Risk in Ministry

I was really struck by this tweet by Ray Ortlund recently:

Bang on. This tweet is proof that you can say a lot in 140 characters or less. The third criterion is one that is often missed, but it's crucial.

Risk is one of the most undervalued ingredients of successful ministry. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) teaches us, in part, that risk avoidance reveals a fearful mindset based on a deficient view of God. It reminds us that there is a place for wise, risky investment of what God has given us.

I'm glad to see risk emphasized recently. John Piper has written a book called Risk is Right. Owen Strachan has written a good book called Risky Gospel. "We're saved to plunge headlong into a life of God-inspired, Christ-centered, gospel-driven risk," he writes.

There may be some who need to be told to pull back and risk less. Most of us struggle with the opposite: succumbing to lives of comfort, safety, and in the end, deadness.

Ironically, playing it safe is one of the riskiest ways to live.

My deepest regrets in ministry have been the times that I've played it safe. My most joyful moments have been when I have refused to play it safe, and have embarked in a risky ministry venture. Church planting comes to mind. I am not arguing for recklessness; I am saying that comfort and safety are overrated when it comes to investing all that we have for the cause of Christ.

What are you risking these days?



Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Everybody Is a Theologian

As ministry leaders, we are called to be good theologians and to teach our people to be good theologians. Good theologians think rightly about God and live rightly before God.

Called to Speak 'Freakish' Truth

As far as I can see, those speaking up for Christianity in the public square today usually rely on one of three approaches. The three differ from each other dramatically, and everything we say is colored by the approach we choose.

Silver Bullet Ministry

We have what we need to do ministry effectively in the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. What we should therefore do is act like that’s true, and not look for the silver bullet elsewhere. God has already given it to us.

Advice to Young Pastors

In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying? Is your answer any different from what you would’ve recommended 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

Share Today’s Stories Later Today

We must learn to compress time for the gospel. In our highly integrated and globalized world, it is poor stewardship to fail to share what is working and not working in the moment.

The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ

Churches that believe the gospel are common. Churches whose cultures are shaped by the gospel are not. In his excellent book Samson and the Pirate Monks, Nate Larkin describes the time when, as a sexual addict, he first encountered a church that whose culture breathed gospel:

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my world had just turned. Barely four months later I would be listening to the gospel in a church where it was safe to admit brokenness, where the pastor talked about his own sin in the present tense and celebrated the mercy of God every Sunday. Here I would hear about the covenant of grace and the steadfast love of our heavenly Father. I would be reminded week after week that I am an adopted son, no longer an orphan, and that my Father never disowns his own. Finally—and this was the greatest miracle—it was in this church where I would meet many of my future comrades, the men whose friendship God would use to radically rearrange my life.

“The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace where good things happen to bad people,” writes Ray Ortlund. And this is exactly why Ortlund has written the book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. He would like to see churches not only proclaim gospel truth, but embody gospel culture.

If you have never read a book about gospel centrality, then this is a good one. Ortlund clearly expounds the gospel, showing the importance of the gospel for the individual, the church, and for everything. I will never forget the seismic shift that gospel centrality made in my own life and ministry, and for this reason alone, Ortlund’s volume is worth reading.

But that’s not all. We all know churches that proclaim gospel doctrine, but don’t embody gospel culture. “It is possible to hold the gospel as a theory even as we lose it as a reality.” Ortlund offers a simple formula:

Right gospel doctrine + anti-gospel culture = a denial of the gospel

On the other hand, a church that embraces right gospel doctrine and a culture that is shaped by the gospel is one that affirms the gospel and portrays the beauty of Christ to a world that desperately needs it. “Gospel culture is just as sacred as gospel doctrine,” he writes, “and it must be carefully nurtured and preserved in our churches.” Ortlund describes such a church. After living in a cycle of criticism, guilt, and self-justification all week, we enter worship:

Then, on Sunday, we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone. It is so refreshing. Sinners like us can breathe again! It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless. He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-hatred with the good news of his grace for the undeserving. Who wouldn’t come alive in a community that’s constantly inhaling that heavenly atmosphere?

What makes Ortlund’s book so valuable is that he is neck deep in pastoring a church that aspires to be such a community. He writes not as a theoretician, but as a pastor who not only proclaims this message of grace, is trying to create a culture of grace within the church he leads, and is living in the safety of this gospel of grace as well.

The need of the hour is the rediscovery of the gospel, not only as a doctrine, but as the very air we breathe in our churches. I have not read a book that so clearly addresses this need. I can’t commend it highly enough. When you encounter such a church, as Nate Larkin did, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever experienced.

Read this book. Think hard about it. And pray that God would create churches all across our countries that not only preach gospel doctrine, but portray Christ’s beauty with gospel culture.

Read more at Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

Sobering Up: The Prerequisite to a Good Prayer Life

I struggle with prayer. It’s some comfort, I suppose, to understand that others do as well. A recent story about renowned preacher Sinclair Ferguson illustrates that even those who seem to be mature Christian leaders feel that they have lots to learn when it comes to prayer.

When it comes to praying more, I wonder if we start at the wrong end of the problem. We want to pray more. Good! That is admirable. But we shouldn’t begin there. Our efforts to pray more fall flat, and it isn’t long before we are just as discouraged as before. The cycle of good intentions leading to failure and guilt is not one that leads to the prayer life we desire.

What if there is a prerequisite to prayer? That seems to be what Peter teaches in 1 Peter 4:7:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7)

Peter could have said, “The end of all things is at hand; pray more!” but he doesn’t. He instead instructs us to develop a self-controlled and sober-minded mindset that leads to prayer. Before we can pray, we need a mindset that leads us to prayer. We need to sober up. It's the prerequisite to a good prayer life.

Sobering up means that we see reality as it really is; that we recognize that time is short; that we give up any thoughts of trying to live or serve apart from the enablement that only God can offer. I confessed to our church last weekend that I am in the process of “sobering up” when it comes to prayer. Rather than beginning with a deeper resolve to pray, I’m beginning with thinking in a self-controlled and sober-minded way that should cultivate a life of prayer.

It’s time to sober up and deal with the prerequisite to a good prayer life. Will you join me

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Is Church Too Easy?

If our goal is to “teach people to obey” all that Jesus commanded, then we may want to rethink our commitment to comfort on Sundays.

Gospel Affection

Consider what follows a simple encouragement to press into a life of love in practical ways.

Slammed in the Spirit

Christians too often bury the good and beautiful ways God is working through our constant criticism of one another.

The Blessings and Curses of Being an Introverted Pastor

My goal is to share three blessings and curses of being an introverted pastor so that whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you can be encouraged and challenged in your journey as a pastor.

10 Dangerous Distractions for a Pastor

Here are 10 dangerous distractions for a pastor.

When Your Church is Not Revitalizing

It is hard to overstate the difficulty of working in a church where revitalization is not happening. If this is your situation, consider these encouragements to continue laboring in a situation where the fruit is not visible.