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November 6, 2015

If anyone’s fully qualified to write a comprehensive manual on best practices of pastoral ministry, surely it is R. Kent Hughes.

Hughes served 41 years in pastoral ministry, including 27 at College Church outside Chicago. He’s also authored numerous books, including Disciplines of a Godly Man (Crossway, 2007) and Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life (Crossway, 2003), and serves as editor of Crossway’s Preaching the Word series. He’s written several volumes in that series, including commentaries on Acts, Ephesians, Colossians, and Hebrews.

His newest book, written with contributing editor Douglas Sean O’Donnell, will no doubt become a go-to manual for pastors. The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (Crossway) is a wide-ranging and delightfully detailed 592-page work that offers wisdom on many aspects central to pastoral ministry—from the elements that compose a Christ-centered worship service to the important tasks of pastoral counseling and visiting the sick. I asked TGC Council member Hughes about The Pastor’s Book, reflections on four decades in ministry, wisdom for young pastors, and more.


The Pastor’s Book is comprehensive, covering everything from the ordering of worship services, to hospital visits, to the use of creeds, to selection of hymns for worship, to conducting funerals and weddings. What was the inspiration behind the book?

Lane Dennis, president of Crossway, asked me to consider the idea of authoring a book on pastoring, drawing on more than 40 years in ministry. I had never thought of such a project. But I agreed to give it some thought, which I did for several weeks, racking my brain as to what I would’ve liked to have had in a single “go to” volume for pastors.

The subjects that came to mind were: Sunday worship, annual services, weddings, funerals, public prayers, the use of creeds, hymns and songs, baptism, communion, pastoral counseling, and hospital visitation. I also asked that the book not suffer from brevity and lack of specificity. So, for example, in the past I wished for some sample homilies for marriages and funerals, so I suggested ten (which I did get!).

I then met with Dennis and team of editors and presented them with the tentative outline of topics covering a broad range of ministry that, after some discussion, they enthusiastically endorsed. Happily, Douglas Sean O’Donnell agreed to serve as contributing editor. And so the work began.

As a pastor I realize seminary prepared me well to do things like select and exegete a text, illustrate sermons, and teach doctrine, but there were many things in everyday ministry for which it could not prepare me. If you could address seminarians transitioning into real-life ministry, what one thing would you say?

I’d say that if you’re committed, as I was, to a gospel-centered expository pulpit, you might be tempted to imagine that alone constitutes a gospel ministry. Well, the pulpit is certainly central (I devoted about 20 hours per week to sermon preparation, which amounted to some 24,000 hours while at College Church), but that centrality was the “ground game” for gospel ministry.

In truth, some of the things we may regard as diversions are in fact immensely gospel-freighted opportunities—events like weddings and funerals and hospital visitation. The Pastor’s Book posits that all ministry is, and must be, gospel-centered.

You write about the imaginary but ideal church, and ask the reader to ruminate on the question, “What does your biblical ideal of corporate worship look like?” What would your ideal corporate worship service include?

It would be a service of the Word in which the biblical text informs the shape and progress of the service so that the choice of songs, the Scripture reading(s), and the prayers would all elevate the preaching of the Word and exalt Christ. This kind of intentionality requires a lot of hard thinking and prayer from pastors and church leaders.

The Pastor’s Book includes an excellent section on hospital visits. I haven’t seen much written on that and similar topics like member visitation. But time is short for pastors; why not devote our limited time to sermon preparation, which benefits everyone, and trust others to handle visitation and care duties?  

Certainly a pastor isn’t doing his job if he imagines visitation is his singular domain. In fact, it unwittingly shadows a Roman Catholic view of ministry—that one hasn’t been truly visited by God unless the padre (you!) shows up. It implies your prayers and presence are more efficacious than those of the other elders and the flock. Indeed, this unfortunate view is reflected in many traditional and fundamentalist churches that expect the pastor to do all visitation of the sick. That said, the pastor who delegates all visitation to others will be functionally out of touch with his people (and it will show in his preaching).

When he visits, the pastor will be with families in their deepest times of crisis. And in all instances, he’ll be ministering to far more people than the sick and dying. And the deep needs to which he ministers will afford sweet gospel opportunities. This means the visitation of the hospitalized doesn’t derail the pastor from ministry, but is central to it. Of course, a church must seek to be organized so the ill are being cared for by elders, deacons, deaconesses, and the caring flock.

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A month later (May 1942) two Lutheran clergymen made direct contact with the British in Stockholm. These were Dr. Hans Schoenfeld, a member of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the German Evangelical Church, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an eminent divine and an active conspirator, who on hearing that Dr. George Bell, the Anglican Bishop of Chichester, was visiting in Stockholm hastened there to visit him–Bonhoeffer traveling incognito on forged papers provided him by Colonel Oster of the Abwehr.

Both pastors informed the bishop of the plans of the conspirators and…inquired whether the Western Allies would make a decent peace with a non-Nazi government once Hitler had been overthrown. They asked for an answer–either by a private message or by a public announcement. To impress the bishop that the anti-Hitler conspiracy was a serious business, Bonhoeffer furnished him with a list  of the names of the leaders–an indiscretion which later was to cost him and to make certain the execution of many of the others. 

~ William L Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1320-1321.

Christianity and Homosexuality: A Review of Books

A sign of this cultural moment is the wave of new books—from very divergent points of view—that have come out recently treating this topic. So over the next few months I will be reviewing several of these books. It’s my way as a pastor to point people to those volumes that both fit in with biblical teaching and are pastorally wise and sensitive, as well as those books that, for all their good intentions, are mistaken and unhelpful.

The first two books I’ll review are both written by authors who hold two things in common. In Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay? Questions Christians Ask and Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, both authors relate that they are sexually attracted to the same gender, but at the same time, in the words of Hill, they testify:

“to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost total unanimity throughout the centuries—namely, that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity…and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.”

It says something about the clarity of the Bible’s teaching that neither of them can find any loopholes in the traditional Christian position, but affirm it completely. Hill, who is a New Testament scholar, sums up the biblical material nicely (and briefly) in his first chapter.

Allberry’s book does so as well and, though it is a shorter book overall, he gives the biblical teaching more sustained attention. There are two basic parts to it.

First, every place the Bible directly addresses sexual relations between people of the same gender, it is always unambiguously forbidden. This is not only true in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22) but also in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9,10; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Romans 1:18-32).

Allberry says the more he looks at the Bible the more he is convinced that what it says about homosexuality “makes most sense in light of what it says in general about sex and marriage.”

I would add that the Bible’s prohibitions are not motivated by animosity toward people with same sex attraction. Rather, they are there because homosexual practice doesn’t fit with God’s wonderful purposeful design for sexuality in our lives. Even the design of male and female bodies testifies to this design.

This purposeful design is made clear in at least three ways.

First, sex was given to men and women to enable whole life covenant bonding. God made sex to be a commitment-deepener—a way to say to someone else “I belong completely to you.”

Therefore it is only for use inside marriage, where it is designed to operate as a way to constantly renew, remake and re-energize your covenant with love and joy so it does not grow old or cold.

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JANUARY 22, 2013

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

Two new books are now available for the Lenten season from Westminster John Knox Press.

God Is on the Cross from Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents forty stirring devotions to guide and inspire readers through Lent and Easter. Each day of the season includes a Scripture passage, with the devotions following themes of prayerful reflection, self-denial, temptation, suffering, and the meaning of the cross. Passages from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters and sermons are also included, along with an informative introduction to Bonhoeffer’s life.

Bonhoeffer (1906-45) was a Christian minister, seminary professor, and theologian who became one of the leading voices of opposition against Nazism during World War II. He was a founding member of Germany’s Confessing Church and was executed for participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler. His theological views have become highly influential in the years since his death.

Also available for Lent is N. T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C. The popular scholar and author provides his own Scripture translation, brief reflection, and a prayer for each of the days of the season, helping readers ponder how the text is relevant to their own lives today. By the end of the book readers will have been through the entirety of Luke, along with Psalm readings for each Sunday.

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Being A Pastor Is Not For Wimps – It’s A Dangerous Calling

dangerous calling

The Ministry Best Practices Staff will be on vacation and will be entering a “tech-free” zone. Therefore for the week we are sharing some of the best of MBP. Some of the content has been repurposed and updated.

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are:

  • The President of the United States
  • A university president
  • A CEO of a hospital and
  • A pastor

Do you believe that?

Some of you may think that it’s a dream job. You can read the Bible all day, pray, play a little golf and preach.

Here is the secret. Being a pastor is hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart.

The reality is – the job of a pastor can be 24/7 and carry unique challenges. Some pastors wear themselves out trying to help people. Some wound their family because they are so involved in ministry. Others flourish in their ministry and personal life.  Here are a couple of statistics about pastors.

  • 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
  • 40% report a conflict with a church member at least once a month. (Tweet This)
  • 85% of pastors said their greatest problem is they are tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors.
  • The #1 reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.
  • 40% of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months. (Tweet This)
  • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend. (Tweet This)
  • 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. (Tweet This)
  • 70% felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 50% still felt called.
  • 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close. (Tweet This)
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year. (Tweet This)
  • Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year. (Tweet This)
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 45.5 % of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.

According to the Barna report – the profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman”.

This is a most dangerous and difficult calling – not to be entered into lightly – and it is a calling that is in dire need of the prayers and support of those in the church, family and of close, personal confidants.  That begs the question, are you praying for your pastor?

– See more at: http://www.ministrybestpractices.com/2015/02/being-pastor-is-not-for-wimps-its.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FcLZC+%28Ministry+Best+Practices%29#sthash.ijkBGGnh.dpuf

 

“Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross; he waited until one of them turned to him.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1987-074-16, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.jpg

“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” 

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

In the Summer 2014 Edition of the publication, International Bonhoeffer Society Newsletter, there is a review of Charles Marsh’s book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The reviewer is Javier Alejandro Garcia (Doctoral Student at the University of Cambridge, England). Garcia wrote that “a distinctive feature of this biography is its closer examination of Bonhoeffer’s close friendship with Eberhard Bethge…Marsh inquires further, however, into the exact nature of Bonhoeffer’s feelings for Bethge. Although tactfully never putting a name to such feelings, he nevertheless insists on the question.”

Since the publication of Strange Glory, there has much speculation of the sexuality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Garcia’s words are helpful in this regard…

Despite Marsh’s implicating interpretation of the facts and correspondence, the matter remains complex. For one, it must be recognized that our modern conception of homosexuality cannot be superimposed onto  Bonhoeffer’s time, where the norms of male relationships, would have been entirely different. Certain behaviors, such as sharing a bedroom or bank account (only two of the many examples provided), would not have raised the questions then that they may now. Our intensified cultural sensitivity to this topic should not provoke assumptions about a culture and time significantly distinct from our own.

Moreover, several factors in Bonhoeffer’s life complicate this claim. Whether actively, as in the case of his eventual fiancé Maria von Wedemeyer, or passively, as in his epistolary exchange with Elizabeth Zinn, Bonhoeffer pursued romantic relationships with women. His love letters to Maria contain such moving affection that renders the authenticity of his emotion undeniable. In the same vein, Bethge maintained a clear platonic stance towards his friend. Although ever a faithful and obliging companion, Bethge resisted Bonhoeffer’s possessiveness and prioritized his marriage over friendship. Ultimately, such retrospective speculation proves futile, as we will never know what exactly Bonhoeffer felt for Bethge, except for the obvious fact of close friendship. Indeed, it would behoove us to heed Bonhoeffer’s warning against such prying psychological curiosity.

What then are the readers to make of this possibility? Nothing much, in this author’s opinion. The conjecture changes nothing of the enduring impact of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology.   

Three contrarians with the courage of their convictions

  • Bishop Henry Benajamin Whipple (Newscom/Picture History/Mathew Brady)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the courtyard of the prison in Berlin-Tegel in 1944 (Newscom/akg-images)
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As Margery Kempe, Henry Benjamin Whipple, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw it, silence in the face of evil was just plain wrong. None of them has been declared a saint. But as these three biographies attest, when you’re speaking out against the prevailing culture, you shouldn’t expect honorifics.

ss10102014p12pha.jpgSKIRTING HERESY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MARGERY KEMPE
By Elizabeth MacDonald
Published by Franciscan Media, $16.99

Margery Kempe (circa 1373-1438) was willful, inner-directed and self-determined — many would say to a fault. Some called her a scold and a troublemaker. Some in the Roman Catholic hierarchy called her a heretic — a Lollard. (The Lollards, who were prevalent during Kempe’s era, questioned the doctrine of transubstantiation.) Still others considered Kempe a saint.

Elizabeth MacDonald portrays Kempe as a feminist before her time. Writing in a clear, no-nonsense style, MacDonald, a business reporter, weaves medieval history with material from Kempe’s memoir, dictated in approximately 1436. This memoir, The Book of Margery Kempe, is considered the first English autobiography. That it was fashioned by a woman is another first.

Kempe, a Roman Catholic, lived in the town of Bishop’s Lynn and led an unexceptional life until she became gravely ill for eight months after the birth of the first of her 14 children. During this time, she experienced, as MacDonald tells it, visions from the divine as well as the demonic, in which she was commanded to forsake her faith and to commit suicide.

Before she was driven to do either, she claimed she heard the voice of Jesus Christ speaking to her. Thus began the mystical phase of Kempe’s life that continued until her death. Kempe’s mysticism was characterized by frequent visits from and conversations with Jesus, as well as with some of the saints. Kempe also had moments of ecstasy in which she sobbed loudly, while believing herself to be present during the crucifixion.

Kempe lived in an age when religious hypocrisy à la The Canterbury Tales was rampant. Reformers like John Wycliffe questioned the authority of the Roman Catholic church and its teachings regarding indulgences, relics and the Eucharist. They also advocated for an English translation of the Bible.

At this time, women were not allowed to preach the Gospel and couldn’t travel without men. Yet Kempe managed to do both. She made several pilgrimages and traveled to the Holy Land. She chastised her neighbors’ wrongdoings as well as that of town and church leaders. If she saw fault with the actions of mayors, priests and bishops, she let them know about it. She was never one to keep her thoughts to herself, and as seen in this entertaining biography, that was a good thing.

ss10102014p12phb.jpgLINCOLN’S BISHOP: A PRESIDENT, A PRIEST, AND THE FATE OF 300 DAKOTA SIOUX WARRIORS
By Gustav Niebuhr
Published by HarperOne, $26.99

During the Dakota War of 1862, Indian tribes killed 800 or more Minnesota settlers, some of them women and children. How could anyone — let alone the Episcopal bishop of Minnesota — excuse their actions?

The question informs Lincoln’s Bishop, Gustav Niebuhr’s revealing biography of Henry Benjamin Whipple (1822-1901). Niebuhr looks at the massacre and what led up to it, as well as several key players, including Whipple and President Abraham Lincoln. Although Niebuhr’s writing tends to be circuitous and wordy, it paints a convincing portrait of both a man and an era.

The central action concerns the punishment by hanging of more than 300 Indians who were involved in the war and Whipple’s campaign against the mass hanging. When the war, which lasted only a few months, ended, most Americans wanted to punish the Dakotas, even tribal members who had tried to help the white settlers. It was determined that all 300 Indians would be put to death.

As Niebuhr explains it, Whipple didn’t excuse the Indian attacks on white settlers of Minnesota so much as he tried to explain the Indians’ rationale. Whipple, who sympathized with those who were less fortunate, had been trained to observe the golden rule. According to Niebuhr, he had also been influenced by an elderly neighbor raised by an Indian family.

Whipple had come to know individual Indians as human beings and as part of his Episcopal congregation. He argued that the Indians were not bloody savages. They were angry human beings who realized the extent of the injustices committed against them.

Whipple launched a public relations effort on behalf of the Indians, sending numerous petitions and letters to political leaders, including Lincoln. He published articles in newspapers and traveled around the country preaching about the injustice visited on the Indians.

Whipple’s campaign exposed the corruption in the federal government’s Office of Indian Affairs. He showed how the Indians had been swindled out of their land and then were not given the annuities they had been promised. Forced into reservations and with a dwindling supply of food, the Indians were desperate. They were hungry and afraid for their well-being.

Whipple had an independent streak and a strong sense of right and wrong. He argued his point convincingly. And despite the country’s negative feelings toward the Indians, he convinced Lincoln to spare the lives of 275 Dakota Indians. Later, Whipple’s life was threatened by angry whites. Today, Whipple is little known, his actions overshadowed by the Civil War and issues regarding slavery. But at a time when most clerics — Protestants and Roman Catholics — avoided taking sides in anything that seemed political, Whipple was one of the few who stood up for his convictions. And, according to Niebuhr, if that’s not memorable, it should be.

ss10102014p12phc.jpgSTRANGE GLORY: A LIFE OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER
By Charles Marsh
Published by Knopf, $35

A Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45) joined the Nazi resistance and spoke up for the Jews when almost no one else — including Roman Catholic bishops — had the courage to do so. Bonhoeffer stood against Nazism and Aryanism while German Protestant churches of the time accepted both as part of their belief system. He also insisted that Christ was the head of Christianity — not Adolf Hitler, as the Nazis claimed.

Beginning with the halcyon days of Bonhoeffer’s youth, Charles Marsh’s scrupulously written biography opens with his undergraduate and graduate studies and the influence of his mentors, including Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr. He covers Bonhoeffer’s postgraduate studies in the United States, where he was deeply affected by Negro spirituals and the plight of minorities, as well as by his work as seminary professor in underground seminaries. Also included is a controversial section on his possibly romantic relationship with Eberhard Bethge.

The biography concludes with Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment and final writings (which Marsh considers his finest), and his ultimate martyrdom that, according to Marsh, wasn’t as painless as is often portrayed.

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Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
by Charles Marsh
knopf, 528 pages, $35

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s appeal is no mystery: charismatic pastor, brilliant theologian, dedicated ecumenist, and anti-Nazi conspirator whose death at the age of thirty-nine terminated a life still ripe with promise. Interest in him in the English-speaking world blossomed when his prison writings first appeared in translation, and it has only grown with time. In recent years, however, that legacy has been complicated by those who have exploited his moral prestige by inducting him into the culture wars currently dividing the churches.

Admittedly, Bonhoeffer, a man of many turns, lends himself to a number of widely different readings. Do we favor the student of Harnack or the devotee of Barth? The pacifist or the conspirator to kill Hitler? The child of privilege who never lost his taste for the finer things or the man who identified with the marginalized and the outcast? The celebrator of the earthy sensibility of the Old Testament or the proponent of “a new kind of monasticism” who never married?

Charles Marsh’s Strange ­Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer approaches these questions on Bonhoeffer’s terms rather than our own. Marsh, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, gives us a sympathetic and theologically informed portrait that emphasizes Bonhoeffer’s close and enduring ties to Christian orthodoxy, but also his restless curiosity and experimentalism. This balance extends to his treatment of Bonhoeffer’s personal life, which gives us the man in full, freed from sentimental projections.

Marsh has the right idea in bringing Bonhoeffer down to earth. Hagiography is not history, and Bonhoeffer’s story is so compelling that apotheosis is hard to resist. It’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone who met the zealous young advocate for life in community and the Sermon on the Mount was ­equally impressed—Hardy Arnold, son of the founder of the pacifist Bruderhof near Frankfurt, thought Bonhoeffer a bit of a dandy and a romantic when Bonhoeffer visited there in 1934. We learn about Bonhoeffer’s fussiness about dress, his financial dependence on his parents (to the point of mailing his laundry home), and his pleasure in traveling first class. These habits weren’t dented by the Depression, from which he seems to have been wholly insulated. But none of this is a serious mark against the overall character of the man, whom Marsh regards with unabashed affection and profound respect.

That applies too to his candid presentation of Bonhoeffer’s friendship with Eberhard Bethge, his former student, collaborator, interlocutor, and eventual relative after Bethge married Bonhoeffer’s niece Renate. Readers of this review probably know by now that Marsh treats the friendship as a de facto love affair, at least from Bonhoeffer’s side. On the evidence he presents, in the form of quotations and accounts of various incidents, the characterization is convincing. This was a rich and deep friendship, and its intensity did not lack a certain erotic charge. I don’t know how that can come as a great surprise to anyone with much experience in human friendship, whether same-sex or different-sex. Simply put, Bonhoeffer was in love. While we should hesitate to pass an anachronistic judgment on his behavior, we can at least restrain the celebrations of his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, as his true love, the heroine for the perfect hero—celebrations that were inspired by the publication of their correspondence in Love Letters from Cell 92. Von ­Wedemeyer would never match the role that Bethge played in ­Bonhoeffer’s intellectual and ­emotional life.

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