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Oversight of Souls

Thoughts and conversation on pastoral ministry, asking what this ministry is and should be according to the Scriptures and thinking about how to live this out in practical ways

Updated: 2017-09-12T06:56:00.456-05:00


New Site


Thanks to the wonderful work of Brian Denker a new site has been launched which is now the new home of the Oversight of Souls blog.

The new site has allowed me to bring together things I had in several places. In addition to hosting this blog it hosts links to audio, articles, syllabi, etc. I hope it will be useful. If you want to keep following this conversation, please update your book marks or feeds.

The Value of Testimonies


At our church each person who wants to join the church shares their testimony with the church in our prayer meeting as part of the process. It is wonderful to hear about the work of God in another person’s life whether the account be long or simple. Yet, when I have commented on this here, many people have been nervous about the use of ‘testimonies.’ Such ‘sharing’ may have in certain places taken precedence over direct revelation, but that does not mean there is no place for believers to praise God by sharing how he has been at work in their lives. We have found this to be a very useful way for members to begin getting to know new members.
My friend and fellow pastor, Eric Smith, has written a useful explanation of the value of such testimonies and I commend it to you.

Gill on the Pastorate


In John Gill’s exposition of Matt. 13:52, he gives a good description of the work of the pastor:
“…of which indeed Christ is properly the householder and master, but Gospel ministers are deputies and stewards under him, and under him preside over the household, and have the government of it, provide food for it, and protect and defend it; all which require large gifts and abilities, great love and affection, both to Christ and his people; much wisdom, prudence, and knowledge; and great faithfulness and integrity, courage and firmness of mind.”
(John Gill’s Exposition of the Old and New Testaments: Volume 7, Matthew to John, [1809]. Reprint. The Baptist Commentary Series, Volume 1. Paris, AR: Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989, p. 157).

Communicating Familiar Truths Conference


Tomorrow Greg Thornbury & I will be speaking at the “Communicating Familiar Bible Stories in Unfamiliar Ways” conference at FBC Goodletsville. The basic schedule is as follows:

8:30- Registration & coffee
Session 1- “Staying Alive to the Living Word”, Ray Van Neste
Session 2- “The Bible is Strange When You are a Stranger”, Gregory Thornbury
Session 3- “Hope Always Connects”, Ray Van Neste

My wife, Tammie, will also be singing.
The conference and lunch are free, though registration is required.

The Church- Conduit of the Power of God


Hezekiah Harvey was a prominent Baptist preacher, teacher and author in the 19th century. His comments here on the importance of the church are strikingly relevant today.

“The gospel becomes a permanent and aggressive power on earth only through the church, the divinely constituted organization, to which God has committed it, and through which it is appointed to act on men. The pietism which, in the professed interest of spiritual religion, undervalues the outward institutions of the gospel, finds no sanction in Scripture; on the contrary, the church, with its heaven-given ministry and ordinances, there stands in the foreground as God’s agency for the conservation of his truth and the conversion of the world.”
--H.H. Harvey, Timothy to Peter, An American Commentary on the New Testament (image) (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1890), 129.
Several of Harvey's books can be found online here.

Rescue the Perishing


Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave
(Fanny Crosby)

‘Christ had the good of souls in his eye. He came to seek and save that which was lost …Follow Christ in this, O my soul, that thou mayst be a fisher of men. When thou studiest thy sermons, let the good of souls be before thee; when thou preachest, let this be thy design, to endeavour to recover lost sheep, to get some brands plucked out of the burning; to get some converted, and brought in to thy Master. Let that be much in thy mind, and be concerned for that, whatever doctrine thou preachest.’
(Thomas Boston, The Art of Manfishing(image) , 79-80).

[photo by Mary Chind]

Value of Studying Greek


From time to time here I comment on the value of Greek for ministry. Though many today seriously doubt the real, practical value of Greek study for day to day ministry, I want to encourage pastors to discover (remember, or maintain) this value.

Here is an astute comment from a current Greek student:
“Enriching our studies, however, is only a part of the value that is wrapped up in learning the Biblical languages. For me, studying Greek has been an incredibly beneficial process because of the discipline it requires and cultivates. A.T. Robertson points out that learning the Biblical languages is an enriching process for the mind [referring to this book(image) ]. An hour of study a day is crucial. Not only it is required, but it is also a necessity for all of the understanding and memorization that is involved in the study. I can honestly say that learning Greek is the most difficult thing I have been involved in, but it is a good challenge. I am more disciplined than I ever have been before, and I firmly believe it is due in large part to Greek. It requires motivation, intentionality, patience and discipline. And not only does it require these things, but it cultivates them as well.”

Faithful not Flashy


Years ago, while in college I read a few entries from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. One entry really struck me and has stayed with me these last 20 years or so. In preparing to preach tonight for a student event, this came back to mind, and I was able to find it on the internet. There is much humbling and empowering wisdom here:

Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on the water is easy to impulsive pluck, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a different thing. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he followed Him afar off on the land. We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.

Philips Brooks on Knowing Your Congregation


“Philips Brooks presented three rules to students, introducing them with due solemnity:
‘I beg you to remember them and apply them with all the wisdom that God gives you. First. Have as few congregations as you can. Second. Know your congregation as thoroughly as you can. Third. Know your congregation so largely and deeply that in knowing it you shall know humanity.’ ”

(Geoff Thomas, “Find a Place to Settle,” 362, in Thomas Ascol, Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry(image) ; Thomas is quoting from Philip Brooks, Lectures on Preaching(image) , 190)

Midwest Founders Conference Messages Available


The messages I delivered at the Midwest Founders Conference in February are now available online.

“Oversight of Souls: The Heart of Pastoral Ministry, Part 1”- link is actually to another setting where this address was given

“Oversight of Souls: The Heart of Pastoral Ministry, Part 2”- addressing some more practical issues on how to pursue this approach to ministry

“Shepherding a Rebellious People”- exposition of Exodus 32

John Angell James on Keeping Watch


(image) “The friends of evangelical doctrine, and the advocates of orthodoxy, have the following objects to keep ever in view in this age; they must take care of their Bibles, that they be not mutilated or curtailed by lawless criticism; they must take care of their theology, that it be not perverted by false philosophy; and they must take care of their pulpits, that they be not occupied by heretical, unspiritual, or incompetent ministers.”
- John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (image) (xx)

"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 4:16

Itching Ears


(image) This powerful warning from John Angell James in his valuable book, An Earnest Ministry(image) , still applies today:

“The prevailing disposition, therefore, to do such homage to talent, rather than to moral excellence, is only another species of idolatry, more refined and subtle than the worship of stocks and stones, but scarcely less guilty…
But when the Christian public is so enamoured of talent, as to admire it more than he message, which it is employed to set forth; when no preacher can be heard with pleasure or even endurance, however sound his doctrine, clear his statements, impressive his manner, or earnest his address, unless his discourse is radiant with the light of genius, and gay with the flowers of rhetoric; when truth itself is unpalatable unless it is sweetened with the honey of human eloquence, and even error so sweetened is swallowed for the sake of its luscious accompaniment; when the hearer of a sermon turns from it with disgust, because it fails to regale his fancy by the brilliancy of its images, or to lull his ear by the smoothness and harmony of its periods; when this is the state of the public taste, and it is to be feared that to a great extent it is the state of it now, surely it is time to call the attention of our congregations to something higher and better.” (250-251)

Tolkien’s Rangers as Pastors


(image) Reading The Return of the King (image) (third volume of The Lord of the Rings) to my boys a comment from Halbarad, a Ranger and kin of Aragorn, struck me as paralleling pastoral ministry. Speaking of the Shire, the peaceful land of the Hobbits, he said:
“Little do they know of our long labour for the safekeeping of their borders, and yet I grudge it not” (971).
One of the words for pastors in the New Testament is episkopos, typically translated as “overseer.” This word also has the connotation of “guardian.” This is part of what is in view in Hebrews 13:17 when pastors are described as those who keep watch over the souls of their people.

If we do our task well, our people will often not know the labor that has gone into their safekeeping. But the true shepherd will not begrudge this. He will be satisfied to see his flock make it safely home to the celestial city.

Singing Psalm 127


Psalm singing continues to be a great joy in my family having a standard place at our evening meal. We began a little over a year ago with Psalm 128, and have added a few more along the way. As we began 2010 we introduced Psalm 127 the other really strong family Psalm. The version of Psalm 127 found in the Trinity Psalter(image) was pretty rough and awkward, so I worked on editing it seeking to follow the biblical text and to achieve more clarity in expression. In the end I still wanted to do more, but decided it was time to start singing with what we had- lest the pursuit of perfection mean the actual practice of nothing.

So, here is my edited version. It is still not as smooth as the version of Psalm 128, but it has been useful to us and we all now know it by heart after singing it a few months. It is in the Common Meter so we have sung it to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”

Psalm 127

1Except the LORD shall build the house
The builders work in vain;
Except the Lord the city keep
The watchmen watch in vain.

2‘Tis vain for you to rise ear-ly,
Or late from rest to keep,
To eat the bread of anxious toil;
He gives His loved ones sleep.

3Lo, children are the LORD’s good gift;
Rich payment are men’s sons.
4The sons of youth as arrows are
In hands of mighty ones.

5Who has his quiver filled with these
O happy shall he be;
When foes they greet within the gate
They shall from shame be free.

I believe singing verses 4 and 5 have particularly hit home to my sons. They are reminded of the future God envisions for them. What an encouragement for my children, also, to sing regularly together a scriptural reminder that they are blessings from God. It has been helpful to me, also, to have verse 2 running through my head from time to time, reminding me not to fall for the frenetic lifestyle but to rest in God.

Perhaps some of you will be able to work on this rendering even further.

Chrysostom as a Preacher


“[John Chrysostom’s] excellence we appreciate today from an exegetical point of view, from an ethical point of view, and from a literary point of view.

The preaching of this master centers in his series of exegetical sermons on individual books of the Bible. . . . . his great authority as a preacher rested in his faithfulness to Scripture. When he preached, there was never any question but that it was the Word of God which he preached.”
(Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship Reformed According to Scripture(image) , p. 65)

Middle TN Bible Conference, April 29


On Thursday, April 29, Greg Thornbury and I will be the speakers for a one day Bible conference with the theme, “Communicating Familiar Bible Stories in Unfamiliar Ways,” hosted by Union University, Hendersonville. We will be considering the familiar pastoral struggle of preaching texts which you feel like the people already know very well. Pastors often speak of this struggle in connection with Christmas and Easter.

We had a great time with the attendees last year as we considered the return of Christ, so we look forward to this year as well.

Registration is required, but it is free. Lunch is also provided for free.

The Making of an Atheist, by Jim Spiegel


align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;">I have previously mentioned the blog tour for this book and made some preliminary comments about it. My appreciation of the book only grew as I finished it. It has often been said- correctly I think- that we need more very well done short books on important topics. This is one of those books. In short compass, in a very readable and engaging manner, Spiegel lays out the biblical teaching on how sin blinds us. Spiegel states that the “the ultimate point” of the book is “to encourage us to look elsewhere besides appraisal of the evidence for the real explanation of atheism” (23-24). Much of the approach of Christians toward atheists is based on the idea that what is needed is more evidence, a better rational explanation. However, Spiegel argues, the real problem is not academic or rational but moral and psychological. He notes:“A common way of thinking about the relationship between cognition and conduct is to regard belief as always determining behavior. We have a certain belief and choose to act on it. But the above passages [Eph. 4:17-19; Rom. 1:18-24, 28-29] suggest that it works the other way around, too” (54)“What they (such passages) do point to is a certain moral corruption that influences how they (unbelievers) use their cognitive faculties. It is not intelligence they lack so much as self-control and the right values” (52).Speigel also points to some candid remarks by prominent atheists.Aldous Huxley:“For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” 73“Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless.” 73William James “If your heart does not want a world of moral reality, your head will assuredly never make you believe in one.” 84This truth, that our behavior shapes our belief and that mankind in our fallen state actively hide from God, is an important one for us to reaffirm. It will inform life an ministry in many ways. Reasoned apologetics has a place, but we must realize that rebellion is what must be cured and only God through his gospel can do this (2 Cor 4:1-6). This also means that living out the gospel has great apologetic value. Spiegel writes:“…there is apologetic power in a life well-lived.” (116)“Personal virtue and self-sacrifice are the most effective tools of persuasion. . . . When it comes to proving religious truth, an ounce of love is worth a ton of argument.” (116-117)“…the more virtuously one lives, the more truth one is able to access…” (117)“…one’s sinful commitments cause cognitive interference by the will . . . . In order to apprehend truth, which is the goal of the intellectual life, one must live a moral life.” (118)This is a great, helpful little book and I enco[...]

Martin Bucer on the Lord’s Supper


These themes I found valuable:
- communion is a gift from God given because we need it
- frequency
- the tone of thankfulness and joyful triumph

“The Lord, therefore, out of his great and ineffable love, has ordained and appointed for us a sacred supper in which he gives us his body and blood, in order that we through him and in him may become a new and divine flesh-and-blood and ever more fully live in him and he in us, with a life truly divine. We should receive these great and precious gifts as frequently as possible with sincere devotion and utter thankfulness, and in the act of receiving commit ourselves ever more completely to him and proclaim triumphantly and declare to others by word and deed his death and our redemption.”
(Martin Bucer, “A Brief Statement or Instruction on How the Sick Should Be Visited by the Ministers of the Church and the Procedure to Be Followed in Their Homes, about 1549.” In Early Protestant Spirituality (image) (The Classics of Western Spirituality). Edited and translated by Scott H. Hendrix.)

Whitney, “Learning to Pray Scripture”


(image) Don Whitney will be on campus at Union University this week, Thursday, April 8, leading a seminar titled “Learning to Pray Scripture.” The public is invited. The seminar will meet from 1:00-3:00 pm in Luther Hall. It is free and refreshments will be provided.

Dr. Whitney lead a similar seminar last Spring focusing on praying the Psalms and it was very beneficial. If you are in this area this will be a great opportunity for helpful and encouraging teaching.

If you would like more information you can contact Campus Ministries at 661-5061.

The Gospel and the Mind, Brad Green


(image) (image) Brad Green’s new book, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (image) (Crossway) is now available. Since Brad is a good friend and colleague, I have had the privilege of hearing him discuss portions of this book along the way, and can testify that this will be a very helpful book. I look forward to reading it!

Alfred the Great on the Psalms


(image) (image) Another striking thing from Ben Merkle’s book, The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great(image) , was the value he saw in the Psalms. Well before Wycliffe, Alfred, King of Wessex, was translating the Psalms for his people as part of his “essential books everyone should read” project.

“The translation of the Psalms was Alfred’s last project, being only one-third complete at the king’s death. These psalms, primarily the songs of King David composed throughout the king of Israel’s tumultuous reign, had always had a special place in Alfred’s heart. Having memorized many of the psalms in his youth, Alfred had used these sacred words throughout his life to embolden himself in battle, encourage himself in despondency, humble himself in his sins, and comfort himself in his forgiveness. The entire spectrum of Alfred’s personal trials and triumphs seemed to have been lived out already by the shepherd king of Israel. More than any other text, the book of Psalms had become the poetry of Alfred’s life.

Thus, it is no surprise that when searching for the ‘books most necessary for all men to know,’ Alfred’s thoughts turned to the book of Psalms. This was fit reading material for the king and for the peasant, for the warrior and for the clergyman, for the novice and for the sage. Interestingly, of all the texts Alfred translated, the king’s rendering of the Psalms remained the most consistently literal throughout, with very little of the king’s own explanatory additions to the text. Alfred felt this was a book that needed little assistance in speaking to the Anglo-Saxon heart.” (191)

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great


I recently read Benjamin Merkle’s The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great (image) (not the Ben Merkle at Southeastern Seminary). I have commented often here on the value of history reading for pastors (as well as others), and this book has much value in this realm as well. Alfred was an amazing man who accomplished much.

The first six chapters of the book primarily tell of the struggle of Alfred and his predecessors against the Viking invasions. There are compelling battle stories and reminders of the blessing of peace. Also the description of the “shield wall” formation used in battle provides a powerful picture of church unity.

The great strength of the book in my opinion, though, is chapter seven which describes Alfred’s effort to rejuvenate his country. They had resisted the foreign invader, but he realized they needed more to ensure domestic health. He believed the Vikings were only a symptom of the greater problem of his people’s turn away from Christianity and the resultant loss of learning and character. Here are a few quotes:

“The English church had grown complacent, indolent, and lethargic. Numbed by their prosperity, their love of learning grew cold, and their interest in Christian study died off altogether. . . . By neglecting the study of the great works of Christendom, the Bible in particular, the Anglo-Saxon people had lost not only the ability to read but more important, the ability to understand the wisdom of God. England, through her intellectual lethargy, was slowly devolving into a pagan nation, a people who neither knew nor served the Christian God.” (179)

“If Christian virtue were to return to England, then the Anglo-Saxons would need to return to Christian learning. With an eye toward restoring this learned piety to the people, Alfred orchestrated a tremendous revival of literacy, a revival that culminated in the greatest literary renaissance ever experienced in Anglo-Saxon Britain.” (184)

“Alfred truly was the great king of England, the one monarch who rightly understood the needs of the nation and unrelentingly gave all he had to supply those needs.
England, and the many nations descended from her, still have Alfred to thank for a substantial portion of the heritage and freedoms that they enjoy today. The title ‘Alfred the Great,’ so strangely offensive to the modern ear, was well deserved by the Anglo-Saxon warrior-king.” (233)

There is much to glean from Alfred on the work of restoring a culture, of the value of learning, and the renewal of the church.

Pastoral Ministry: Hard Work for the Salvation of Souls and the Restoration of the World


Calvin commenting on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 states well the importance of hard work in pastoral ministry and what our work actually is.

In the first place, he says that they labor. From this it follows, that all idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors. Farther, he expresses the kind of labor when he adds, those that admonish, or instruct, you. It is to no purpose, therefore, that any, that do not discharge the office of an instructor, glory in the name of pastors. ...

Now, this work is the edification of the Church, the everlasting salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and, in fine, the kingdom of God and Christ. The excellence and dignity of this work are inestimable: hence those whom God makes ministers in connection with so great a matter, ought to be held by us in great esteem.
(emphasis added)
(HT: Gentry Hill)

Practical Shepherding, new blog


Brian Croft, pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church, Louisville, KY, is a faithful pastor whom I am blessed to call a friend. He has written two very helpful books on pastoral ministry (Visit the Sick(image) , & Test, Train, Affirm, and Send into Ministry: Recovering the Local Church’s Responsibility to the External Call(image) ), so I am pleased that he has launched a blog dedicated to specific issues in pastoral ministry. It is titled Practical Shepherding. Some of his current posts deal with helping a wife who is hurt by her husband’s use of pornography, ministering to widows, and identifying men in your church who are called for ministry. This is useful material for pastors and I encourage you to give it a look.

Communion with Christ and with the Saints


"Communion with Christ and with the Saints"

Isaac Watts

Jesus invites His saints
To meet around His board;
Here pardoned rebels sit and hold
Communion with their Lord.

For food He gives His flesh,
He bids us drink His blood;
Amazing favor, matchless grace
Of our descending God!

This holy bread and wine
Maintains our fainting breath,
By union with our Living Lord,
And interest in His death.

Our heavenly Father calls
Christ and His members one;
We, the young children of His love,
And He, the firstborn Son.

We are but several parts
Of the same broken bread;
One body hath its several limbs,
But Jesus is the Head.

Let all our powers be joined
His glorious name to raise;
Pleasure and love fill every mind,
And every voice be praise.

Quoted in Worthy Is the Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of Christ(image)
Maureen Bradley; Edited by Don Kistler and Joel Rishel (page 238)