Ministry

Book Review: Balance, by Gregory Tyree

Let me start off by saying that I am not generally a fan of “self-help” books or anything that might resemble them. That being said, I really enjoyed this book, Balance by Gregory Tyree. 

First of all, Gregory is a really good writer. His writing style is friendly, and easy to follow, and makes you want to continue reading. He isn’t overly technical, nor is he too “wordy”. He says what he needs to say and he moves on. This is a quality that I wish more writers possessed.

Secondly, Tyree’s illustrations are helpful, clear, and serve to hammer his points home. While I usually find charts distracting, and even at times annoying, the charts in this book I found quite useful. Even his self-assessment tools are extremely helpful, not only to help make his points, but also to make you think about the areas of your life that you may be struggling.

Most important of all, this book is truly a beneficial book. While written from the perspective of a Christian and a Pastor, anyone can be helped by reading this book. Whether most of us realize it or not, there are areas in all of our lives in which we struggle in, or are less successful than we are in others. Gregory does a great job of helping us pin-point those areas without coming off “preachy” or overly critical. In fact, he sees himself as a “fellow struggler”, which is in some ways is quite reassuring.

I personally am very glad I ventured outside of my normal reading habits and gave Balance a read. I’m confident that Gregory has given me many helpful, practical, and easy to follow steps that will allow me to begin to cultivate balance in my life in a way that I’ve not done in the past. I pray that as I continue to take these steps, and as the grace of God continues to work in my life and ministry, that I will become a better husband, father, pastor, and friend. I believe that this book is certainly a tool, that will aid me in this process.

Balance, by Gregory Tyree is available in paperback or kindle. Click HERE to check it out.

Living Is Christ

I’ve written quite a bit about discontent. Oftentimes, even if what I write isn’t overtly about discontent, there is still that undertone. The reason for this is because I am often rather discontent with my life. I know this sounds like a horrible thing to say, but it is the honest truth. I write and preach often about the necessity of the believer to rest in Christ and to cease from their striving…To trust in Him and His holiness. I believe this with every ounce of my being, but yet I so often fail to practice what I preach.This failure is without a doubt the source of much of my discontent, and the anxiety I often deal with.

I’ve had a lot of uncertainty lately. I’ve set a lot of goals for myself, and it just seems like no matter how hard I attempt to achieve these goals they just aren’t working out. Nothing I do seems to be good enough. I’ve had many disappointments, and quite honestly I have been quite frustrated by it all. Many of these things are related to ministry, and my service to God…These seem like worthy and God honoring goals…So I think that simply adds to the frustration that I’m feeling. In prayer recently I even heard myself shout out in frustration, “God, I really wish one thing I do would work out the way that I want it to! Just one thing! Just ONE thing, God!”

I know this isn’t how Christians are supposed to talk…especially preachers. But, it’s where I’ve been. Perhaps it is where I will be again. I’m not sure if it’s where I am.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about it lately, about this discontent, where it comes from and what to do with it. For many of you the answer is probably pretty obvious, but I have a tendency to be a bit slow sometimes…Finally though, I arrived at the obvious conclusion: My discontent is my lack of satisfaction in Christ. Very simply, I’m not satisfied with Christ.

John Piper has famously said that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” I’ve probably heard him say that a hundred times. I’m sure I’ve quoted him many times. But, that truth has come alive to me in a fresh way as of late. In Philippians 1:21 the Apostle Paul says, “…living is Christ.” In the same letter he also says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content…I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Philippians 4:13 is often quoted out of context and made to mean that no matter what we do, God will bless it, and we will be able to do whatever we want. That simply isn’t what the verse is speaking about. Philippians 4:13 is about being content because you have all you need in Christ. Paul can utter, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me…”, because of Philippians 1:21, “..living is Christ.” These are beautiful words and this is a beautiful place to be. Philippians is often referred to as the epistle of joy because as you read it, you just get this overwhelming since of joy that the Apostle is feeling. Where does that joy come from? Being satisfied in Jesus…nothing else.

This is where I have to get to. I believe this is where we all have to get. If nothing else in life works out the way you want it to, are you still satisfied in Christ? Is Jesus really enough for you? This is what I’m asking myself…Jesus really is enough, and I have to wrap my mind around this. It’s good to have goals, but never let these goals take the place of Christ himself. It’s good to desire to serve Christ, but don’t let this service become your overwhelming desire. Don’t make ministry or “doing more” for God your idol…Jesus is the goal. Christ is to be our overwhelming desire.

Cease striving, rest in Christ. Be satisfied in Christ. He really is enough.

Living is Christ…

Living is Christ.

In Pursuit of Education: How and why I made my decision

In October of 2004 in his great grace, God saved me. From the moment God saved me, he gave me a seemingly unquenchable thirst for his Word. I have never been able to understand Christians who spend little to no time reading and studying the Bible. The more I studied, the more I wanted to learn, and the more I wanted to teach others what I was learning. In July of 2005, I began to feel an overwhelming desire to teach, shepherd, and minister to God’s people. I suppose this is what most people refer to when they speak of being “called” to the ministry.

I wasn’t really sure what this meant for me, a man who was in his late twenties, working a job that required 72-80 hour work weeks. I knew that for most people, being “called” meant that you then needed to go to school, acquire a few degrees, then going to pastor a church. This seemed near impossible to me. One, there was the job I just mentioned. Secondly, people would think I was crazy. Not only was I a semi new Christian, but I was also very introverted and struggled with a stutter. People would tell me there was no way I was called to preach. Thirdly, I had made terrible financial decisions and acquiring more debt while dropping a pretty well paying job didn’t seem very logical. So, I did what I thought I should and just ignored this overwhelming feeling. I read the Bible as often as I could, read books by great theologians past and present, and tried to educate myself as best as I could. I wasn’t sure what would come of it, as far as ministry went, but I still had the desire to know as much about God as possible. I also sought out every opportunity to share with others what I was learning. Sometimes to their delight, other times, not so much.

In October of 2005 I fell head over heels in love with a pretty redhead and her son. We both knew very quickly we were in love and were engaged exactly three months later on January 1st of 2006. We married, bought a house, and began a family very quickly. Still this feeling of being “called” never really went away. My wife knew about it, but she like me wasn’t really sure what to do about it. Not only did we already have plenty of debt, but we also had a growing family, and were rather short on time.

In God’s providence, he took us to a small church plant and helped us get involved there. I felt a connection with the pastor, and for the first time confided in someone outside of my little circle my desire and feeling of being called to the ministry. Much to my relief he was very supportive, and took me under his wing and mentored me. He gave me the opportunity to teach the children in the church as well as preach several times. He taught me much about theology and introduced me to many great theologians and books. Through this Pastor’s preaching, teaching, mentoring, and encouragement I gained confidence in my calling. I learned how to preach (though that is always a work in progress) and I gained a deeper knowledge of the scriptures. Education was still a desire, but it still seemed like an impossibility. My pastor encouraged me to pursue it, but I suppose I was still fearful and didn’t see how it was possible.

Fast forward a few years, and I was introduced to a mature Godly man who also took me under his wing and encouraged me in my gifts. I was fortunate to serve with him in ministry, and learned much about how to pastor and how to preach by watching his example. He too encouraged me to pursue further education, though again I never did see how it was a possibility.

This blog is already getting longer than I want it to be, and I could give several other details that might give you insight into my journey, but to make a long story short, for 9 years now I have had the desire to pastor and preach God’s word. Through God’s grace I have been given opportunities to do this. Still, as one who lacks formal training the opportunities to be in ministry as a vocation are limited. I’ve also had a desire to pursue formal training, and have been close to taking the leap many times, but I never could make myself follow through.

Recently, this desire has returned in full force. I suppose a big part of it is the fact that I have finally come to the conclusion I am not getting any younger. I’m a couple of months from my 36th birthday. Perhaps I am feeling a bit of  “now or never” syndrome. I discussed with my wife these feelings, and she told me to do the research, figure out what I needed to do, and we would make it work. Her support has been an unbelievable blessing.

So this is what I did. I researched. The ability to do class from home was key. There is no way I can travel for school. Both my wife and I work, we have bills, and we are expecting our sixth child. Travel is not an option. At the same, just like it has always been, finances are an issue. Also, time is an issue. Not just the ability to get the work done, but I don’t really want to be in my 40’s still pursuing an undergrad degree.

I looked into Liberty University. They have a great online program. I know many people who have gone there and done well. I even applied there and was accepted. I was very close to going through with it. However the more I thought about it, I realized that at the pace I’d be able to go I’d be looking at probably six years to attain a bachelor degree. This wasn’t very appealing to me. The main issue however is the fact that even with financial aid, I would be acquiring a ton of debt. This too wasn’t a very appealing prospect. This is all simply to attain a bachelor degree, and unfortunately most churches require at least a Masters degree, and preferably a Master of Divinity, which is at least a three year program. This too piles on more debt.

I looked into Southeastern College/Theological Seminary which is pretty much theological royalty in this area. Chances are if you pastor a Baptist church in North Carolina, this is where you went to school. While being somewhat cheaper than Liberty, they don’t offer the same financial aid, and online they only offer an Associate of Divinity, and several Master Degree programs. Again, we are still faced with the same problems. Time and money.

I investigated many other schools, but almost all of them shared these same issues.

In the course of my research though, I came across a little school in Georgia called Andersonville Theological Seminary. I’d heard of them before, and had thought about asking for more info, but never did go through with it. I did an online search of their programs and the quality of the school. There were mixed results. Some people speak very highly of them, while others dismiss them completely. I did find someone who mentioned that the credits from this school would transfer to other schools. So I sent out emails to every major bible college and seminary that I am even remotely interested in to see whether or not they would indeed accept credits/degrees from Andersonville. Much to my delight, none of the schools I inquired of said they would not consider me or a degree from Andersonville. There were some stipulations with some of the schools, but still I would be considered based upon my abilities to do the coursework. I even found a couple of very reputable schools who said they had no issues whatsoever accepting credits and degrees from Andersonville. This was very encouraging for me. Just as encouraging to me, was the fact that in my research, I found several Andersonville graduates that currently serve as professors and faculty at many bible colleges and seminaries, including some very respected schools, Baptist and otherwise.

After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to take the leap and sign up for classes from Andersonville Theological Seminary. The major benefit is of course cost. I can attain both an Associate and a Bachelor degree at a fraction of the cost for what I could at another school. Also, Andersonville allows me the opportunity to do the course work at my own pace. I can go as fast or as slow as I want to and am able. I figure if I apply myself, I will also be able to attain a Bachelor degree in a fraction of the time it would take me to at one of the other bigger or more traditional schools.

Like I said, the reviews are mixed from what I’ve read online about the programs at Andersonville. Some have even gone so far as to call it a degree mill. Let me say this, I am currently on my third course from Andersonville, and they are most definitely not a degree mill. I have been pleasantly surprised by the courses, as they have challenged me, and I have already learned much. At times, I have even caught myself wishing the classes were a little fluffier so that I could move through the program faster…I’m partially kidding.

I realize the level of coursework I’m doing probably isn’t the same as what I might be doing at Southeastern, or one of the other bigger schools, and I also realize that some people may not take my degree from Andersonville seriously. Some might snicker that I am doing an online preacher college that only uses the King James Bible. I’ve weighed the options and the pros and cons. I’ve sought the counsel of some very mature and Godly friends whom I respect very much. The best advice I received was that I will get out of the school and degree what I put into it. I think this is true. I was recently reading a biography on Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer. I read about how due to his circumstances and his station in life, he wasn’t able to go to the respected schools of his day. He was forced to go to the schools that the elite tended to thumb their noses at. Obviously, the schools Isaac Watts attended aren’t Andersonville Theological Seminary. Obviously I’m not Isaac Watts, but I do see some parallels in our situations.

Therefore, I have decided this is what is best for me and my family at this time. Once I complete my Associate and Bachelor Degree from Andersonville, I hope to enroll at one of the other more “reputable/respected” schools to pursue my Masters Degree and hopefully at some point an M.Div. Who knows where the Lord will take me, but at this time these are my long term educational goals.

Stay tuned, perhaps I will blog more about my educational journey in the future.

 

Dear Pastor: What is Ministry to You?

preacher

Dear Pastor,

What is ministry to you? Is it a a job, a hobby, or a calling?

Is ministry something that you do for a paycheck? Is it something that helps you provide for your family and pay your bills? Is that all it is? Do you enjoy the perks of the job, the access to books, and freebies that might come along with being a minister? Do you find yourself wanting to climb the ladder of success? Are you unhappy with your congregation of 12, 30, 75, 1,000 people? Would you like to find another church where more people could hear you preach, where more people would give more money? Maybe you would like to earn the respect that a large church would give you? Maybe you could write a book, maybe even a best-seller. Is ministry a job? Is that all it is?

Is ministry a hobby for you? Is it something you really enjoy doing? That’s okay. You should enjoy serving the Lord and His people. The great thing about a hobby is that you really enjoy it, and you spend a lot of time doing it, probably even more than you spend at your job, and with your family. But the big problem with a hobby is that you only do it when it is convenient, and until it stops being fun. When ministry stops being fun, do you or will you stop doing it? Do you let silly unimportant things get in the way? Would you rather watch your favorite t.v. show than read God’s word, or pray for His blessings on yourself and others, or making that phone call of encouragement, or even making a visit to someone in need? Is ministry a cool thing to do? What happens when it isn’t cool? What happens when it isn’t fun?

Is ministry your calling? Has God called you to minister to His people, to love them, and show them His love for them? Do you understand you are accountable to God for everything you do, especially those things you do in His name? Are you burdened by the fact that precious souls weigh in the balance as you go about serving the Lord in your ministry. Do you understand it is really God’s ministry? Do you feel totally unworthy, yet amazed that God has called you to such an amazing privilege to serve Him as a Minister of His Gospel. Do you spend hours studying His word so that you can rightly divide it, and show yourself approved? Do you spend time on your knees praying for those precious souls that God might use you to reach? Would you still minister to God’s people if there would never be a paycheck? Would you still minister to God’s people if it was no fun? Is ministry your calling? Why don’t we start acting like it?

*This is a slightly edited version of a blog I posted a few years ago. I’ve recently been reflecting on these questions myself as I examine my own calling. The tone can come off a bit harsh, that is intentional. I believe for anyone in the ministry, or anyone even considering the ministry in any capacity, would be wise to do a bit of self reflection and ask themselves these questions. Ministry is not something that is to be taken lightly, as all of us who choose to enter into this sacred calling on any level have much to give an account for.

Make your calling and election sure…

“A graceless pastor is a blind man elected to a professorship of optics, philosophizing upon sight and vision, discoursing upon and distinguishing to others the nice shades and delicate bleedings of the prismatic colours, while he himself is absolutely in the dark! He is a dumb man elevated to the chair of music; a deaf man fluent upon symphonies and harmonies! He is a mole professing to educate eaglets; a limpet elected to preside over angels. To such a relationship one might apply the most absurd and grotesque metaphors, except that the subject is too solemn. It is a dreadful position for a man to stand in, for he has undertaken work for which he is totally, wholly, and altogether unqualified, but from the responsibilities of which this unfitness will not screen him, because he willfully incurred them. Whatever his natural gifts, whatever his mental powers may be, he is utterly out of court for spiritual work if he has no spiritual life; and it is his duty to cease the ministerial office till he had received this first and simplest of qualifications for it.”

-Charles Spurgeon