The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: Pastoring

One of the Best Books You Haven't Read

On Boxing Day in 2007, I ordered a book for $9.35 (!) called The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller. I remember devouring it in the early days of 2008. It felt like I was seeing how the gospel changes a man and his ministry. It had a profound impact on my own understanding of the gospel.

Since then I've whittled down my physical library from almost 3,000 books to around 100 or so, and this book is still with me. I honestly think it would be one of the last volumes I'd give up.

If you are in ministry, and want an example of someone who has come to the end of what he could accomplish on his own strength, and has been completely transformed by an encounter with Christ, then you need to read this book. Jack Miller has made a marked impact on many people who know and respect, and he does a better job of pointing us to Jesus than almost anyone I know.

It's not a book that gets a lot of attention, and that's a shame. Get it. Read it. Allow it to shape your view of life and ministry. It's a book to which I return often.

You can read my review, or better yet, just go and buy it. It's still not much more than what I paid.

Thanks for the Feedback

Pastors receive lots of criticism. It’s one reason why pastors need to learn how to deal with weekly barrage of complaints and comments, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of their families and for the health of the church.

That’s where a helpful new book comes in. It’s called Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. While anyone can benefit from this book, it most certainly applies to pastors.

Some feedback triggers us. It leaves us “confused or enraged, flustered or flattened.” The effects are brutal:

When we’re in the grip of a triggered reaction we feel lousy, the world looks darker, and our usual communication skills slip just out of reach. We can’t think, we can’t learn, and so we defend, attack, or withdraw in defeat.

Sound familiar? The authors suggest that our feedback triggers are information, pointing us to the source of the problem. There are only three triggers, they state:

  • Truth Triggers — Our reaction to unhelpful, unjust, or untrue criticism
  • Relationship Triggers — Our reaction to the person giving the criticism, either because they lack credibility or are treating us unfairly
  • Identity Triggers — Our reaction to feedback that threatens our identity, our sense of who we are

The authors give some good advice for how to respond to each of these triggers. When facing a truth trigger, for instance, try to understand, and be aware of your blind spots. For relationship triggers, separate the who from the what, and work on the relationship. For identity triggers, dismantle your distortions and embrace a growth mindset.

There’s a lot more, even in this one section. The book is helpful, and it’s definitely relevant to those in ministry.

I’ve been thinking of how the gospel applies to each of these triggers. I can face the truth about myself, because I no longer have to hide or pretend. I can love those who trigger me, because Jesus loved me when I was unworthy. I can live out of my identity in Christ, rather than in my performance. This isn’t to say that pastors will never struggle; it is to say that we have both the excellent advice in books like Thanks for the Feedback, but we can rest in what is true because of the gospel.

If you struggle with this (and I’d guess most pastors do), this book is helpful, and I recommend it. But I’m also thankful that we have an even better resource than this book.

The Wait, the Work, and the Reward

I've been thinking lately about two passages that are shaping my expectations as a church planter. The first one, surprisingly, is from Leviticus. The second one is from 2 Timothy. Both are teaching me about God's timing in life and ministry, and the promise of reward if we work hard and wait.

The Five-Year Wait for Fruit

Leviticus 19:23-25 says:

When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:23-25)

In Israel, planting a tree was a five-year investment. Trees don't produce fruit right away. Even when the tree produced fruit, the first year's fruit was offered to God. If you planted, cultivated, and waited, eventually you would taste of the fruit, but only after the hard work and the long wait.

Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but I'm reflecting on how I would have struggled to wait that long. But waiting time isn't wasted time when you're planting trees or planting churches. If we're patient, we'll eventually get to eat of that fruit.

The Hardworking Farmer

Paul says a similar thing in 2 Timothy 2:6: “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

I don’t know a lot about farming, but Kent Hughes says this:

Farming is hard work today, and it was especially hard in the first century. The farmer’s life involved:

  1. early and long hours because he could not afford to lose time;
  2. constant toil (plowing, sowing, tending, weeding, reaping, storing);
  3. regular disappointments—frosts, pests, and disease;
  4. much patience—everything happened at less than slow motion; and
  5. boredom.

Sign me up! This, Paul says, is a good picture of what ministry looks like.

The Reward

In both passages, after the hard work and the wait, the reward is promised. "But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you..." "“It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

Why would I be less patient than an arborist or a farmer? Why wouldn't I work as hard? Why wouldn't I set hard work, unpredictable results, and patience as part of the package? And why wouldn't I expect the reward that comes at the end?

I promise you the reward at the end will be worth it.

Ministry Idols

I've been attending some training by Scott Thomas, author of the excellent book Gospel Coach. Thomas does a good job talking about ministry idols. An idol is a rival god: something we look to other than God for meaning and identity.

Thomas identifies four root idols. They're not unique to pastors and those in ministry, but they're rampant in ministry. They are:

  • Power Idol — control, positon, influence, success, strength
  • Approval Idol — relationships, achievement, ethnicity, social circles, appearance
  • Security Idol — family, finances, protection, religion, safety, future
  • Comfort Idol — pleasure, health, freedom, excesses, home and vehicles, recreation

Thomas provides a helpful grid that helps you diagnose your idols. He also uses the gospel as the source of truth that helps us turn from our idols to God:

  • Power Idol — God is glorious, so I don't have to produce results.
  • Approval Idol — God is gracious, so I don't have to prove myself.
  • Security Idol — God is great, so I don't have to be in control.
  • Comfort Idol — God is good, so I don't have to look elsewhere for comfort, peace, and fulfillment.

It's worth reading Gospel Coach just for this section of the book. It's an issue that those in ministry can't afford to ignore.

Thomas says, "Ministry will expose your weaknesses; church planting will expose your idols." This certainly lines up with my experience.

It's not really a question of whether pastors struggle with these idols or not. We all do. Effective ministry goes far beyond techniques; it surely must begin with identifying and repenting of the idols that have captured our hearts, so that the ministry is offered as an act of worship to the one true God rather than to the idols that would both enslave us and destroy our ministries.

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). Good advice for pastors and those in ministry too.

Ecclesiology by Grace

I attended SOMA One Day training this week in Toronto and experienced something I didn’t expect: the gospel applied to ministry.

This isn’t a new thing, of course. But I’ve realized that many of us (myself included) preach salvation by grace, and have started to preach sanctification by grace (including grace-driven effort) but have not yet come to preach and apply the gospel of pastoring and serving by grace. It’s why we’re so tired, discouraged about the ministry. It’s why we feel we need to measure up and get things done.

I rarely go to a conference or read a ministry book without experiencing ministry by works.


I scribbled down some of Jeff Vanderstelt’s quotes from the training:

If you are afraid, you are living out of what you have done, not what Christ has done.

You’re putting too much weight on yourself. It’s unbearable.

Do ministry out of Jesus’ love, not to earn Jesus’ love.

Do you cover up your shame with the fig leaves of ministry?

The number one starting point for ministry is the Spirit testifying in your heart that you are beloved.

Ministry will kill you if you are living for the approval of other people.

Toronto is not on your back; it’s on Jesus’ back.

It’s hard to even capture the weight that was lifted off our shoulders as Jeff preached ministry by grace, which is not opposed to effort but is opposed to earning. What if pastors really got this? What if church cultures became places in which ministry took place without the weight of having to measure up on our own strength?

I was surprised, then, to read this post by Ray Ortlund yesterday that talked about the same thing:

Two things should be happening in every gospel-centered church every Sunday.  One, the gospel should be preached.  Two, the gospel should be experienced.

What I mean by the second, experiencing the gospel, is a social environment that feels like the grace of God.  It is an obvious alternative to what we experience throughout the week.  Every day we swim in an ocean of harsh criticisms, merciless comparisons and never measuring up, soaking us in sadness while also telling us to keep faking happiness.  This is the “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom of the world (James 3:15).  It doesn’t work.

Then Sunday comes, and we step into church, where the victory of Jesus redefines everything, even to the furthest reaches of the universe.  In any church with a confidence that big, the vibe will be obviously different from the world.  Every Sunday in that kind of church we will be rediscovering the mercy of God, our union with Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the amazing promises of the gospel.  As that good news lands on us afresh and the joy of it all breaks upon our hearts — that’s what the new creation feels like right now.  It is the Lord himself enveloping us in his new community, surrounding us “with shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).

If all a church does is preach gospel doctrine, without also cultivating a gospel culture, the impact will be diminished.  However “biblical” the message might be, it will not seem plausible or satisfying.  The doctrine will seem theoretical, and the church will seem hypocritical.  But when the gospel is clear in any church at both levels simultaneously, both the gracious theological message and the humane relational culture, there is power.  It is the wisdom that comes down from above (James 3:15).  It works.

Man, I want this. I long for a gospel culture that swims against the harshness and the sense that we never measure up. It begins again with looking at Jesus and believing and applying the gospel not only in my salvation and sanctification, but also my ministry. We need an ecclesiology by grace, not the ecclesiology by works that kills.