It’s the Same Bible

A personal reflection on the sufficiency of Scripture for the minister’s work

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

~2 Timothy 3:16-17

That Scripture is sufficient to equip the man of God for every good work of the ministry was the first, second, and four hundred twenty-seventh principle we were taught at The Master’s Seminary regarding the primacy of the Word of the God in the work of the pastor. As a student, I’ve always been convinced of this biblically. As a pastor, I’ve witnessed it experientially and experienced it personally.

The depth of my discover came about through the multi-faceted nature of my particular ministry description these last several years, but especially these past two years. I’m a minister of the gospel by vocation, but the last two years were, regarding both the contexts and demographics of ministry, anything but monolithic. Ironically, it was during this period that I developed the habit of using the same physical Bible – a brown, leather-bound NASB Bible that I received from the Shepherds Conference several years ago. It contains neither study notes nor aids (aside from the standard cross-references), but just the text itself.

This particular brown, leather-bound NASB Bible is the Bible from which I preach to the saints on Sundays whenever I’m called to herald the Word from the pulpit, be it at our church or at another as a guest preacher. It happens to be the same Bible I use when privately counseling a fifty-year old, discipling a college student, and guiding a widow in distress. It’s the Bible that I unfold when teaching the young parents in our Young Families Sunday School class, and the same one I utilize while teaching their elementary-aged children during Children’s Church. It’s the Bible I have open on the desk podium while teaching the middle school students during Bible class at a local Christian school, and yet the same one from which I exhorted the school’s faculty during staff development week. It’s the Bible I extracted from my suitcase during our church elders retreat doctrinal discussion meeting, and the one I employed to teach an expository preaching session to graduate students at a local seminary…and the same one I had set before me while leading our church’s biblical counseling Sunday evening seminar series. It was the Bible from which I exposited the Word to high school students at a Bay Area Youth Retreat, and the same one I used to do both marital and pre-marital counseling. This is the same leather-bound book whose pages I flipped while equipping our church’s Bible study teachers during a home group ministry leaders meeting, and the same one I had open before me while giving a short devotional at a baby shower, and yet the same one I used to equip the Indian pastors at the Christ to India pastoral training conference. And yes, it was the same copy that rested on my hand while teaching the men at our church’s men’s breakfast and during the sessions at our annual men’s retreat…and during the two sessions at our annual all-church camp. Regardless of the age group, context, or demographic, I’ve found that everything that I need to sufficiently and effectively teach God’s people is contained in the sixty-six books embedded between the covers of this brown, leather-bound, Shepherds’-Conference-branded Bible.

Just as a tennis player wields the same racquet to unleash a myriad of shots to win his match, so also the man of God uses the same Scriptures to faithfully proclaim Christ and thereby admonish and teach every man in every context with all wisdom, so as to present every man complete in Christ. It’s a simple yet profound truth that all of God’s ministering men from past centuries and our present day have breathed, and continue to breathe, from the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”


From Devastation to Ordination

Reflections on my recent ordination at Grace Bible Fellowship

“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart…”

~2 Corinthians 4:1

I remember the first day when my wife and I stepped foot on the campus of Grace Bible Fellowship. It was a beautiful summer day on June 23, 2013, but I was devastated. Just eight days prior, I had resigned as a pastor from the ministry of which I had been a part for close to a decade. Eight days after a church resignation is equivalent to eight seconds after a biking accident. The wounds were raw, and the pain was excruciating. With all of our ministry plans and hopes for the next several years shattered, Kathy and I found at the beginning of the process of wandering in the wilderness that many ministers know as the interim period between ministries.

Nearly five years later, on March 11th of 2018, I was formally ordained as a pastor and elder of Grace Bible Fellowship. It will be marked as one of the most significant events in my family’s life.

I’m still not sure how it all happened.

I’m not claiming denial to the sequence of events that led up to the ordination. In the June of 2014, seven months after Kathy and I joined GBF as formal members, I was offered the opportunity to serve as an interim part-time pastoral assistant. In the June of 2015, I was offered the opportunity to serve in a full-time capacity. In January of 2017, I was approached about the prospect of becoming an elder. In March of 2018, I was ordained as an elder. The dots were clearly there. It’s the connecting of those dots that I have trouble tracing. The transition from one milestone to the next was seamless, which I found to be a most profound testimony of the providential wisdom of God. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that while the mind of a man plans his ways, it is Lord who directs his steps. In my particular situation, I wasn’t even planning, because I didn’t really know how to plan. The only course of action I knew to take was faithful obedience to the revealed will of God.

Then again, that’s always how I’ve approached pastoral ministry. The ambition for a particular ministry title has never been a part of my modus operandi. When I first committed myself to the path of vocational ministry of the gospel 2006, I didn’t know the difference between a pastor, elder, and deacon. I was clueless regarding my spiritual giftedness. All I knew was that Christ desired to make disciples of Himself and I desired to give myself wholly to that endeavor. For that cause, I was willing to give up my previous career ambitions. I do what I do so that the Word of God may go out to the people of God, that they may be conformed to the Son of God and be prepared for the kingdom of God.

I’m not saying that I was clueless during the time that I’ve served at GBF. By the time my family joined the membership, I had graduated from seminary, served as a youth and associate pastor, had been formally ordained as a pastor and elder at my previous ministry. I’ve had enough time – and enough feedback from others – to where I’m gifted and where I’m, well, not gifted both at the previous ministry and at GBF. I was fully aware of the biblical mandate for the office of overseer and the nature of the work. And the desire for the work has always burned with a steady flame. But, with all integrity, not once over the last five years did I ever approach Pastor Cliff (GBF’s pastor-teacher) to ask when it was that I could become an elder. It wasn’t for any lack of desire. But I firmly believed that it was not in my place to do so. It has never been up to me to plan the course of my life as a minister. There’s a difference, after all, between being faithful and forceful. The duty of the man of God is not to force his way into a pastoral position, but to faithfully proclaim God’s Word, equip others for the work of the ministry, love God’s people sacrificially, and endure all the hardship that comes for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord decides which responsibilities in the labor of the kingdom he allots to me for whatever season of life. I myself don’t have a 10-step plan for going from layman to leader. I really don’t. And even if I could recount the events, the movement was more fluid than methodical. I guess I could say, “Stay intimately communing with Christ, be faithful to teaching His Word whenever you get the chance, and care deeply for the people in your midst. Do this to the best of your ability, week-in and week-out, and see what the Lord decides to do with it.”

Plus, it’s not like I’ve arrived. If anything, it’s more of, “Here we go…” Whatever position or title or function was never the end for me, but simply a means to the end of the sanctity of God’s people. To be ordained is more than to be recognized. It is to be held responsible. It is to be entrusted. It is to be held accountable. A gift entrusted must be a gift employed, fervently and faithfully. And by God’s gracious commissioning, it has happened to me for the second time.

Ordination into pastoral ministry and eldership is much different the second around than the first. For one, there’s a more sober realization of the suffering and persecution that comes with the ministry. But more pointedly for me, there’s a greater and deeper appreciation for the sovereignty of God. I’ve come to understand that I was ordained not because of my qualifications, but because of God’s sovereignty. As I write, I grieve with the many men who are qualified for pastoral ministry and, for one reason or another, are out of the ministry. Not everyone who desires to pastor and is qualified to pastor actually gets to pastor. Further, I realize that a man’s ordination at a particular local church is far less about ambition and much more about submission. During this whole process, one dear saint told me, “I was so happy to hear that you were being ordained…because it meant that you had decided to stay with us rather than moving to another congregation” (I’m paraphrasing). The gift of pastoring (cf Eph 4:12) will remain with the man of God wherever he goes. But to be ordained as an elder at a particular local church indicates his commitment to give himself to the shepherding care of that particular flock of God. For one, it means that I’m committing to link arms with the current elders of GBF. It was at GBF that I learned what true, godly pastors and elders look like. The elders who so lovingly and wisely helped my family reconstruct our lives were the same elders who welcomed me into their team, and for that I am doubly honored. It also means that, for now, I am looking nowhere else other than to the saints of Grace Bible Fellowship as the primary people to whom I will serve, day in and day out, week in and week out.

Ordination is important because God’s people are important. Being a pastor and elder is crucial because the sanctity of God’s saints is vital. Before Christ, I have not changed. Intern, assistant, elder, or whatever the title…I’m a bondservant of Jesus. I always have been, and always will be. He directs my life and commissions my ministry as He pleases – different works for different seasons – and to that I am bound. His Word – the same Word which I’ve been preaching and teaching since 2007 – hasn’t changed. Feeding His flock is all I’ve known to do, and that’s all I’ll continue to do – whatever the form. And right now, that flock is the membership of Grace Bible Fellowship.

From devastation to ordination. GBF…my family and I are here to stay.

Knowing Who to Follow

Biblical instructions on how to discern godly leaders

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

~Hebrews 13:7

We’re all called to follow someone. But we shouldn’t follow everyone. We all need to be shown the way. But only some know the way to show us.

It’s a biblical as well as sociological axiom that we as humans need to be led. The man who claims to be self-taught and self-constructed is also self-deceived. God designed humans such that the patterns of the masses are shaped by the convictions of a few. Christians are no exception. How God’s people live and for what they live are largely influenced by their leadership. Churches need leaders, just as sheep need shepherds (Mark 6:34; Jeremiah 23:1-4). Like teacher, like student; like priest, like people. All of us will become like the ones who lead us (Luke 6:40; Hosea 4:9).

Yet, we’re not called to follow everyone. There’s as much warning in the Bible about false teachers as there is description about godly ones. As Christians, we’re not only called to humbly follow our leaders…but are also responsible for wisely choosing which leaders to follow. Thankfully, the inspired and inerrant Word of God gives instructions to the sheep regarding how to discern the sheepdogs from the wolves. How do you then, as a believer, discern which leaders in the Christian community to submit to and imitate? When you walk into a church and hear – or meet – the pastor, what’s the paradigm by which you ought to evaluate him? There’s a difference, after all, between being unfairly judgmental and being prudent.

Hebrews 13:7 gives the answer: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

In other words, listen and look. Listen critically and look carefully. To know if a man is worth following, listen to what he teaches and look at his life.

#1: Listen to what he teaches

How a man teaches is important, but what he teaches is vital. Substance trumps style, always. True, most pastors will bring a Bible up with them to the pulpit. But there’s a difference between preaching with the Bible or about the Bible and preaching the Bible itself. According to Hebrews 13:7 calls us to remember those “who spoke the word of God to you.” Simply put, a godly leader or pastor will preach and teach none other than the Word of God. Granted, some of them may come across as boring. Some may lack energy. Some, you may feel, simply don’t “connect” or “relate” to you. But the man to be followed is he who faithfully exposits the Scriptures alone, and does so both in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2). Different churches and different ministers will speak and dress differently, and that’s ok. There’s no need to create a standard about which the Bible doesn’t. But at the end of the day, God has determined to speak to His people – you included – each week through His Word. Follow the leader who will voice it to you through the preaching of the Word.

#2: Look at how he lives

Faith must be walked as well as taught. We tend to look at how people look more than on how they live and what they live for. That’s why Hebrews 13:7 reminds us to consider “the result of their conduct” before we follow. Some versions have it as “the outcome of their lives.” If a man is a faithful expositor and instructor of the Word, he may be worth following. I say “may” because, well, he may not be. Godly leaders are not perfect in their faith, but they do practice what they preach and are proven over time (cf 1 Tim 5:24-25). Look, then, at the outcome of a man’s life. The outcome – the fruit. That means his character. That means his perseverance in the faith over a period of time through various trials. That means the people who he has impacted and influenced. That means the body of work God has accomplished through his faithful laboring. That means the condition of his household. Does he, in his manner of speech and conduct in all spheres of life, remind you of the Christ he claims to follow, such that if you imitate him you’ll imitate Christ (1 Cor 11:1)? God, after all, designed for you not only to hear His Word each week, but to be conformed to His Son’s image in all that you do (1 John 2:6). The man who models Christ-likeness, charismatic or not, is worth following.

The ball’s in your court. Choose your leaders wisely. Choose your leaders biblically. For who is ahead of you is what will become of you.

Even Model Christians Can Struggle in Sexual Purity

Having the proper perspective toward men struggling in the area of sexual purity

A renown evangelical preacher once said that habitual struggles with sexual immorality are, without exception, indicative of spiritual immaturity. Below is the quotation that he made:

“And yes, if a person in the body, who is not disciplined, because they truly show signs and fruit of conversion, but are struggling in a certain area, this area of sexual immorality, then, here’s a few things I think we need to look at. First of all, as we’ve seen in the Book of Acts, no matter what else they know, they’re immature. No matter what else they think they know, they’ve not even reached the first rung of a Christian ethic being applied to their life. They should never be given a ministry in the church while they are struggling with this matter.”

I truly respect this preacher for who he is, what he preaches, what he lives for, and how he lives it out. But in this statement, I have to respectfully disagree.

First, it can be a misdiagnosis; I don’t believe that the Bible makes that kind of a sweeping correlation. Second, it can be damaging; such a belief has led may pastors, ministers, lay-leaders, and counselors to deal with men in their churches struggling in this area in a manner that has been largely unedifying.

When I was first ordained for the gospel ministry, I was asked by my Greek Professor (who I opted to be part of the ordination council) how I would help a young man who was struggling with pornography. The reason why he asked this was because ministering to men in the church will inevitably result in having to exhort young men in this very issue. Generally speaking, young adult men in the church will struggle with sexual purity. It doesn’t take rocket science to deduce this; it only takes a few years of being in the men’s ministry in your local church. It can be true for men of all ages, but it’s particularly volcanic for those hovering in their twenties and thirties. I once told a fellow pastor that biblical counseling for men is euphemistic for the sex and purity talk. I specifically identified young men “in the church” above, as the struggle against sexual purity is not one that solely plagues non-Christians; it plagues all.

I’ve also come to observe over the years that, for men, this particular struggle tends to be unique in the effect it has on men and also the trajectory with which men learn to overcome it. First, it’s unique in the privacy with which it plagues. Christian men simply have a difficult time being fully transparent about the full nature of their struggles with lust regarding, history and habit alike. Second, it’s unique in the shame that men feel regarding continual struggles. While all sin is offensive in the eyes of a holy God, to think that men exhibit equal sentiment toward frustration with co-workers as they do in the weekly stumbling into pornography is simply naive. Third, it’s unique in the nature of progress. Tell a man upon conversion to stop dropping expletive bombshells, and he’ll stop tomorrow. Tell him to stop masturbating, and you’re in for a five-year battle. Fourth, it’s unique in that it takes marriage to fully overcome the struggle (cf 1 Corinthians 7). While it’s true that the Spirit empowers us to overcome the dominating power of all sin (Romans 6), some sinful habits are quite frankly tougher to break than others (Romans 7). And those habits related to sexual purity tend to have the thickest shackles. Be naive about these realities, and you’ll more than likely fail to minister to the young men in your church the way you ought.

The Bible is not silent on how to approach struggling believers – be it with sin or suffering. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, calls for us to admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, and be patient with all. What I failed to realize early in ministry was that, for the most part, Christian men struggling with sexual purity aren’t being unruly. Much of the time, they’re faint-hearted. True, there are always those men who hypocritically claim to love Christ and live in gross immorality and vehemently refuse to repent from it (cf 1 Corinthians 5-6) and must be exposed for such. I do agree that at times, the presence of a certain level of sexual immorality can indicate the reality of an unregenerate heart or a very immature one. But in sound, Bible-teaching churches, these are exceptions and not the norm. The majority of the men in these congregations who will admit to struggling with purity of some sort are not living with their girlfriends, are not in adulterous relationships, and are not soliciting prostitutes during the week. Most of them are sitting in the pews absorbing the Sunday sermon, faithfully serving in various ministries, are seeking accountability in small groups, and are looking for books and articles online that speak on the topic of their struggles. The majority of them are at the point of despair, questioning the integrity of their faith as a result of it, timid about doing any kind of church ministry, confused about their standing before God, and are desperate for solutions for success. Discouraged, shamed, humbled, insecure, confused, and desperate men don’t need to be hammered. They need to be encouraged and guided.

So what is it with the tendency amongst pastors, disciplers, and counselors to hammer the young men of the church for struggling with these things? The hammering happens from the pulpit, in books, and in one-to-one counseling sessions. Don’t get me wrong; sexual impurity is a serious sin that has serious consequences against which a man ought to vehemently guard himself. And yes, absolutely, we ought to preach against it, especially in our day and age where immorality of all breeds is not only tolerated but embraced. But I do believe that we inappropriately employ the hammer when we lead faint-hearted men to think that their struggles are wholly indicative either of the integrity of their faith or the genuineness of their growth. We also cause unnecessary damage by leading them to believe that their struggles with purity will forever prevent their future from marriage from reaching the fulfillment that God designed marriage to have. I myself have erred in the past in saying such things. I’ve heard others do so as well. And it hurts more than helps.

It hurts more than helps, because it fails to unveil the reality that, at times and to some degree, even model Christians can struggle with some form of sexual impurity.

Need proof? Look at the Scripture. Specifically, look at the Thessalonians.

The theme of 1 Thessalonians is “The Model Church.” Why? Because the Thessalonian church was indeed a model church. They were, as Paul said, an example to all the believers in the region (1:7). Unlike the Galatians who flirted with false gospels and the Corinthians who swam in carnality at which even Gentiles gawked, the virtuous character of the Thessalonian Christians made them deservedly reputable amongst the early church community. These were Christians marked with genuine faith, hope, and love (1:3), who had genuinely repented from idolatry to serve the living and true God (1:9), who had sincerely received the word of God and in whom the Word of God was truly performing its work (2:13), whose character and devotion to Christ had proven itself under the pressure of suffering and persecution (2:14), and who consistently practiced love to one another and to those around them (4:9-10). The Thessalonians were, in every respect, an exemplary church made up of exemplary Christians. Hence, the main exhortation from Paul to them was not harsh admonition, but to excel still more in all that they were doing (4:1, 10).

One of the ways they would excel beyond the character that they had already attained was to abstain from sexual immorality (4:3). Apparently, even this kind of a faith-filled, love-abounding, and hope-anchored model church still struggled with the oh-so-common problem of lust. They weren’t at the level that the Corinthians were (cf 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:12-20), but the struggle was still there.

Alongside the accountability and the plethora of Christian literature written on the topic, having a proper perspective toward a Christian man’s struggle against sexual immorality. Pastors, leaders, disciplers, and counselors of men ought to be cautious about judging the maturity of a man based on the presence of struggles in the area of sexual purity. The truth is that some of the most quality men I’ve ministered to and alongside have struggled with it. We have to be careful with putting the same blanket over all kinds of sexual sin. Obviously, not all sexual sin is created equal in terms of its natural consequences. All sins are created equal in terms of its unrighteousness and the need for Christ’s atoning sacrifice that it warrants for the one who commits it. But a man who refuses to leave an adulterous relationship will be disciplined by the church; a man who is caught viewing a pornographic website won’t.

Equally vital to having a proper perspective is knowing how to give the proper encouragement and hope to the young men struggling with purity. Enough of this “once you view a pornographic image, it’ll be seared in your mind forever and will forever haunt you even in your marriage” talk. You may not be wrong in saying it, but you end up sending the wrong message. The truth is, many of the men who struggled with purity in their single years end up not only overcoming it, but today are themselves exemplary husbands, fathers, and church leaders. God, after all, is able to fully sanctify a man (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and work all things from his past to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

So give young men hope. Give them hope that, even in their struggles, their faith may very well be real and growing. Give them hope that, in spite of the repeated stumbling, sanctity awaits.

Dealing with the Diotrophic Disease

“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.”

~3 John 1:9 

Men, beware of the lust for leadership. 
I’m not speaking of our God-given and biblically-prescribed responsibility as men to lead our families and the church. Rather, I’m speaking of a man’s natural thirst for prominence, prestige, pre-eminence, and power. Men, beware of the lust for leadership. 
It’s been said before that the problem with the church is that its men won’t lead. I’ve listened to ministers and preachers – myself included – almost aggressively challenge the men of their congregations to “step it up.” It’s no surprise then that men’s seminars can sound like locker room pep talks. And while I’m fully for a minister’s summoning men to step up and lead, over the years I’ve realized that the problem underlying the lack of biblical leadership amongst the men of the church is not a lack of desire for leadership. Rather, it’s a misguided passion for ungodly leadership. I’ll call it the Diotrophic disease. 
It’s no mystery that men of the church have problems with biblically leading. But I’ve discerned both biblically and experientially that men don’t have a problem with wanting to be leaders. Or should I say, males don’t have a problem with leadership. Watch little boys in the school playground if you’re not convinced. Time and time again, I’ve had young men approach me saying that they want to be discipled so that they can “become better leaders.” If what the church needs is for men who have a passion for leadership, there wouldn’t be a problem – at least not in the local churches in which I’ve served. 
The problem is not that men aren’t passionate about leading. It’s that men aren’t humbling themselves to serve. 
The words from the journals of Jim Elliot, the renown martyred missionary to the Aucas, are worth considering: 
“There is not one word in the New Testament about this ‘training for leadership.’ There, all the training is for being a servant to everyone you meet. Training is to learn to follow, not to lead…Jesus said, ‘He that is first shall be last.’ It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master. That is the sort of training that we need, to be as He is…” (Shadow of the Almighty, 124-5)
He has a point. It’s not to say that we should never have leadership training seminars; I myself have both led and participated in them. What is perplexing, however, is when the young men who tell me that they have a desire to become small group leaders, mentors and counselors, Bible study teachers, and even elders are the same men who during church functions stand around with arms-folded like pretty statues while the elderly ladies are faithfully folding chairs and emptying trash bins right in front of them, not to mention their elderly husbands breaking their backs while folding up the tables. It’s appalling and embarrassing, that so many of the young men who have expressed a passion for leadership will, at the same time, deem themselves over-qualified to mow lawns and wait on tables at restaurants. But again, it speaks to the reality that the problem with men is not a lack of desire for leadership, but that they have an ungodly thirst for leadership that causes them to neglect Christ’s call to servanthood. It’s the Diotrophic disease. 
I’m calling it the Diotrophic disease because Diotrophes had it, as the apostle John warns his good friend Gaius in 3 John 9. Diotrophes, explains John, is one who “loves to be first.” It’s the Greek compound word philoproteauo. Philo– to love or desire. Proteau– to lead. A love for leadership. It was a vice, not a virtue, that produced the the controlling and domineering behavior that characterized him, of which the Holy Spirit warns the church through this letter. The church doesn’t need more men of Diotrophes’ mold. 

I agree that there is a famine in the church for men who truly lead. But it’s a famine regarding a particular brand of leadership – namely, biblical leadership as Christ described in the gospels. Consider His words specifically in Luke 22:25-27, addressed to prominence-hungry apostles:

“And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Biblical leadership is humble servanthood. It is not a fight for prominence, but rather a commitment to relinquish it. To lead as Christ calls is not to love to be first; it is to commit to being last. It is to learn to carry out tasks that the world normally associates with the least esteemed. A man will never learn to lead like Christ until he mortifies the Diotrophic disease in him. To train a man to lead biblically is to train him to see himself as the least of men. For Christ Himself did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself to the point of taking the form of a slave. If the Son of God humbled himself to wash feet and carry His cross for the welfare of others, so should the men who follow in His footsteps. 

And when you have a church full of men who are committed to foot-washing and cross-carrying, you have a church with men who can – and will – lead.   

Study the Buck. Don’t Shoot it. 

Recovering the essential skill of listening

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” ~Proverbs 18:13

I’ve seen it time and time again. A young man gains solid biblical teaching from a sound, biblical, evangelical church. He immediately adopts the Ezra 7:10 mentality, becoming eater to study, practice, and teach the Word of God – formally or informally. Discipleship, counseling, and leading small groups becomes an ambition for his zealous soul. But rather than treating the sound doctrine he learns as lenses through which to understand the world around him more clearly, he stores them as bullets for his rifle. He then sets out on a hunting expedition, also known as his first discipleship or counseling where he is the mentor rather than the pupil. He braces himself, waiting for the buck – also known as the erred statement of the person with whom he’s meeting – to emerge from the forest trees. The moment of truth arrives when the buck emerges, and he does what a good hunter does: he fires and hits his target. The buck falls lifeless. The young hunter-minister stands proud of his great aim, having corrected his erred pupil with a series of theological bullets. 

The problem, however, is that he wasn’t supposed to shoot the buck; he was supposed to study it. Don’t get me wrong; there is a place and time to shoot. But the man of God is a shepherd more than a hunter. He shoots at the wolves, and not at the bucks. And not at the eagles or the foxes. 

People have asked me in the past what I believe is the most important skill in life and ministry, particularly in the realm of pastoral and biblical counseling. I always find it difficult to answer that question, but what I can answer is what I’ve observed to be the most neglected skill in the reformed, evangelical community – and even amongst pastors and leaders. And that is the skill of listening. 

For a minister – be he a pastor, preacher, mentor, evangelist, or counselor – there is a time to teach and a time to listen. Ministers wholly committed to rightly interpreting and communicating the Word of God (and praise the Lord for this) often make the mistake of treating every time as a time to preach and teach. Their counseling and discipleship meetings become forty-five minute Bible expositions. But when you’re always teaching, you’re never listening. And if you’re never listening, then you’re never learning. And if you’re never learning, the Bible calls you foolish. And as a result, many people in church are hesitant to be honest about the reality of how they’re doing and what’s happening in life. Their to expose the critters of their heart, even the harmless squirrels and badgers, comes out of the fear that they’ll get rifled one after the other. I’ve surveyed a number of folks – particularly young men – about this very thing. Why are they afraid to be honest? At times, it’s pride. But the majority of the time, it’s because a previous attempt to be transparent about the realities of life has only triggered an barrage of counsel from answer-happy pastors. You can’t blame them. Why would they want to be honest with someone who won’t listen? I for sure wouldn’t. Would you?

For the record, the goal of a counseling and discipleship meeting is not mere comprehension of a person. The goal is, well, to give counsel or instruction. I’m not denying the importance of the didactic component in these settings. Helping involves more than hearing. But you can’t help when you don’t hear. Counsel and instruction – even if it is biblically sound – must be given as appropriate to a person’s condition or circumstances. There is such a thing as saying the right thing to the wrong person, or to say the right thing to the right person at the wrong time or in the wrong way. One of the antidotes to this is the application of skillful listening. Only when you put down the rifle and take out the specs will you realize that, at times, what you thought was a wolf really was a stray husky that looked like a wolf but is harmless to the sheep. Only then, will the rest of the critters of a man’s heart emerge for you to observe. Only when you listen will you truly understand. And only when you understand are you in a position to give counsel or instruction. Consider the following Scripture:

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” ~Proverbs 18:13

“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but the man of understanding draws it out” ~Proverbs 20:5

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” ~Proverbs 18:2

Study the buck. Don’t shoot it. 

Exposing Your Teeth to the Dentist

Honesty in the Discipleship Relationship 

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds  ay be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:20-21)

You can’t say “yes” to every young man who requests to be discipled or mentored by you. Partly, it’s because you’re not omnipresent. But more importantly, not everyone can be effectively discipled.

I fully recognize that at times, some one-on-one mentoring relationships haven’t been successful or fruitful simply because I wasn’t the right guy to work with a particular personality (see a previous entry I wrote called “Chemistry – Does it Matter?”). This I concede, and I’m more than happy to see a young man who may have previously driven me up the wall suddenly flourishing in his walk with Christ under the mentoring ministry and guidance of another. But this aside, I’ve also learned that certain young men just can’t be effectively discipled (at least, during particular points in their life) because they’re resistant to exhibiting this particular virtue known as honest transparency.

You’re not called to be transparent with every person. But you need to be so to the one from whom you’re seeking discipleship. If a man isn’t honest with where he is, what he wants, and where he’s struggling, I’ve simply learned not to proceed with the discipleship process or to cease a previously commenced one. For while honesty is not the sole virtue needed for growth in a Christian, it’s a non-negotiable one. Christ, instructing nicodemus about the nature of a true disciple, says, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:20-21). The implication is this: a man who isn’t transparently honest about himself, his motives, his struggles, his deeds, and his ambitions is by definition one who loves his sin and refuses to expose them lest he be compelled to unhinge himself from them. He is the man who walks into the dentist’s office and refuses to open his mouth for the inspection portion of the treatment. Such a man simply can’t be treated, no matter how skilled and experienced the dentist.

Conversely, the investment or hours and weeks – and sometimes years –  into the man who exhibits such honest transparency comes with the great reward of watching the fledgling transform into a full-flighted eagle. Such men almost assuredly surmount previously insurmountable obstacles, in the same way that man who cried “Help me with my unbelief!” eventually learned to believe. Discipling the honest man, without a doubt, brings about some of the greatest blessings in ministry.

After all, it is the one who learns to expose his teeth to the dentist whose teeth will eventually be treated.