Call it What You Will

… and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
~ Genesis 2:19

By any other name

So, you’re a square thinker. Not a creative.” He lifted the sleeved cup off the lunchette table and sipped. There it was. After a few minutes of conversation between sips of Starbucks, this manager had assessed and labeled me. As he savored his macchiato, or whatever the froofy drink was, his eyes barely concealed the calculations happening behind them. He was a manager. I was looking for a job. He sized me up and played mental Tetris to see if I fit in his organization.

Since I don’t know what a creative is, I’m not complaining about not being one. I’m not sure about the square thinking either, but it’s no big deal. I had assessed him in a few minutes as well. The way he carried himself, the sound of his voice, and some of the phrases he used fit with his graying temples, highwall haircut, and the fact his clothing was crisp even though he was dressed casually for the office. I guessed former military. Maybe in service he honed his skills for reading people and he pegged me quickly. I don’t know.

Don’t Put Me in a Box

Everyone chafes a bit at being labeled. Most everyone thinks they’re such special individuals they defy labels and social constructs. We are just like a group of so many teenagers who must express their unique individuality by all having pink hair and nose rings. I just gotta be me, man. We are like men without chests and with small souls, who think they can augment the inside by leasing space on the outside for expression from a creative. The dragon slithers down the arm, peeking out of the sleeve, and almost making a hiss. All the while, the real dragon remains unseen with his foot on the guy’s neck. Some prefer their labels applied directly to the forehead.

Labels are unavoidable and not all bad. Men have been categorizing and labeling things since the Garden of Eden, and since being kicked out of the garden, they’ve been getting a lot of it wrong. The act of naming is not sinful, but usurping authority to rename what God has already named, is. Maybe that is trying to be a creative. I don’t know.

Since the CBA has repackaged October as a pastor depreciation month, let’s consider the label of “pastor.” The term pastor is rarely found by itself these days. Since Senior Pastor is so 1980s, we have Lead Pastor, Pastor for Preaching, Teaching Pastor, Pastor of Vision Casting, and I don’t know what they’ll come up with next. The question I’m most often asked is, Are you a full-time pastor?

What Are My Options?

I want to respond to that question, “Is there any other kind?” I think I know what they mean by full-time, but I honestly don’t know how a man who is a pastor could be anything other than a pastor 24/7. They usually mean: Do you work some type of job to make a living while you pastor? Employment to support a preaching habit is a little long, so people usually say such a pastor is bi-vocational. Okay. if that’s what you want to call me, then, yes, I am bi-vocational and in that sense, not full-time.

I encounter romantic notions and expressions about bi-vocational ministry and, I must admit, they sound a lot like “be ye warmed and filled” (James 2:16). I’ve worked the old 40+ my entire ministry, and it’s nothing to boast about. Some say, “Well, Paul made tents.” Yes he did, or maybe he was a leather worker, but let’s not get off track. The fact is that Paul worked with his hands to meet his life necessities when he needed to (Acts 20:34). When he first came to Corinth, he worked during the week and preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath days (Acts 18:3-4). When Silas and Timothy came to Corinth from Macedonia with support from other churches, he threw himself more into the ministry (Acts 18:5).

This is the more-to-the-story that many don’t think about. Pastors do not have the gift of making the sun stand still. They do not have 32 hours to every day. Though a pastor may be working full time to support his family, the church typically still expects the pastor to do the full-time work of pastoring. I would also add, the concept many have of the responsibilities of a pastor is extra-biblical. Too many birds and not enough stones.

More Than Crowding the Plate

I’m going to step in and take one for the team. Bi-vocational pastoring is always sub-standard and sometimes sinful. Paul wrote, “The Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). From the context, Paul means that pastors should receive a living from the church without having to work another job (1 Corinthians 9:4-6). What constitutes a living will vary by time and place, but that is why he writes in terms of a living and not some fixed amount. He taught the same elsewhere (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

Follow Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 9:4-14. The pastor’s living is not determined by what the church thinks he needs, or what they think he should live on. First, Paul makes a statement in question form that he has a right (exousia) to a sufficient living (1 Corinthians 9:4). Second, he defines a sufficient living relevant to the individual, because he may have a wife and children, and therefore his right to a living is a living for his entire family (1 Corinthians 9:5). Third, Paul further defines a living by being sufficient such that he would have no need to work to make money (1 Corinthians 9:6).

Paul illustrates with three familiar examples of making a living (1 Corinthians 9:7). A soldier who is conscripted into the army should not pay his own way, nor work a side job in order to live while he fights for the army. A soldier is given room, board, and equipment in addition to being compensated with pay. A farmer that works his fields doesn’t work another job to support his farming. He eats of the fruit produced by his fields. A shepherd does not work another job in order to take care of his flock. Rather, he makes his living from his flock.

Lest anyone want to quibble with him, Paul goes on to show the Scriptures teach the same (1 Corinthians 9:8-10). Jesus affirmed this principle, and even in reference to ministers (Luke 10:7). Paul states the direct and necessary consequence of Scripture teaching (1 Corinthians 9:11). Those who work at spiritual ministry should be supported by those who receive that ministry. The same principle applied to the priests in the temple (1 Corinthians 9:13). Paul reaches an emphatic conclusion that this is ordained by the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:14).

The pastor has a right to a living and he also has the right of refusal (1 Corinthians 9:15). He exercised this right in Corinth and Thessalonica (2 Corinthians 11:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). The whole thrust of this teaching is that the church has a responsibility and does not have a right of refusal.

Yeah, but …

This, that, and the other thing has been offered by churches as to why they are not meeting their biblical responsibility. I realize situations differ and I think that’s why Paul writes as he does, which makes the living relevant to the man and so on. I realize a lot of churches are small and cannot give a man a living. In those situations, we have to realize bi-vocational ministry is sub-standard, not ideal, but necessary. If, on the other hand, a church can, but is not giving their pastor a living, then bi-vocational ministry in this case is sinful, on the part of the church at least.

I don’t believe the Bible teaches a church should give an extravagant living to their pastor. Of course, I don’t know any churches or pastors where this is even possible. Most of the pastors I know work hard at pastoring and work other jobs in order to support their families. I can’t think of a single one I’ve heard complain that their church isn’t paying them enough. I realize you cannot give what you do not have, but churches do need to seriously consider whether they are doing all they can for their pastor to have a living without earning money in other ways.

The Wild Turkey Trot

And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth. 
~ Jeremiah 36:23

Reading is not safe … but it is good.

Campbells Creek is a near twenty-mile long tributary of the Kanawha River, running from above Putney to empty into the river near Port Amherst, east of Charleston, West Virginia. Campbells Creek is also the name of the hard road that runs along the creek through the holler for most of the water’s course. Holler is the proper colloquial pronunciation of the term, hollow, which is a narrow valley between the mountains having a head and a mouth. This is common geography throughout West Virginia.

The Creek has many different communities and adjoining hollers, such as Putney, Blount, Cinco, Fivemile, Tad, Point Lick, Coal Fork, and Springfork. It has a rich history with coal mining going back to the early part of the 1800s and was the site of one of the last known Jesse James style train robberies east of the Mississippi, which happened in the first half of the twentieth century. I’ve often told people it is the home of many notable characters.

I grew up at the head of Springfork Holler, was married at the mouth of Big Bottom Holler in Tad, and went to school from kindergarten to twelfth grade at Point Lick. Fair Haven Christian School at Point Lick was founded in the early 70s as a result of the textbook protest by the visionary leadership of Dave Kilburn. It was a small school with somewhere around one hundred students from K4 to 12th grade during my time there.

If you went to a Christian school, you are familiar with weekly chapel services at such places. We had them, and I have to say they were often interesting. One day we filed in as expected, boys to the right and girls to the left. The preacher was already there, sitting quietly in one of the deacon’s chairs in the pulpit. He was reading a magazine. It was something like Field and Stream, I think. We had no forewarning of the monodrama we would witness that day. He appeared to be reading articles and turning pages slowly.

He neither looked up when we came in, nor acknowledged our presence in any way. We sat down, confused, and glanced at one another. Suddenly, he howled, ripped a page out of the magazine, crumpled it up, and threw it on the floor muttering something about wild turkeys messing up his magazine. He went back to silent reading. Suddenly, he shrieked and jumped up. He ripped another page out, threw it on the floor, and stomped it. This time it was the Marlboro Man that marred his magazine and incited his rage. He sat down and went back to reading. He repeated his action a couple more times before finally throwing the whole magazine down and stomping it. He went on to preach his sermon, the point of which he had just illustrated in dramatic fashion.

Some would say his illustrative sermon was powerful because I still remember it 20+ years later. I reply that I don’t remember the substance of the sermon at all, only the antics. I think that was the sermon where he instructed us impressionable youths to go home that afternoon, take our television sets out into the yard, and shoot them up with a 12 gauge. He wasn’t specific whether he preferred pump action or polk stock. I guess that was up to our individual tastes and teenage discretion. Those were different times.

The Problem is Not With the Footwork

Many people read the way of that preacher’s exaggerated theatrics. They may not shriek and stomp on their reading material, but as soon as they encounter anything the least bit objectionable to them, they can’t think of anything else. It ruins the whole book and the entire experience for them. Granted there are some books we should not read, whether that is because they are a complete waste of time or reading them is equivalent to pumping raw sewage into our living room. Certain books are helpful, others are not helpful, and still others are harmful. Books can fit in those categories cleanly sometimes, while at other times they are more like the sweet spot of a Venn diagram.

When we commence to stompin’ on our books like we just discovered we’re standing on a fire ant hill, we think we’ve done something. A cold sweat formed on our forehead and we were out of breath. We feel as though we strenuously refuted whatever error it was that started our fit to begin with. In short, we think this is discernment. It isn’t discernment. A monkey could be taught to Wild Turkey Trot every time it saw the Marlboro Man. Lest anyone think this a sign of discerning wisdom in the primate, the monkey’s flinging of feces directly after should disabuse you of the thought.

The problem for us here is not with the footwork. We are not trying to work out whether it should be a jump stomp, standing stomp, or a stomp and a kick. We need to develop real discernment and to grow in our understanding. We know we need resistance and challenge if we are to grow in a skill or physical strength. If you can play the piano with any proficiency, you have had to practice. You did not play proficiently the first time you pounded the keys. Our minds are similar and need challenge to grow and sharpen.

Beam me up, Folly

I’ve written before about different areas of reading for preachers to consider. With this post, I’m adding another category: Reading what you don’t agree with. Some books are garbage and aren’t worth reading even if some hidden morsel floats with banana peels in the dumpster juice. Proverbs says that fools gobble up folly with no thought (Proverbs 15:14), so I’m not advocating that kind of reading. Reading wisely means reading thoughtfully and considering the end of what you read (Proverbs 4:26; 14:8; 22:3).

Humans are fallible and the books we write are fallible. God has created us with creative and imaginative capacities we don’t fully understand. Humans are capable of simultaneously holding thoughts of truth and error, real and impossible. Do you remember the old television show, Star Trek? I can remember seeing reruns when I was a kid. I was never a big fan. Do you remember how they used to teleport members of the crew from the ship to various planets? I think they had the phrase, “Beam me up.” Is teleporting a human being from a spaceship to a planet a reality? Does that exist as a possibility? No it does not, but we have no trouble imagining it. Human beings can have a good grasp of one subject while being ignorant or completely wrong about another at the same time. A book can be the same way: simultaneously edifying and wrong.

Growing in discernment means distinguishing between what is good and what is not. Solomon warned his son to give no consent to sinful enticement, but rather to give heed to the instruction of wisdom (Proverbs 1:10; 2:1-5). Reading books is one way of seeking a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14), and walking with wise companions (Proverbs 13:20).

Some men boast they do not read or listen to men. I suppose this sounds noble to some, but such a man is saying he listens only to himself. It reminds you of the old saying about the lawyer who has a fool for a client. Proverbs teaches us that fools will neither seek nor receive counsel from others (Proverbs 1:7; 10:8; 12:15; 15:5). Such a man is not living by bread alone, but rather by his own mental regurgitations (Proverbs 26:11).

Meh

My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue.
~ Psalm 39:3

Hickory and oak smoke stuck to my hair and settled in the folds of my clothes. Eager kids had charred marshmallows and convinced themselves, “I like mine this way.” Sure Buddy, charcoal really goes best with chocolate and graham crackers. The kids had whole-swallowed their S’mores and deserted the scene for the darkness with their flashlights. I stayed by the fire with a couple of other dads. We sat and talked, and I heard something I had never heard before.

In a short time, we solved the world’s problems. We had pressed many hot buttons, like women preachers, the King James Version Bible, Southern Baptists, and Democrats and Republicans. Somehow, we got to eschatology, the study of end times. You know, things like the thousand years of peace Christians have been fighting about for two thousand years. We discussed some of the different schemes and systems of eschatology, and one man said, “I’m a pan-millennialist.”

What? I had never heard of this. My brain raced to place this among the millennial varieties. I had nothing, so I had to ask, “What is that?” He looked happy, “It’ll all pan out, so don’t worry about it.” He was joking. He was like that. We all laughed.

Why should I care?

Why does eschatology make so many eyes glaze over? I know many people don’t like controversy. Some think it’s just too hard to figure out. Some see no practical importance to it, because they think it doesn’t affect real life and whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

We should study and try to understand what the Bible teaches about the end times. For one thing, it is a part of the Scripture and “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16), so we should study all Scripture. The book of The Revelation twice pronounces blessing on those who study its prophecies (Revelation 1:3; 22:7). Paul wrote of Christ’s return as the “blessed hope” of the saved and that hope gives direction to our lives (Titus 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 15:19). Understanding what has been revealed to us is important knowledge, but also important practically. The expectation of Jesus’ coming has nine important effects in the Christian life.

  1. Gives comfort in present turmoils (John 14:1)
  2. Sustains our faith in patience (John 14:1)
  3. Gives us assurance of the future (John 14:2)
  4. Gives us a firm hope in life (John 14:3)
  5. Stabilizes us for sustained endurance (Philippians 3:20-4:1)
  6. Energizes us for diligent service (2 Peter 3:12-14)
  7. Equips and provokes us to overcome sin (1 John 3:1-3; Colossians 3:1-6)
  8. Relieves the full sting of death and sorrow (2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13)
  9. Lends urgency to our task in this present world (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Start Here

If you’re confused by charts and graphs or extensive literary explanations where the Bible never means what it says in any concrete way, you need to stick with the text of Scripture and focus on first things first. Prophecy is difficult and even the Old Testament prophets themselves did not understand how all those things would be fulfilled, particularly the prophecies concerning the sufferings and the glories of the coming Messiah (1 Peter 1:10-12). You need to start with primary and clear teachings concerning the future. The first is the fact of Christ’s return.

Jesus Christ is coming again. There are hundreds of prophecies in the Bible about the coming of Christ and only about a third of those were fulfilled in his first coming when he was born of the virgin Mary, was crucified, buried, rose again, and ascended to the Father. Many passages of Scripture remain to tell us he is coming again. I want to give you seven witnesses that Jesus will come again to start you in this most serious and worthy study.

  1. Jesus himself spoke of his coming again (John 14:1-3; Matthew 23:37-39; Revelation 22:7, 12)
  2. Angels from heaven assured his apostles he would come again (Acts 1:9-11)
  3. Peter spoke of his return (Acts 3:19-21; 1 Peter 1:13; 5:4; 2 Peter 1:16)
  4. John spoke of his return (1 John 2:28; 3:2; Revelation 1:7)
  5. James wrote of his return (James 5:7-8)
  6. Paul wrote often of his coming again (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
  7. The author of Hebrews also wrote of his return (Hebrews 9:28; 10:37)

Realizing and understanding Christ’s return ought to humble us and move us to diligent faithfulness (Mark 13:33-37). Let us be as John, looking, watching, and waiting for his return.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
– Revelation 22:20

Next Page »