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.

Faithful Shepherd Friday: Josh Clink

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

This week’s faithful shepherd is Josh Clink. I had the pleasure of being at SEBTS with Josh. I was also blessed to be in the same local church small group were the Lord cultivated an edifying friendship between us. Enjoy getting to know Josh and please make sure to read his prayer requests.

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

I serve at FBC Afton in Afton, NY. It is a small village of 700 in the heart of a larger rural community of 3,000 in upstate NY. I have been here since November 2016, so about 4.5 years.

How do you go about sermon preparation?

My goal is to always remain a week ahead. Sunday afternoon I begin reading and highlighting the passage for the Sunday after next in multiple translations. I try to protect Monday as a day to research and write the sermon for the passage I began reading the previous Sunday. I use the Passage Exegesis Workflow on Logos for my sermon prep on Monday. It is an 11-step process that explores context, literature type, people, events, key words, and cross-references. Tuesday-Thursday I turn my attention to the sermon for the upcoming Sunday, which I would have finished the previous Monday. I seek to commit the sermon to memory and make minor adjustments in preparation for Sunday. I must include a disclaimer. This is a self-imposed goal and I do not always accomplish it, but it is the mark I set for myself.

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

The two books I read when I first began preaching were, He is Not Silent by Albert Mohler and Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson. I did not know how to prepare or how to preach, but both books gave me a framework for sermon preparation and delivery.

Pastoral ministry is a little harder to narrow down, so I will mention a few. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, Revitalize by Andy Davis, and Gospel Eldership by Robert Thune. Another one I will highlight is Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand (IRH) by Paul David Tripp. I believe every pastor should read Tripp’s book and keep it on hand as a resource. My background is in biblical counseling and I do not think pastors are adequately prepared for the need of biblical counseling in local churches. There are a multitude of resources for pastors, but IRH gives an overarching summary for how pastors can do biblical counseling and can equip the church to offer biblical counseling.

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

The first one who comes to mind is C.H. Spurgeon. His sermons are powerful, his commentaries are insightful, and his gifting is evident. But above all these things, I have resonated with Spurgeon’s battle with depression and sadness, which have been well documented in a biography by Arnold Dallimore and an entire book titled Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine. This turmoil in his life and his continued faithfulness in spite of it ministers to my soul in light of sadness, stress, and compassion fatigue I experience in my own ministry.

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

Faithful brothers are almost as valuable as oxygen.

Within my local church, I have two men that I am both discipling for leadership and depending on to share the burden of ministry here.

Within my local region, I have three other pastors that I call, text, pray, and visit with. These men become a sounding board for ministry decisions. They are partners in the faith from the same region and help provide rest for my soul. “Pastor” is a calling, a privilege, a title, and a position, but it is not a core identity. My relationships in the congregation see me as pastor, but these brothers from outside the church see me as a brother in Christ and that makes their relationships essential. One example of practical help has been working together to navigate region-specific decisions regarding ministry during COVID and being able to transition members from one local body to another in a healthy, non-competitive, and God-honoring way.

Outside of my region, I continue to surround myself with a multitude of counselors. Some are pastors, former professors, counselors, and some are mentors, disciplers, and friends. These individuals help make decisions, pray for you, and so much more.

I would encourage everyone in pastoral ministry to find and keep faithful brothers in all three contexts.

How can we pray for you?

Specific to ministry: we have a constitution revision committee that I am a part of to transition our church to become elder-led, and we are interviewing a candidate to come on staff as a pastor of music & youth.

Personal requests: my wife and I have struggled with infertility, having experienced multiple miscarriages over the past couple of years. I am also working on a dissertation for an Ed.D. in biblical counseling.

Faithful Shepherd Friday: Nathaniel Williams

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 Nathaniel Williams. He is the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church and the editor of IntersectProject.org.

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

I serve as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church in Castalia, NC, where I’ve served for more than five years. We’re a small church in a rural area northeast of the Triangle.

How do you go about sermon preparation?

I do sermon preparation in increments throughout the week. On Monday or Tuesday, I study the passage. That process typically involves rewriting the passage by hand, making notes and observations on the text, and taking a prayer walk in which I meditate on the text. In the middle of the week, I consult the commentaries and take another prayer walk to wrap my mind and heart around the passage. (This time is typically when the message takes its shape.) I then write a bullet-point draft by hand, and I conclude by typing my manuscript.

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

The Work of the Pastor by William Still has deeply influenced me, and I’ve read it at least three times in the course of my brief pastoral ministry. Still’s little book is full of razor-sharp quotes, weighty wisdom, and practical suggestions.

In particular, Still speaks to two dangers that most pastors face. We find it abundantly easy to spend our time behind a pulpit preaching reactively and warn about dangers in the world (and rightly so). But Still also encourages us to preach proactively and teach the rich truths of scripture. He writes,

“A shepherd is no mere warder-off of wild beasts. To save the sheep from wild beasts and all other dangers is not to feed them; and if they are not fed, what matters whether they are safe or not? What is the good of being saved to starve?”

Similarly, every pastor has particular subjects or passages of scripture with which he resonates. If left to our own devices, we’d spend all our time addressing these pet subjects. Yet Still compels us to preach the whole counsel of God. He explains,

To keep dipping away into our own pet subjects and giving folk what we like best, or they like best, is not the way to feed the flock. No schoolteacher would get away for long with that cavalier attitude…[We’re called] to the ministry of the whole Word of God.

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

Lesslie Newbigin probably doesn’t count as a figure from church history. But since he died more than 20 years ago, I’m going to cheat and use him anyway.

Why? Newbigin returned to his home Britain after a season as a missionary. Upon returning, he realized that he also needed to treat his home culture as a mission field. I’ve been encouraged by his writings (namely The Gospel in a Pluralist Society and The Open Secret) and his commitment to bringing his neighbors into a missionary encounter with the gospel.

As our culture grows increasingly secular, we’ll need to have a similar posture — interacting with our neighbors not primarily as culture warriors, but as missionaries pointing them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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

First, love the church. Loving the church sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet all of us have had painful or negative church experiences in our past, and this hurt can still linger in our souls.

Ask God to give you his heart for the bride of Christ. Ask him to give you a deep, abiding love for the people under your pastoral care. Ask him to give you a heart not just for serving the church or working at a church, but for loving the church. As one retired pastor once said, “There are three things you need to do to be a successful pastor: Love the people, love the people, love the people.” A hearty Amen to that.

Second, be patient. When I arrived at our church, I made a commitment to myself to try not to change anything for the first year. I wanted to focus all my attention on getting to know the people, meeting the community, and understanding the underlying systems and dynamics between people and ministries. This patience, I think, helped me better understand our church family, and it helped me establish credibility. To quote Bill Gates, “People overestimate how much can be accomplished in a year, and underestimate what can be accomplished in a decade.” No change worth having will happen overnight.

Finally, and most importantly, tend to your own soul. We need to develop spiritual disciplines in our lives to cultivate our love for God and other. We walk on dangerous ground if we seek to do an impossible task (ministering the word of God) in our own strength. And, as Eugene Peterson said, “How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?” We need these rhythms of rest and prayer for the sake of our own souls — and for the sake of our people.

How can we pray for you?

I, like every other pastor, am fatigued after a year of COVID ministry. In all likelihood, a return to normalcy will be slow. In some ways, it feels like we’ll have to start from scratch. So pray for me (and all pastors) as we seek to serve our churches well in this season.

Also, one of the beautiful benefits of the past year has been spending more time with my wife and children. Pray that we would still prioritize this time even when we begin to creep back to normalcy.

Faithful Shepherd Friday: Josh Greene

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 Josh Greene who serves at First Baptist Church in Fairdale, KY. I had the pleasure of being a member of FBCF while at Boyce College and I served under him as youth pastor from 2010-2012.

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

First Baptist Church Fairdale. I began as the youth pastor in 2003 and became Lead Pastor in 2009. 18 years total. 12 as pastor.

How do you go about sermon preparation?

3 Phases of Sermon Preparation for me:

1) I know by Sunday evening/Monday morning what my text is for the upcoming Sunday. I pray through the outline. I aim to have a rough outline by Monday.

2) Then the rest of the week I study. Read commentaries. I have no real set schedule, just whenever I have free time. Sometimes on the go, sometimes in my office, sometimes at home. And a large portion of that preparation is working through it all mentally as to how I will deliver it.

3) I start putting it down on paper on Friday/Saturday.

– Lots of prayer goes into sermon preparation.
– Very little effort goes into illustrations.
– I am always thinking of a few people in the congregation who I know will be there and thinking of how can I preach in a way they will receive well.
– I still use paper notes.

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

  1. Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan). It makes me think so much about who the people are I’m preaching to and what they are going through. Life is so hard. Everyone that shows up to church is struggling. They are wondering, “Is this worth it?” They ask, “Can this truth sustain me and satisfy me?”

2. Preaching and Preachers (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). So good!

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

I’m not sure I have one. I think the biggest influence is knowing how many saints suffered and yet stayed faithful. Jesus was their reward. Today churches pay a lot, people move around a lot, and there is lots of vain attention to receive. Many from church history are an inspiration and example to be simple, humble, and faithful.

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

1.You don’t have to be great like your heroes. You need to serve God as yourself.
2. Spend as much time as you can with your people. Visit. Visit. Visit.
3. Stay off social media.
4. Out work your people. Never ever let them think you are lazy.
5. Discipling your family is more important than anyone else you will disciple.
6. Stay as long as you can.

How can we pray for you?

That God would make me a good husband and dad.

Eugene Peterson: “Journey with Jonah: A Vocational Spirituality”

I recently stumbled across four lectures given by Eugene Peterson at Acadia Divinity College in 1991. Primarily drawing from Jonah, Peterson argues that pastoral ministry is a vocation of spirituality. To no surprise, they are thought provoking, convicting, and often hilarious. I wanted to collect them here for those, who like me, have a genuine interest in Peterson’s vision of pastoral ministry.

Lecture 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZS7-s6rn3I

Lecture 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcOVPispXIs

Lecture 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbjy2DzwiCs

Lecture 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAKRULAUQVE

Enjoy!

Reflections on Reading: Top 10 Reads of 2020

Last year I blogged about every book I read in 2019. It was fun to do and even helped open the door to write about reading at Intersect. This year I simply want to share my ten favorite reads in 2020. I hope you’ll consider purchasing these books to not only learn from these authors, but to also support them.

  1. Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund. I didn’t realize how much I need this book until I was turning its pages. What I found was so comforting I’ll certainly read it again. Read this book and feel the warmth of Christ’s heart for you, “Your anguish is his home.”

2. 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory, Mitchell Chase. When I was a college Freshman I was assigned Graeme Golsworthy’s According to Plan. It transformed the way I saw the Bible and deepened my love for the Holy Scriptures. I think Chase’s books will do the same for many undergrad students in the future. It is absolutely excellent. Buy one, read it, and then buy one for a friend.

3.Hearers and Doers, Kevin Vanhoozer. I loved this book because it distills many of the ideas in Vanhoozers’ Drama of Doctrine into an accessible discipleship guide for pastors. He writes, “The true end of theology, its final purpose, is not an orthodox compendium of doctrine but an orthodox community of disciples who embody the mind of Jesus Christ everywhere, to everyone, at all times.” Appealing, yes?

4. Baptists and The Christian Tradition, Ed. Matthew Emerson, R. Lucas Stamps, and Christopher Morgan. Excellent from beginning to end. This multi-authored volume builds a house upon the stable foundation laid at The Center for Baptist Renewal (http://www.centerforbaptistrenewal.com/). Rather than a isolationist Baptist vision these contributors “affirm the distinctive contributions of the Baptist tradition as a renewal movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

Each contribution is well worth your time and money. The chapters by Putman, Stamps, Bruce, Whitfield, and Dockery were especially helpful to me

5. He Descended to the Dead, Matthew Emerson. The highest praise I can give this book is that it persuaded me to change my mind. Emerson convincingly shows that the doctrine of Christ’s descent to the dead is a biblical doctrine and historically warranted in the church’s tradition. Emerson clarifies misunderstandings and anticipates common objections. Nearly all my previous misunderstandings and hesitations were addressed and sufficiently answered.

The breadth of research is impressive and results in a thorough survey about how the descent relates to other vital doctrines in Christian theology and the Christian life. Emerson’s careful, but doxological writing style makes this book both educational and edifying. It is worthy to be purchased, read, and revisited.

6. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders. Very good. I am grateful for such an accessible and edifying book on the Trinity. I’ll be using this book for years to come for discipleship and to help in my own preaching ministry. I highly recommend it!

7. Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley, Harold Senkbeil. Harold Senkbeil has quickly become one of my favorite authors. It is brief, but in it he ministers to the weary with the heart of Christ.

8. Pagans and Christians in the City, Steven Smith. I don’t normally read books written by law professors, but this was worth it. Rather than commenting on its contents, I want to mention the clarity of writing. This may be one of the better written academic books I’ve ever read. He clears up the complicated and makes his analysis accessible. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to better understand the current state of the culture wars.

9. An Infinite Journey, Andrew M. Davis. This is as thorough of a book on sanctification you will find. In my opinion, Davis is a model pastor-theologian. Read this book and continue your journey in being conformed to the image of Christ.

10. Bush, Jean Edward Smith. A fascinating and accessible biography of President George W. Bush. Smith is fair, but also critical. Consider the first sentence of the preface, “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” Smith’s cards may be a little too much on the table at times, but he is certainly worth reading. My hope is to read one presidential biography a year and i’ll be sure to watch for any written by Smith.

Pressure and Priority in Pastoral Ministry

At any given moment pastoral ministry presents pressures, real and perceived, upon the pastor. Sermons need to be written and then delivered; members need to be cared for, visitors contacted, plans developed and vision casted. The church won’t run or grow itself after all.

These pressures can leave the pastor overwhelmed about where to begin or exhausted because of all the unfocused beginning he has already done. The uniqueness of 2020 has only exacerbated these problems. We are living in the middle of a global health crisis, a fractured society still struggling to repent and reconcile over racism, and political polarization that gives the appearance that even Christians loath their neighbor rather than love them. This is the field that pastors are navigating in 2020. This is not a complaint. Shepherding the flock of God through this minefield is the pastors joy (1 Peter 5:1-5).

However, this unique season leads to a number of new pressures. Social media often calls pastors to do a number of things. These calls often imply that pastors are generalists who must play CEO, counselor, sociologist, advocate, activist, and social worker. All of these are good things, but the pastoral vocation is much more particular than the general pressures often placed upon pastors. The great tradition of pastoral ministry refers to the pastor as the spiritual director and refers to his work as the care/cure of souls. Pastors have the unique task of unapologetically connecting God and his Word to people’s coming and goings: life, work, and play.

Where do pastors begin and what should they spend their time doing?

Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles 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 bread, a sip of wine make?”

A great deal actually, but let’s come back to that. 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 particular 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.”

Paul highlights the particular focus of the pastoral vocation in his letter to Timothy.

 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 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 Timothy 4:13-16

Notice the language that Paul uses, “devote”, “do not neglect”, “practice”, and “immerse.” The ministry of the Word is not one of many equal things the pastor does. It is the primary priority of what the pastor does. In the wreckage of life the pastor ministers the word of God to “save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim. 4:16) The Spirit works to save us through the ministry of the Word of God.

In the Supper we feast on the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ as we remember his body broken for us and his blood shed for us. We proclaim his death and wait with hope for his return (1 Cor. 11:23-26). What difference can a little water, a piece of bread, a sip of wine make? A great deal actually.

The pressures that pastors feel during this tumultuous season can lead to doubt, discouragement, and feelings of failure. But pastors have never been called to be everywhere and do everything.

To borrow the language of Peterson, they can find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: word and sacrament.

Reflections on Reading

I have always enjoyed keeping up with what other people are reading. One of the redeeming qualities about social media is that new books find you through friends and acquaintances as they talk about them. In years past I would share a picture of my favorite reads from that particular year on social media. This year I have decided to write brief reflections on each book I completed. I hope you enjoy!


1.) Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham. Confession: I read a vast majority of this biography in December of 2018, but I finished it in 2019. Meacham delivers everything you would want in a biography. It is based on sound research, well written, and informative. When readers reach the final page they will certainly concur with President Obama’s remarks that George H. W. Bush was “one of our most underrated Presidents.”

2.) Frederick Douglass: A Prophet of Freedom by David Blight. This was an early Christmas gift purchased while visiting the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. The story of Frederick Douglass is truly fascinating. Douglass, who is often cited on social media to support a whole host of issues, was a much more complicated figure than social media allows. Various parts of his own life betray some tweets that hope to claim him. I can’t well represent the breadth of research and writing in one paragraph, but Blight’s book is informative as it is moving and I highly recommend it.

3.) The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. A breath of fresh air. Peterson wants pastors to be unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. He reminds pastors they are not God, but are called to minister the Word and Sacraments to the people of God. His instructions on prayer, small-talk, and poetry are challenging and edifying. This was my introduction to Peterson, but it certainly won’t be the last time I read him.

4.) The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. This book wrecked me and I haven’t quite recovered. Every seminary student should be required to read it.

5.) The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen. I read this book slowly at a chapter a day beginning in late 2018 and finishing it in early 2019. Based on the questions of the Westminster Catechism, Allen has given pastors a catechesis for pastoral ministry. I have already gifted it to other pastors and will do so for years to come.

6.) The Gospel-Driven Church by Jared Wilson. If I could somehow get every member of my church to read one book, this might be the one. Wilson reframes the church growth conversation around the gospel and encourages pastors to prayerfully labor for healthy growth that can only come from God’s work in the gospel. It is written with humility and a pastoral heart. The major strength of this book is that it is not merely theoretical. Often books will give you a gospel vision for ministry and never tell you how to move forward. Wilson offers his vision of a gospel-driven church and then offers an abundance of helpful counsel for how to lead with humility and navigate change. I highly recommend this book to anyone in ministry.

7.) The Greatest Fight in the World by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon is never dull and always edifying. He encourages pastors to remember their armoury (The Bible), their army (the church), and their strength (Holy Spirit).

8.) The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry. Although published 72 years ago it is as relevant as ever. Evangelicals would do well to turn to Henry again in this “just preach the gospel” moment.

9.) Secular Sacraments by Dustin Messer. Each essay in this collection is clear and thoughtful. Some are hilarious. All are honoring to Christ. Buy a copy and let Dustin show you how to engage culture with a Biblical worldview.

10.) The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson. I read this the week I taught on the love of God during our Attributes of God series. God’s love is certainly a difficult doctrine and this a delightful exposition of it.

11.) A Theology of Mark by Hans Bayer. An excellent treatment of the biblical and theological themes of the Gospel According to Mark. Bayer’s explanation of Christian discipleship is challenging, but encouraging. His exposition of Mark 8:34 is well worth the price of the book.

12.) Mere Calvinism by Jim Orrick. Mere Calvinism accomplishes its goal of introducing the doctrines of grace to a popular audience. Orrick writes with a pastoral heart and he is sure to edify readers.

13.) Growing Up by Robby Gallaty. Offers a helpful model for cultivating a culture of discipleship. It is not a perfect book, but it is a helpful book for mobilizing people who might otherwise be intimidated by discipling another person. There are really useful appendices and we’ve already seen a benefit at Hermon after applying some of Gallaty’s ideas.

14). A Peculiar Glory by John Piper. This is perhaps my favorite book by John Piper and that is saying a lot. He begins with some introductory matters on the cannon, transmission, and translation but he then moves on to a robust treatment of the doctrine of Scripture. I agree with John Frame, “Perhaps only John Piper could have written this book, and I’m delighted that he has done so.” I can’t imagine someone finishing this book not having grown in their love for the Bible.

15.) In Search of the Common Good by Jake Meador. In his first book Meador gives us a thoughtful diagnosis of our fractured communities and offers hope for Christians living in society. Meador teaches members of the city of God to seek the common good while living in the city of man.

16.) The Pastor and Counseling by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju. A helpful apologetic for why pastors need to be counseling the flock of God. The authors provide practical guidance on everything from scheduling to note taking to homework for the counselee.

17.) An Approach to Extended Scripture Memorization by Andrew M. Davis. This booklet is a game changer. It is has significantly impacted my spiritual formation and I now give it to all our new members at Hermon.

18.) Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals by Gavin Ortlund. This book is excellent and easily one of my favorite reads of the year. I said a lot about this book in a previous post, so let me just say here that I highly recommend it.

19.) The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil. It is hard to put into words how much this book meant to me this year. I will return to it again and again as I hope develop my pastoral habitus. In a space filled with books on how to be the next church growth guru with a billion twitter followers, Senkbeil gives us a vision of the pastoral life focused on the ministry of the Word and the Ordinances. To use his words, we are merely sheep-dogs for the Chief-Shepherd.

20.) On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria. Excellent. Cyril tackles a number of questions about Christ’s incarnation with biblical and theological fidelity, exposing the Nestorian error for what it is: heresy. It should also be said that the Popular Patristic edition includes an informative and well written introduction by John A. McGurkin. I wish I would have read it years ago.

21.) What Christians Ought to Believe by Michael Bird. This is an excellent introduction to the Christian faith through the Apostles’ Creed. As always, Bird writes with wit and humor without sacrificing substance. I imagine using it for discipleship directly and indirectly throughout my ministry

22.) Affirming the Apostles’ Creed by J.I. Packer. A helpful commentary on the Apostles’ Creed by one of most thoughtful and influential theologians in evangelicalism, J.I. Packer. At times Dr. Packer’s book reads more like a book on reformation theology than a commentary on a creed given to the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Nevertheless, Packer is always worth reading and this is no exception.

23.) The Apostles’ Creed by R. Albert Mohler. A very well written book. The strengths of this book are its introduction and conclusion. At times Mohler falls into the same trap Dr. Packer does. His neglect to give the descent clause a fuller treatment is disappointing. But as I said of J.I Packer, Dr. Mohler is always worth reading and this is no exception. The closing pages of this books nearly made me cry. What a privilege it is to stand and confess this great tradition.

24.) The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to Ancient Catechism by Ben Myers. This a true commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. The new Lexham series in which this book is a part is beautifully done.

Commentaries

I am including the commentaries I read cover to cover as I preached through the Gospel of Mark.

25.) Mark (BECNT) by Robert Stein. Good. Stein is overly dismissive of OT allusions and echoes, but all in all this is a treasure of research and information.

26.) A Gospel of Mark (NIGTC) by R.T. France. The single best commentary on the Gospel of Mark in print.

27.) The Gospel According to Mark (PNTC) by James Edwards. This is a really great commentary on Mark. Edwards isn’t allergic to OT allusions and echoes, does good biblical and theological interpretation, and includes helpful excursus on difficult passages and special themes.

28.) Exalting Jesus in Mark (CCE) by Danny Akin. A great homiletical commentary with helpful application.

Tolle Lege!