has said that he repeats Jesus’ words in John 21 “Feed my sheep, feed my sheep, feed my sheep.”1

These habits are good, because they redirect the preacher to the source of his power and the purpose of his preaching. While I don’t repeat the same phrase while ascending the small steps to the platform at Hermon Baptist Church, I have found myself repeating the same prayer before each sermon: exalt your name, edify your church, evangelize the sinner. This prayer captures what I aim to accomplish in every sermon. 

  1. Exalt your name

Preaching is not merely the communication of information. Preaching is the exaltation God’s glory in Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture. I long for my people to behold this glory and adore the person in whom it is revealed (John 1:14). In the New Testament we learn that Jesus Christ has inherited the name that is above all names (Phil. 2:9; Heb. 1:4). Since I am convinced this is the divine name, praying for the exaltation of God’s name is to pray for the exaltation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.  

  1. Edify your church 

When the saints gather on the Lord’s day, the Spirit works through the preaching of the Word of God to renew the saints into the image of God. To hear the Word preached is to really hear the living God address his people for the purpose of maturity and sanctification. This prayer is inspired by 1 Timothy 4:15-16 and Colossians 1:28-29.  

13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Ti 4:15–16)

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col 1:28–29) 

  1. Evangelize the sinner 

When Paul praises God for the saints in Thessalonica he notes their reception of his gospel preaching. 

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Th 2:13)

For any and all present who don’t know the Lord, I pray that God would evangelize the sinner. First, this is a prayer for gospel clarity. I want every sermon to be the proclamation of God’s work in the gospel and a call to repentance and faith. Second it is a prayer for the unbeliever to receive the Word for what it really is—the Word of God. 

Since these are my aims and I am insufficient to execute them by my own power, I will continue to pray: exalt your name, edify your church, evangelize the sinner. 

A School in Slow Spirituality

In the midst of washing bottles for a four month old, eagerness to change the laundry, and the maneuvering around a loaded sink came the words, “Want daddy, want daddy, want daddy.” These are the words Isaac, my seven year old son with both Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome uses to make requests of me. “Want daddy” is Isaac language for, “Daddy, I want x.” As usual, I asked what he wanted. Also as usual, Isaac repeated “want Daddy” instead of stating his request. After the fourth repetition, my voice began to raise and say shaper, “No, Isaac, what…do…you…want.” He replied, “Water.”

Isaac often moves at this own pace. He is often slow to respond, slow to obey, and slow to act. As an average Western American, I value the productive use of time. What frustrated me about our conversation was that Isaac seemed to be taking up the valuable time during his brother’s nap. My son only wanted water. I only wanted to be left to work. In a moment, the priority of productivity over the being present with my son became clear.

This became all the more evident that same evening when I sat down to read Kelly Kapic’s outstanding new book You’re Only Human. In a chapter challenging our obsession with efficiency Kapic borrows from theologian John Swinton and says, “It is not difficult to see how easily we have imposed a scale of “being efficient” onto our perception of “being human,” consequently valuing people in terms of productivity and speed.”

This correct observation pierced my heart, because I also have raised concerns about how we might dehumanize fellow image bearers in our articulation of the imago Dei. It is not hard to understand how daily parenting problems can discourage, but what if lamenting these challenges leads me to miss what Isaac is teaching me?

Leaning again on Swinton, Kapic writes, “Affirming finitude as part of the creaturely domain, Swinton challenges us to realize that “love has a speed” and we should discover the beauty of “slow and gentle disciples” who are easily missed and ignored but are actually vital to the kingdom of God. We sense that we need to slow down and listen to Christ, to see him in the vulnerable and needy, and to confess our own neediness in the process.”

These lessons not only offer edification for the individual Christian, but for the corporate life of the church. This is the insight Jason Whitt brings out by suggesting the church may learn a lot by including people with disabilities in worship.

“They remind the church that God has given the church all the time it needs, whether that means allowing the person who does not speak well or quickly to read Scripture or pray; walking slowly to the communion table with one whose gait is slow; or creating spaces that are accessible to everyone, not just who are able to rush from task to task. The fear is that including people wit disabilities into the life of the church will slow members down. This slowing down, however, may help speed up the moral formation of the church.”

Repentance may very well begin with acknowledging that God has given Isaac as a gift not so much for how I might help him, but how he might help me slow down, listen to Christ, and confess my own neediness. Perhaps we’re all in too much of a hurry and as we rush from task to task our spiritual formation is stunted. Repentance may very well result in enrolling in a school of slow spirituality.

2021: Links for Looking Back

The majority of my time is dedicated to serving my wife, children, and church family. Preaching, shepherding, and leading the saints of Hermon Baptist is the true and important work of my life. I’m grateful to have finished preaching 1 Peter at the turn of this year and preached through all of Galatians. I also preached a number shorter, thematic series: Salvation Stories (conversion stories of Saul, Lydia, Ethiopian Eunuch, and the Philippian Jailer), God’s Good Design (Gender, Sexuality, Marriage, Singleness, and Friendship), and The Christ of Christmas (Eternal Son, Incarnate Son, Crucified Son, and Resurrected/Ascended Son).

Outside of my primary responsibilities, I was blessed to have some preaching and writing opportunities.

Preaching: Revival at First Baptist Church, Metropolis.

Message 1: Standing in the Strength of Christ

Message 2: The Armor of God, Part 1

Message 3: The Armor of God, Part 2

Message 4: Prayer for Warfare

Writing

I’m grateful to TGC for publishing this brief piece on ministering to elderly saints, 4 Ways Young Pastors Can Love Elderly Saints.

The Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership was gracious enough to publish some thoughts about Pastoral Ministry and Persons with Disabilities.

I trust the Spirit has used these labors to exalt God’s glory in Christ and edify Christ’s church.

Faithful Shepherd Friday: Jordon Willard

This is part of a series called Faithful Shepherd Friday, which attempts to learn from faithful shepherds of Christ’s church laboring in obscurity.

Today’s faithful shepherd is Jordon Willard. I had the pleasure of getting connected to Jordon when I was a student at SEBTS. I have been continually encouraged by his love for Christ, love for the church, and faithful presence everywhere he has ministered. Please be sure to pray for Jordon and his family!

Where do you serve as pastor and how long have you been there?

I have been pastoring in NC for almost ten years. Previously, I served as Senior Pastor of two SBC churches in Eastern NC. Currently, I am the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Weddington. I arrived at FBCW in February, 2021.

How do you go about sermon preparation?

My sermon preparation process can be seen at two levels: macro and micro. At the macro level, I typically go on a retreat to do sermon planning once a year, usually in late October or early November. I pray over and meditate on what my church needs in their spiritual diet for the coming year. There are times during the year when I have had to change course from my plan, but for the most part I try to stick to my preaching calendar. When planning, I try to map out each sermon text and discover and develop three things: the central idea of the text, the proposition for the sermon, and the purpose of the sermon.[1] Then, I try to develop a homiletical outline that considers the text’s substance, structure, and spirit.[2]

I am not always able to accomplish these things in the initial sermon planning retreat, but this is what I aim for. I mainly preach expositionally through books of the Bible, but sometimes I will preach standalone series which consist of sermons made up of one passage that, together with the other passages in the series, addresses a certain topic.

The micro level occurs when I come to each individual text during the year. When I approach each text, I try to prayerfully and carefully work with the original languages of the text first, then engage with the English translation of the text through reading it silently and aloud as well as writing and typing it out several times. When I am preaching through a book of the Bible, I try to read that book over and over as many times as possible during my devotional time to keep the individual sermon within the larger context of the book.

After engaging with the text and either confirming my work done during the macro level (on the retreat at the previous yearend) or making changes, I consult commentaries. I like to work first mostly with technical commentaries which engage with the original languages and then branch out to more pastoral commentaries. Once I have a grasp on the text’s meaning within its immediate context of the book, the broader context of its placement in the canon, and the comprehensive context of the metanarrative of Scripture, I move forward to prayerfully considering how to apply the text to my congregation. The last pieces of sermon preparation usually consist of crafting a good introduction, summary, and invitation, as well as illustrations for interpretation and application.

My sermon preparation process may look different from week to week depending on my familiarity with the passage. But one thing remains each week: I am committed to biblical exposition which makes the meaning of a particular passage the main point of each sermon for the glory of God and the equipping of the saints for ministry, maturity, and multiplication.

What book has impacted your preaching or pastoral ministry? Why do you think it is important for pastors to read this particular book?

There are so many to name! I wish I could give twenty recommendations. But I’ll give two: one for preaching and the other for pastoral ministry. For preaching, Jonathan Griffiths’ Preaching in the New Testament: An Exegetical and Biblical-Theological Study[3] from the New Studies in Biblical Theology series has been formative for me. I believe all pastors should read this work because of its thorough exegesis of key NT texts that deal with preaching the Word. For pastoral ministry, John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry.[4] I read this book a few years before I became a pastor. It both challenged me and resonated with me and the call God had placed on my life to be a pastor. Every pastor should read it to be challenged and shaped by what the Scriptures have to say about our calling to shepherd.

What figure from church history has been a source encouragement for pastoral ministry?

Charles Spurgeon has been a constant source of encouragement for me in pastoral ministry. Not only his faithfulness to preach the Word, but his unique struggles in ministry have been particularly helpful for me. Spurgeon, though considered by many a towering giant among Gospel preachers, struggled frequently with depression in his ministry and was very vocal about it. If a pastor has been shepherding for a couple years, he knows both the highs and lows of ministry. Knowing that someone like Spurgeon also experienced the lows has greatly blessed me.

If you were speaking to someone new to pastoral ministry, what encouragement would you give?

In this particular season of my life and ministry, I would give three words of encouragement: Be humble, be patient, and stay hungry.

First, be humble, because you will soon find out—as I did early on in ministry—that you don’t know everything there is to know about pastoral ministry. No matter your level of education, you have a lot to learn and a great deal of wisdom to gain. Don’t act like this is not true. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Embrace this reality with meekness. For “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Second, be patient. Study all the attributes of God in Scripture. But in these early days, give particular attention to studying God’s patience from Genesis to Revelation. Develop a biblical understanding of how patient our Lord is with both the lost and saved and apply this patience to your ministry. In an age of instant gratification, we must re-learn that God’s work in his people is a long, slow, patient work. How swift we are to quote Paul’s towering command to “preach the Word,” but slow to follow it up with the rest of his counsel: “Preach the Word … with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). In the face of our culture’s lust for instantaneity, commit yourself to leading God’s people God’s way—the way of patience—for the long-haul.

Third, stay hungry. Never settle for yesterday’s victories. In both your personal holiness and public ministry, be zealous for more Christ-likeness, faithfulness to the Word, and fulfilment of the Great Commission. Stay hungry for God and his glory.

How can we pray for you?

As I type these words, the Lord has given me a fresh start at a new church. There is so much excitement and expectancy in any new work. Pray for me and my family as we get acclimated to our church and new surroundings. And pray that the Lord would continue to sustain the flame of my devotion to Him, increase my zeal that he be glorified in our midst, and deepen my desire to faithfully shepherd FBC Weddington to greater ministry, maturity, and multiplication (Ephesians 4:11-16).


[1] Jerry Vines and J. Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017).

[2] Daniel L. Akin, D.L. Allen, and N. Matthews, Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010).

[3] Jonathan L. Griffiths, Preaching in the New Testament: An Exegetical and Biblical-Theological Study, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

[4] John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

Faithful Shepherd Friday: Seth Springs

This is part of a series called Faithful Shepherd Friday, which attempts to learn from faithful shepherds of Christ’s church laboring in obscurity.

Today’s faithful shepherd is Seth Springs. I had the privilege of meeting Seth in Louisville, KY when he served as an intern under Josh Green at FBC, Fairdale. We reconnected in seminary and I now have the great privilege of pastoring Hermon Baptist Church where Seth grew up. Get to know this dear brother and be sure to pray for him.

Where do you serve as pastor and how long have you been there?

Transformation Church in Waterford, MI. My family and I moved here from NC in 2018 to begin the work of planting. We had our official public launch on Palm Sunday, 2019.

How do you go about sermon preparation?

Whether we are preaching through a book or doing a topical series, I strive to preach each passage in a text-driven, expositional manner. I normally start going through the text devotionally on Monday and Tuesday, consult commentaries and other outside sources on Wednesday, have a full outline done on Thursday, and knock out my manuscript between Friday and Saturday morning. I also have a routine of going to bed early on Saturday nights and waking up around 4am on Sundays to spend time with the Lord and read through my manuscript one last time.

What book has impacted your preaching or pastoral ministry? Why do you think it is important for pastors to read this particular book?

As far as the Christian life and a vision for ministry goes, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper was a game-changer for me. I want to live, worship, and minister in a way that makes much of Jesus now, and matters in eternity. As far a preaching goes, Tony Merida’s Christ-Centered Expositor was especially helpful in the area of moving from “a buckshot to a bullet.”

What figure from church history has been a source encouragement for pastoral ministry?

Adoniram Judson. I read his biography while at SEBTS and it rocked me in a way similar to when I first read Don’t Waste Your Life. Judson was a very gifted individual with many options, but he chose to spend his life in Burma, suffering for the sake of the gospel among a people he grew to love very much.

If you were speaking to someone new to pastoral ministry, what encouragement would you give?

Be real and be present. Don’t play the comparison game or try to be someone else. God knows the man He called.  Remember, ministry is worship. Be real and be present, worshipping Him and loving others as genuinely as possible.

How can we pray for you?

That we would be focused, faithful, and fruitful. While church planting can be difficult, I love where God has us and I want to keep my hands on the plow.

Faithful Shepherd Friday: Philip Crouse

This is part of a series called Faithful Shepherd Friday, which attempts to learn from faithful shepherds of Christ’s church laboring in obscurity.

Today’s faithful shepherd is Philip Crouse Jr. He resides in King, NC with his wife, Mandy, and their 4 children—Adalee, Bryce, Caris, and Everly. He is currently serving as pastor of Germanton Baptist Church in Germanton, NC. He is an adjunct professor in the Piedmont Divinity School of Carolina University. He has a PhD in Applied Theology in Preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he focused on missional hermeneutics and preaching.

Where do you serve as pastor and how long have you been there?

I serve as pastor at Germanton Baptist Church, a small, rural church located in Germanton, North Carolina. I have been pastor at GBC for a little over two years, but served previously as youth pastor for 13 years.

How do you go about sermon preparation?

Let me start off by saying that I am a planner. I believe that the Holy Spirit who sometimes leads me to change my sermon at the last second for various reasons, is the same Holy Spirit who helps me to know my church and understand what books of the Bible are especially appropriate at a given time. Meaning, I plan my sermon calendar up to a year or more in advance. For example, right now, I am preaching verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians in 2021 with small detours for Easter, Summer, and Christmas.

I preach through books of the Bible 90% of the time. So I know what passage I will be preaching the following Sunday.

My first step in sermon preparation is always praying for the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text, so that I might understand it. Next, I will read the entire context of the passage multiple times. For example, I am currently in the middle of Paul’s praise for God’s salvation found in Ephesians 1:3–14. Even if I am only preaching verses 5–6, I still read the larger context to make sure that I am keeping Paul’s entire thought in view as I hone in on a smaller thought.

After reading the passage multiple times, I try to make an outline of the passage which more often than not turns into my major points. After I have my outline, I begin filling in specific details from the passage under each main point, establishing subpoints that are especially important, and also, making note of important biblical connections that will help my people see the Bible as a unified book. For example, as I preached on adoption into God’s family from Ephesians 1:5–6, I made the important connection to Deuteronomy 7:7 where God reminds Israel that He chose them, not because they were great and righteous, but solely out of His love.

When I feel like I have a good grasp on the passage and I have filled out my outline, I turn to commentaries. I always use a mix of technical, pastoral, and devotional commentaries of the books I preach through. For Ephesians, I currently have ten different commentaries that I refer to throughout the week. What I glean from commentaries helps me know whether I was on the right track in my thinking about the passage. Pastoral and devotional commentaries are also great places to find powerful illustrations and applications that can really bring the passage to life.

At this point, I am 75% done with the sermon. As I try to wrap up my sermon, I turn my attention to specific ways my passage connects to the person and work of Jesus Christ and the mission of God. I ensure that my explanation and applications help my hearers better understand the gospel and how it applies to their life. I try to picture various people who might be listening to my sermon and how the truths of my preaching passage speak to a particular hurt, sin, or situation in their life. Because I believe the entire Bible is somehow connected to the mission of God and what God accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I seek to help my people better understand God’s mission and their place in it.

Finally, I work on my introduction and conclusion. I think through interesting ways to grab my congregation’s attention from the opening words, and how I can wrap everything up in such a way that helps them process the sermon.

What book has impacted your preaching or pastoral ministry? Why do you think it is important for pastors to read this particular book?

The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. No book has opened my eyes to the connection between pastoral care and preaching like The Reformed Pastor. Taking Acts 20:28 as his starting point, Baxter charges pastors to guard themselves and their flocks, recognizing they have been entrusted by God with the care of God’s treasured possession—the Church. Throughout the book, Baxter simultaneously explains what pastors should do to care for themselves and their people and how they can go about doing it to the best of their ability. Precisely because Baxter devoted himself to knowing his people through pastoral care, he came to be known as one of the greatest preachers of the Puritan era. He knew his people, knew the Word of God, and knew how to make disciples through preaching and pastoral care.

What figure from church history has been a source encouragement for pastoral ministry?

This might be cheating, but Richard Baxter. Here’s why. We live in a day where some pastors spend their entire week studying and preparing for their sermons, delegating other matters of pastoral care to other pastors or deacons. But Richard Baxter recognized early on the importance of preaching and pastoral care to the task of shepherding God’s church. His sermons and books have encouraged me that God’s people will grow spiritually if pastors will boldly, faithfully preach the Word of God and pour themselves out as servants to care for their people. His model of pastoral ministry has greatly encouraged me.

If you were speaking to someone new to pastoral ministry, what encouragement would you give?

I would offer two encouragements. First, commit to knowing your people. Brian Croft has said that it might take a new pastor five years to earn the trust of the people so that they see them as a pastor and not just a preacher. But it’s worth it and necessary. Call them, write them, visit them, and spend time doing ordinary things with them. Knowing our people is essential for preaching and pastoral care. Is it hard and frustrating work at times? Absolutely. But it is the call of the shepherd to know his flock and use that knowledge to best serve them and lead them to Christlikeness.

            Second, don’t play the comparison game. Social media, and even conversations with other pastors can make our efforts and ministries seem small and inconsequential compared to others. Comparing ourselves to other pastors and our churches to other churches will only lead to discouragement, the loss of joy, and even worse, pride. Thank God every day for the ministry He has entrusted into your care. Serve faithfully with the gifts God has given you in the ministry context He has planted you. And never forget Paul’s words, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

How can we pray for you?

Pray that I can lead GBC out of our current evangelism rut. For decades, GBC has operated under an events-based evangelism and discipleship model; plan a big event, and pat ourselves on the back when lots of people come, even if no one leaves connected to our church. Pray that God might use me to awaken our hearts to see the importance of making disciples, and the willingness to change.