Life Ministry

From Shepherding to Spreading


For Carly and me, our call to ministry came long ago. Before marrying, we both sensed that the best hours of our days and weeks would be devoted to introducing people to Jesus and equipping them in their faith. We’ve been doing that in various ways for all of our seven years of marriage.

For the most part, ours has been a shepherding kind of ministry. We’ve led small groups, taught classes, led in youth ministry, and for the past three and a half years, I’ve been a pastor.

Yet we sensed Jesus moving us to shift focus. Last spring, when Carly and I contemplated a change from my current role as a pastor, our greatest desire was to be more engaged with people who were either unreached or unengaged with the gospel. That was perhaps the single greatest reason we became missionaries with Cru. I’ve tried to communicate it this way: we are moving from shepherding work to spreading work.

Now, what does one do when they sense a call from the Lord to a new role in ministry? Google it, of course. I followed suit and searched for “transition from pastor to missionary.” Do you know what I found?

Not a whole lot.

I’m not sure what I was looking for. Perhaps a little encouragement or guidance as to how to navigate these transition waters. But evidently, this is uncommon in our context. Growing up in North America and even while a pastor in a North American context, I was convinced that pastoring was the most distinguished, important part of Christian work. A quick scan of the current Evangelical landscape proves this. How many celebrity pastors can you name? How about celebrity missionaries? Even more, how often are pastors expected to do the work of shepherd and teacher and missionary (and eventually burn out)? Far too often, unfortunately.

Yet when I look at the Scriptures, what I see is that there are leaders in the church who shepherd the flock and there are others who spread the gospel among those outside the flock, in hope that they become a part of the flock. It takes a diversity of gifts and calling, multiple kinds of leaders.

Ephesians 4:11-12 is one passage that speaks to this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and the teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Not only shepherds and teachers (i.e. pastors), but apostles, prophets, and evangelists. In order for the gospel to go out people need to go out from local congregations to broadly spread the seed of the gospel and bring in a harvest of people whom God is drawing to himself. Then, churches get planted, more shepherds are raised up, and more missionaries are sent out. This is how God has designed his church to function. This is how it must function if we want to reach every tribe, nation, people, and language.

As Carly and I leaned into this clear biblical truth, God calling us to spreading-type work became clear. What a joy it was and has been for us to discover! Personally, it’s been so freeing discover I don’t need to be suck in a “pastor or bust” mentality when it comes to full-time Christian service. Spreading is not better or worse than shepherding. Both are essential. Spreading is simply what we are called to do. I think I speak for both Carly and me when I say that I can’t think of doing anything else with our life together.



Pastoral Ministry and the Practice of Prayer

“Lord, teach us to pray.” This request from the disciples (Luke 11:1) is quite puzzling. These were Jewish men–men who from the time they could speak were taught how to walk and talk with God. They knew the Psalms–the prayer book of Israel. Perhaps not all the disciples had them memorized like the religious leaders of the day. But they knew them. They loved them. They sang them. If anyone knew how to pray, it would be these Jewish men who were instructed in the way of the Hebrew scriptures.

Because of this reality, the question is also quite humble, quite profound. It was a blow to the ego to ask for help.

In my short time as a pastor in a local congregation, I have found that many people, like the disciples, are saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It makes good sense, of course. If the disciples, who spent time with the Incarnate Son of God, needed to be taught how to pray, we probably need it, too. Many people find themselves at a loss when it comes to conversation with God. It may be because they don’t know some basic things about God. It may be because they are not immersing themselves in the Scriptures. It may be because they were concerned about having “bad theology” when they pray. It may be because they don’t make time for it. The list goes on and on.

Whatever the reasons, I’ve come to see that one of my primary roles as a pastor is to be a praying man and help others pray. It’s been a grace-wrought burden for several months now. I’m still learning how to pray; yet at the same time, I want to lead like Jesus and help others pray.

I first felt the weight of this when I read The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson last summer on vacation.  Peterson writes about how his perspective on helping people pray changed when he moved from seminary into the pastorate:

My secularized schooling had shaped my educational outlook into something with hardly any recognizable continuities with most of the church’s history. I had come into the parish seeing its great potential as a learning center, a kind of mini-university in which I was the resident professor.

And then one day, in a kind of shock of recognition, I saw that it was in fact a worship center. I wasn’t prepared for this. Nearly all of my preparation for being a pastor had taken place in a classroom, which chapels and sanctuaries ancillary to it. But these people I was now living with were coming, with centuries of validating precedence, not to get facts on the Philistines and Pharisees but to pray. They were hungering to grow in Christ, not bone up for an examination in dogmatics. I began to comprehend the obvious: that the central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language.

Out of that recognition a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as a pastor was to teach people to pray. I did not abandon, and will not abandon, the task of teaching about the faith, teaching the content  of the gospel, the historical backgrounds of biblical writings, the history of God’s people. I have no patience with and will not knowingly give comfort to obscurantist or anti-intellectual tendencies in the church. But there is an educational task entrusted to pastors that is very different from that assigned to professors (p. 89).

Indeed, my task is much different than a seminary professor. So in the coming days/weeks, I hope to write several posts reflecting on the intersection of pastoral ministry and the practice of prayer.

In the meantime, whether you are a pastor or not, ask yourself, “How vital is prayer to my life with Christ? Am I doing as Jesus did and leading others toward a life of prayer?”


Pastoral Ministry, Not Blogging, and a Devotional Guide

It’s been over a month since I’ve blogged and I have some ambivalence with this. I don’t like it because I like to write and, it seems, God has been gracious to use this blog to help people. A lot of news has happened in the last month that begs for pastoral commentary (e.g. Mark Driscoll, Harvest Chapel, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Robin Williams). I certainly have thoughts and may share them at some point. However, I’ve felt a strange comfort and freedom over the last 1-2 months to not write blogs. Why? My voice is small and I don’t need always need to say something. I’ve been concerned mostly with my family moving into a house and getting settled and my local church ministry in our own congregational as we had our “fall launch” like many other American evangelical churches who notice a slow period during the summer (that’s another blog post!).

But while I have not written blogs, it doesn’t mean I haven’t ben writing. I wanted to share a little eBook I put together called Make the Most of Your Devotions: A Guide to Enhance Your Bible Reading, Meditation, and PrayerThis is nothing revolutionary. It’s simply a compiling of insights I’ve gathered over the years. I would have written this if no one else reads it! But if it helps you or someone you know, too, praise God! Feel free to download and share as much as you’d like:

Make the Most of Your Devotions eBook


We Lost Our Life

Ten months ago my wife and I lost our life. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I answered the call to serve a local church as an associate pastor in New York, half a country away from everything we knew. We packed up our humble possessions, got rid of some other stuff, and trekked (well, Carly and the girls flew) fifteen-hundred miles to a new context.

That was last day of our life as we knew it.

A week ago, Carly, Bailey, Hope, and I returned from our nearly two-week vacation in Nebraska, our native state (#GBR). We had a blast during this ten-day party. Pools, zoos, parks, and bar-b-ques. We relaxed with family, reunited with friends, and ruined our insides at our favorite local fast food joint (Runza!). It was everything a vacation should be.

Then we returned to New York. Back to normal. More like, our new normal.

It was hard. There were tears. But Jesus wants us here. So we obeyed and came back. As Tim Keller has said, “If you only obey God when you feel like it, well, that really isn’t obedience at all.” We didn’t feel like coming back. Of course, we were going to come back. But that didn’t make it easy.

Obedience is hard and costly. It might just cost you your life. And yesterday, seven days after returning to this new normal, it hit me. Our move to New York was costly. We lost our life.

When Jesus saved me years ago, I lost my life for good. It was never going to be the same. But as my discipleship journey continues, I learn there are other losings during the process. For us, this time, we lost place. We were, by God’s design, uprooted and displaced. There’s something significant about place for the Christian. God put Adam in a garden. God told Abraham to go to a place that he did not know. God gave the law to Moses on a mountain. God led Israel to a place named Canaan. God prescribed worship to occur in a tent, then later a temple. Israel and Judah were exiled to foreign places called Assyria and Babylon. Jesus came down to this place called Earth and was born in a manger in a place called Bethlehem. He grew up in place called Nazareth. He died at a place called Golgotha. And he will, someday still future, bring a new place called the New Jerusalem. All of creation and into all eternity we will have to do with place. 

Our displacement, like others, means we lost relationships. We lost physical proximity to our parents (FaceTime isn’t quite the same). We lost our church, which, though imperfect like all others, we loved dearly. We lost intimate friendships which took years to cultivate. We lost proximity to parks and stadiums and intersections and restaurants where memories were made and may never be relived. In a way, we lost our life.

Yesterday, this hit me because I was reading the gospel of Mark, chapter eight, and reflecting on our vacation. Jesus says, “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (vv. 34-35).

Now you understand, of course, that we have not physically faced death. We have not faced crucifixion. The Romans are not knocking at our door to test our allegiance to that political rebel Jesus. There are worse things than moving away from family and friends and a church and memories. But that doesn’t mean what we have experienced is insignificant. It is a kind of suffering. It is still a type of death.

As I read Mark 8, I was overwhelmed with this reality. I, in some way, lost my life when I answered the call to minister the gospel in a different place. Carly, in some way, lost her life, too. But at the same time, by God’s grace, I was overwhelmed with a greater reality: I’m gaining my life. Again, Jesus said, ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” The gospel brought us to a place we had never been and a church we had never known. And life here is not easy. No grandparents or aunts or uncles takes a toll. Pastoral ministry is not glamorous and is often more thorns than roses. Displacement can make the life of pastor and pastor’s wife lonely and exhausting. New York is expensive (let the reader understand).

Yet while we lost our life, we are, mysteriously, gaining it. This is a gospel-pattern. Crucifixion necessitates resurrection. Jesus can tell his disciples–he can tell Carly and me–that if we die, we will live, because he died and yet lives. Peter once asked Jesus what to make of it when we leave everything dear to us—family, friends, homes, lands, or anything. Jesus said that truly we will, in some way, gain it all back (Matt. 19:23-30). Why? Because he lost first and best. His losing and gaining was not merely illustration, but redemption, so that our losing is not in vain or for show. It’s gaining life in him. My identity and reputation and meaning and purpose and joy and delight is now in losing everything I am, so that I might gain everything he is.

And this is all for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s. That’s a big part of losing: Jesus gets the glory, not us. God is gracious to use our losing to show how worthy and magnificent and splendid Jesus is. Your losing and gaining may look different than ours. It might look like rejecting climbing up the corporate ladder, or climbing it and living humbly. It might look like selling your possessions and living among the poor. It might look like passing on fame and recognition to serve commoners as a commoner. In any case, Jesus’ call is the same: “If you save your life, you’ll lose it. But if you lose it for my sake and the gospel’s, you’ll save it.”


A Reading List for 2014

One of the great joys of being a pastor is that taking time to read books is part of the job. You cannot effectively teach, shepherd, rebuke, exhort, and develop yourself in mind and heart without reading good books. The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. You need to read.”

So here’s a reading list for me this year. There are 26 books, not counting fiction. Here’s a few things, off the top of my head, to consider as you examine my list.

  • These are not the best books out there or the “most important” books of all time.  Some of these books I have on my shelf that I have yet to read. A couple are books I need to re-read. Most are books that I feel like I personally need to read (for any number of reasons).
  • There are not a lot of new titles and I don’t have a lot of room for books coming out in 2014. I am not biased against newer books, but there are a lot of older books and timeless classics I should read.
  • At the same time, I will probably read a book that isn’t on this list. A review copy will probably come my way that I’ll read through quickly. I try to be very selective with new books simply because there are hoards of them that are released every month! I simply can’t keep up.
  • This is a big list. But I’m a husband, a dad, and a pastor, and I also enjoy being around people. So, the reality is that I will not read them all. In fact, I hope I don’t. I hope to read a few of them really well rather than plow through just to say I read a lot.
  • I need to read more fiction. I’m working on it, and I hope I come across a few good fiction works this year to enjoy.
  • I need to books in other disciplines. I have a lot of theology here, but I need to read some stuff in business, sociology, philosophy, etc.
  • You shouldn’t read a book just because it’s on my list. Many of these books have to do with my job or things you are just not interested in.
  • You should read a few books that are on my list. Reading a book that is more pastoral or theological in nature will do at least two things: it will 1) stretch your intellectual capacity, and 2) build a bridge for conversation with your pastor.
  • This all might change in a blink of an eye. I may scrap this list or much of it and add other books. Come spring, I may want a lot more spiritual formation or ethics or something else. So, I hold this list with an open hand.

Also, do us all a favor and leave a comment letting us know about a few books that are on your must read list for 2014.

Luther, Introduction to Romans
Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb
Kidner, Psalms 1-72 Psalms 73-150 

McGrath, Historical Theology
Shelley, Church History in Plain Language

Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching
Lloyd-Jones, Preacher and Preachers

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (I will take all of 2014 to work through this. You can too!)
Packer, Knowing God
Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World
Carson, Exegetical Fallacies
Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism
Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
Bray, The Doctrine of God

Lewis, Abolition of Man
Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas
Sire, The Universe Next Door
Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant

Spiritual Formation
Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor
Smith, Desiring the Kingdom

Donald, Lincoln

Collins, The Hunger Games (3)
Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (6)
Various short stories and poems

Adler, How to Read a Book
Meeker, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
Collins, Good to Great