Call me Ali

They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
~ Mark 10:37

’cause I’m the greatest

Doctrine. To some, the word causes fear, trembling, and gnashing of teeth. May the hooves of a thousand camels stamp it and may the last camel die upon it under the burning noon sun of the desert. May doctrine be as the filthiness of the Gentiles and not be once named among us. Don’t talk to me about doctrine. In other words, some people would rather avoid it.

To some others, doctrine is where it’s at. They’re all about it. Give me some of that doctrine. Though Isaac sustained Jacob with grain and wine, I will run in the strength of that doctrine for forty days. Though I start on the journey of a thousand miles and the sun is hidden from me behind wet, stone gray clouds, I will fear no evil as long as doctrine is beside me, beneath me, and before me. In other words, it’s all in all to such folks.

I suppose, by now, you suspect me of dealing in extremes and setting up my heroism in forging some middle way. Why would I do that? Why would I want to find a way to be in between follies? I could be slathered with mayo and mustard and paired with cheddar between two slices of problems and I still would only be lunch meat. No, I want to find a better road entirely, the biblical road. What does the Bible have to say about doctrine?

What is doctrine?

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us all Scripture is inspired by God and all of Scripture is useful for doctrine, or teaching. That is what doctrine is. It’s teaching. The Greek noun here is didaskalian, and it means that which is taught. When Luke refers to the Apostles’ teaching in Acts 2:42, he refers to their doctrine, the body of teaching they taught.

The doctrine of the Bible is simply what the Bible teaches. The biblical writers wrote consciously of a body, or system, of instruction in the Bible. Paul charged Timothy to stick to the pattern of Paul’s teaching (2 Timothy 1:13). The Apostles’ doctrine is sufficiently formalized so as to be a standard of measure for all teaching (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Biblical doctrine is never imposed on the Bible in part or in whole. Biblical doctrine is the Bible. The Bible is a book of sixty-six books and each of those books is made up of narratives, poetry, and paragraphs of prose. We have to give detailed attention to the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of the biblical books. We have to study the flow, the logic, the grammar, the rhetoric, and the parallels and contrasts with similar passages in the other books of the Bible. Through this process, we come to the contextual meaning of the passage, and that is doctrine.

What is the purpose of doctrine?

The aim of the Bible’s teaching is not mere knowledge. Mere knowledge results in pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). Mere knowledge, no matter how vast its scope, is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:2). Paul often described doctrine in the pastoral letters with a Greek word that means sound, or healthy. The word literally means having good physical health. Biblical doctrine is healthy like a human body free of disease or sickness, but it also healthy like a nutritious meal that nourishes and enriches the body to perform its tasks (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:17).

Biblical doctrine is foundational to growing in faith, obedience, and practical righteousness (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:1; 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:3-7). Doctrine sanctifies us and fills us with joy (John 17:13-17). Doctrine grows our discernment and protects us from error (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:4). Doctrine is also instrumental in making disciples, as God’s word creates God’s people (Matthew 28:18-20).

Conclusion

As pastors minister in their congregations, we aim for people to be brought to faith, grow in grace, grow in love, grow in unity, grow in witness, grow in joy, grow in worship, and grow in expectation of Christ’s return. That does not, or will not, happen apart from good doctrine. We simply cannot feed the sheep without exposition of all the words God gave us that forms accurate doctrine, which is then applied to the very people in front of us. Doctrine is a vital part of connecting people today to the Bible written so long ago.

In other words doctrine is essential to ministry. You cannot jettison doctrine and maintain ministry. Ministry without doctrine becomes manipulation. Whatever the means employed, people are conformed to whatever vision the pastor has for them, but they are not really transformed by the teaching of God’s word. On the other hand, often doctrine is not viewed as essential to ministry but the entire goal of ministry. Doctrine becomes a measuring stick by which we can tell who will be the greatest in Heaven. It is a quick check by which we can measure our distinctiveness from our neighbor. People are prepped by such a ministry as if Heaven requires a No. 2 pencil and fully filled ovals.

Doctrine is essential. Doctrine that does not lead us to making more and more of Jesus Christ and less and less of ourselves, is not sound and is not biblical. On second thought, my name is not Ali after all.

Swipe Right for a Pastor

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
~ 1 Timothy 3:1

What a pastor must be.

I don’t understand this newfangled world we live in. I feel a dinosaur at times. I’m crusty and curmudgeonly. I get that, but I’m not wholly averse to technology and its advances. I’m decidedly no sympatico with Luddites. Take online dating, for instance. I’m barely aware of online dating, though that’s what the kids these days are doing. The mechanics of it seems easy enough. An interested person fills out some forms and makes their profile. This information is surreptitiously fed into an over-mechanized piece of equipment, which is in the dank innards of an empty factory in a post-industrialized city somewhere in the midwest. The machine commences to whirring and churning while puffing and coughing and emitting all sorts of steampunk noises. The carefully crafted algorithms do their work and out comes the suggested matches for the criteria you have specified.

Of course, the convenience lies in the “online” part of the whole scheme. You have no need to besmudge your shoes with unidentifiable mixtures of oil and grease from the abandoned factory. No, no, the information is wirelessly, and might I add, magically, transmitted to your handheld device and appears on your screen. You are presented with a few digital photos and brief statements about the person in said photos. You then swipe right to approve this person as a potential date, or you swipe left to expunge them from your account because you do not approve of their few photos and statements about themselves. It’s not at all clear to me what happens to the unfortunate lot swiped left. Are they then surreptitiously fed to the whirring and puffing mechanical beast? I suppose America will never know.

Some who are better apprised than I will entertain the possibility my outline of the process may not be entirely accurate. I readily admit the possibility. I’m not ashamed of it. In the interest of artistic integrity though, I had to fill in the blank spaces left in the procedure of it all after the fifteen seconds of Google searching I engaged in. I do take my place in the industry seriously.

The gist of using the dating app is as follows: a person makes a quick decision based on thin criteria and thin knowledge that the alleged does or does not meet said criteria. Though honesty is barely a part of the process, if we are being honest, people primarily swipe right or left based on the looks of the person in the photos. That’s about as superficial as the apology of a politician.

What are you looking for in a pastor?

One would hope a church looking for a pastor would not be anything like dating app users in their search for a match. A guy can hope like Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” I hope that my hope is not misplaced, but I have heard some things that greases the grip.

If it were not so sad and serious, it would be funny what people are sometimes looking for in a pastor. Some do not want a pastor too old, or too young if it comes to it. Some insist upon gray hair, and others would rather not. Some are deemed too short, too fat, too bald, or just plain too ugly. After all, they reason, I’m going to spend a lot of time looking at him up front. Some require certain degrees of formal education and some have very settled ideas about his dress and mannerisms. His manner of speaking must be pleasing, and, to some, he absolutely must not have the offense of hair upon his face. His sermons must not be too long, and I don’t know if anything would be considered too short these days. This is not to even mention all his wife must measure up to, if he could possibly be an acceptable pastor to a church.

Some will suspect hyperbole in the previous paragraph, but there is not as much as you might think. I have sometimes heard people talk about what they are looking for in a pastor, and if I were tasked by editorial to write the copy for their advertisement, I would conclude it with, “Peter, Paul, John, et al, need not apply.” If your pastoral search criteria means that neither Jesus nor any of his apostles could be the pastor of your church, then just go ahead and swipe right on every pearly tooth grinner whose name sounds like Hinny Ben, or Lowell Joesteen.

What he must be

A pastor may be many things. He may be tall, short, thick, or thin. He may be formally educated, or not. He may be polished, or young, or old, or any number of things. He might stutter or mispronounce certain words. He might fill an armchair as though everyone were wearing armchairs tight about the hips this season. His grammar might be impeccable, or he may not know a diphthong from a dangling participle. He might be all kinds of things, but there are a few things he must be. Whether he has gray hair, dark wavy hair, or no hair is not important at all. Choosing a pastor should be nothing like a beauty pageant, or using a dating app, if I want to maintain the purity of the metaphor. Whether he meets the requirements of God’s breathed out word is utmost important and vital to the spiritual health of the Lord’s church. So, what must he be?

First and Second Timothy and the letter to Titus are commonly referred to as the pastoral epistles. The qualifications and disqualifications of a man for pastor are clearly spelled out in them. Reading through the letters, we pick up at least five must-haves for a pastor.

  1. He must be enabled and put into the ministry by God (1 Timothy 1:12).
    He must be called and gifted by God for the ministry. The local church plays a role in confirming a man has been gifted by God for the work of the ministry, meaning he possesses the necessary abilities to fulfill the office as outlined by Scripture. The church must also confirm he meets the qualifications for the office, which is not a list they produce in a brainstorming session. Those qualifications are spelled out in Scripture. The man must give evidence of this call of God on his life and the church must confirm it.
  2. He must be a godly man (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 6:11-14; 2 Timothy 2:21-22; Titus 1:6-8; 2:7-8).
    The qualification lists are dominated by aspects of character. This does not mean his orthodoxy is unimportant, but his statement of faith does not trump the character of his life. He must be of good reputation and a man who pursues holiness in life. He must be self-controlled and abstaining from sinful temptations. He must be just in his dealings and not a hot head.
  3. He must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 14-16; 4:1-2; Titus 2:1).
    He has to have the ability and willingness to teach God’s word. He must be able to make the word of God understandable to his people and applicable to their lives. These are gifts that must be given by God, and if a man has them, he can and should be improving them. If a man does not have them, no amount of sincerity or seminary will put it into him. He must be able to instruct those who are in error and to refute the error.
  4. He must know the Bible (2 Timothy 1:13; 2:23-26; 3:14-17; Titus 1:9-11; 2:15; 3:9).
    He doesn’t have to possess all knowledge and perfectly understand all mysteries and prophecies, but he has to know the Bible and should be growing in his knowledge of the Bible. He should not be a man who boasts of his ignorance, but rather he should acknowledge it and labor to erase it as much as possible. Having the ability to speak does not mean anything if he doesn’t know his subject. How is a man going to mature and equip saints in the word if he doesn’t know that word himself? How is a man going to identify and refute error if he does not have a thorough knowledge of the truth?
  5. He must be wholly given to the work of pastoring (1 Timothy 4:15; 5:17).
    He must not be a disinterested or lazy man. He must be a diligent laborer who works at his preaching and teaching. He must not be a man given to trimming and finding shortcuts to his work. He must be a man who puts his hand to the plow and does not look back.

Again, a pastor may be many other things that make him more or less useful in the work of pastoring, but these are things he must be. These are the qualities a church must be looking for when searching for a pastor. I’m not recommending a church have low standards in what they are looking for. I am saying a church should have God’s standards in what they are looking for in a pastor. Ultimately, a church should be looking for a pastor after God’s heart and not after the image they’ve come up with from throwing their gold in the fire.

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.

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