In the first panel discussion at T4G, a question was raised about preaching and the priority of sermon application. C.J. asked Mark Dever how he includes application as a part of his weekly sermon research. Here’s a segment from the discussion.
C.J. Mahaney: Mark, how would you help a pastor who devotes the majority of his time in his preparation to the exegesis of the text, to the neglect of the application of the text?
Mark Dever: I would tell him, as your question implies, that he shouldn’t neglect the application of the text.
CJM: How would you help him alter the patterns of his preparation so that his preaching is different in its accent on application?
MD: Once he is confident of the meaning of the text, then he should spend time in prayer and reflection. And that may just be my personality, but I find talking to other people very helpful. If I know the four points I am bringing out [in the sermon], what are the implications of each point:
• for the non-Christian?
• for the mom at home?
• for somebody at work or in school?
• for us as a whole congregation?
• for the individual Christian?
And then do that with each point in the sermon. I find that very useful. It is sort of a structured meditation on each text.
I won’t necessarily put all that in my sermon, but I will make note of all that and a lot of it will get in my sermon.
CJM: But that is an intentional part of your preparatory process.
MD: A very important part.
Ligon Duncan: Is your application grid available at the 9Marks site?
MD: Yes, it is a couple of places. It is on the 9Marks website. It’s also in Michael Lawrence’s new book Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry. He has a grid that you can fill in with the points of your sermons in these various categories [see page 184].
Later in the discussion Dever said that of the 25–30 hours he invests weekly in sermon prep, around 5–10 of those hours are spent on application. The full audio recording of this panel discussion can be downloaded here.
The sermon application grid is available from 9Marks in two downloadable PDF versions: a blank grid and a sample completed grid.
In his new book Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, Lawrence highlights four benefits of the sermon application grid:
Having thought through each of the categories, I’m much more likely to avoid repetition and personal hobby-horses. I’m more likely to apply the text beyond the very narrow range most Bible teachers normally operate in: ethical application to the individual Christian life and gospel appeal to the non-Christian. And I’m more likely to apply the text to the corporate life of our church as a whole and to consider worldview implications for the non-Christian. Most importantly, I’m reminded by this grid that one of the most important “applications” isn’t about me or us at all, but simply what the text teaches us about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and how the Trinity has worked together to purpose, accomplish, and apply our salvation to their eternal glory. (page 185)
For more on the grid and its value to the preacher, see chapter 11 in Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.
Photo source: Southern Seminary Communications
How does a pastor prepare a church for suffering?
This was one question addressed at the recent T4G conference in Louisville. Jointly, C.J. and Matt Chandler provided answers to this often-neglected pastoral topic.
C.J. opened the session with a brief explanation of why this topic is critical in the life of the local church. He then invited Matt to share the story of the Thanksgiving Day seizure that led to his hospitalization, the discovery of a mass in his brain, and his surgery eight days later to remove a portion of his right frontal lobe. Before the 7,000 attendees Chandler recounted this unexpected and frightening time of his life and looked back at God's grace in the midst of his recent suffering.
What sustained me through it all? Where did I find my feet landing over and over again? In the doctrines, in the theology, and in the beauty and magnificence of Christ and his salvation. There my feet could rest and there I had the ability to put my confidence in him and him alone. This has had ripple effects in the Village Church, which has had ripple effects in the evangelical community at large, where men and women who have not theologically lined up with necessarily where I am and where my heart is, all of the sudden are drawn in and want to have discussions around the beauty of God’s sovereign will.
Matt's testimony and example were moving. Later, when reflecting on Matt's role at the conference, C.J. said, "God's grace is evident in Matt's life in a profound way. His personal example of trusting God in the midst of severe suffering is compelling. I experienced this with Matt in private conversation at the conference and I think everyone experienced it as he shared publicly. His time with us was unforgettable and it will serve conference participants in an enduring way, long after the other conference messages are only a distant memory."
C.J. followed Matt's segment, briefly addressing an important question: How do pastors provide this foundation for their people before suffering arrives? In the remaining time allotted for the session, C.J. encouraged pastors to consider five points:
- Prepare your church for suffering through the preaching diet. For the task C.J. commended the books of Job, Habakkuk, and 1 Peter.
- Draw your church's attention to living illustrations of people suffering well in the church.
- Develop a curriculum of supplemental books, chapters, articles, and audio messages on the topic. C.J. recommended:
- D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil
- John Piper’s sermon series “Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer” (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, Q/A)
- Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty
- Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts
- David Powlison, “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings,” a chapter in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
- C.H. Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters: Words of Comfort for Your Soul
- Point your church to the suffering Savior in the gospel. C.J.: “The great mystery is not why do I suffer? The great mystery is why would the sinless Son of God suffer as my substitute on the cross for my sins, receiving the wrath that I deserve, so that I might be forgiven and declared righteous?”
- When suffering arrives, be at their side. C.J.: "By God’s grace, when we care for people in the midst of suffering, they will never forget the difference we make. Their gratefulness will be deep and it will be profound and it will be unending."
The 50-minute session is available as an mp3 download and a video on Vimeo. You can watch the entire session here:
Here’s the fourth and final installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series. The first three are available here
, and here
I asked David to elaborate on this quote:
Wise living involves alertness to experience and emotion. The goal of such self-awareness is not introspective self-preoccupation. Such awareness is rather a matter of integrity and honesty. It is meant to lead you to those twin radical “extrospections”: faith and love.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 221.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 5-minute audio recording here
(4.4 MB) or listen online:
Here’s the third installment third installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series. The first two installments are available here and here.
I asked David to elaborate on this excellent quote:
A biblical understanding of “feelings” lets us look behind the often deceptive language of daily life.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 43.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 5-minute audio recording here (4.7 MB) or listen online:
Here’s the second installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series (you can access the first one here
I asked David to elaborate on this quote:
I have yet to meet a couple locked in hostility (and the accompanying fear, self-pity, hurt, self-righteousness) who really understood and reckoned with their motives. James 4:1–3 teaches that cravings underlie conflicts. Why do you fight? It’s not “because of my wife/husband…”—it’s because of something about you. Couples who see what rules them—cravings for affection, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life—can repent and find God’s grace made real to them, and then learn how to make peace.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 151.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 7-minute audio recording here
(5.9 MB) or listen online:
I could listen to my friend David Powlison for hours and not lose interest for even a second. The man is one of the wisest men I know and he seems to never repeat himself. His deployment of language is unique and when I am with him it seems I cannot take notes fast enough.
So in May, while David was in town teaching at our Pastors College, I sat down with him in the recording studio. First, we talked about six of the resources he’s produced (that interview is in last Thursday’s post). Then I asked David to elaborate on four quotes from his writings that have each impacted my life and teaching over the years. We’ll call it “five minutes with David Powlison.”
Over the next few days I’ll post these four brief but rich recordings. There is a wealth of wisdom in each of them.
In the first recording I asked David to elaborate on this excellent quote:
Don’t ever degenerate into giving advice unconnected to the good news of Jesus crucified, alive, present, at work, and returning.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 43.
To hear what David had to say, download the four-minute audio recording here (3.8 MB) or listen online here:
No one has taught me more about applying the gospel to my heart in the midst of daily life than my friend David Powlison. I have benefited from dozens of outstanding journal articles he has written, from the books he has authored, and from the courses he has taught.
In May I sat down with David in the Sovereign Grace studio to discuss a short list of my favorites from among his resources. The result is an hour-long narrated bibliography of sorts.
We talked about life, his decorated athletic career at Harvard, the New York Yankees, the outrageous cost of dissertations, and some communication theory. But mostly I wanted David to explain the origin and purpose of six specific resources: two conference messages, a course, two books, and his dissertation.
You can download the 56-minute interview here (45 MB), or listen online here:
• Message: “Jesus Christ Is NOT One-Size Fits All” on 1 Thessalonians 5:14, delivered at Sovereign Grace Ministries’ 2004 Pastors Conference. This message was later developed into an article, “Familial Counseling: The Paradigm for Counselor-Counselee Relationships in 1 Thessalonians 5” (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2007).
• Message: “In the Last Analysis: Look Out for Introspection” Delivered at our 2007 Pastors Conference.
• Course: Dynamics of Biblical Change. The 1996 version is available as a set of 22 audio CDs from Westminster Bookstore. The distance education curriculum edition created in 2006 can be accessed through the website of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.
• Book: Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture (274 pgs; P&R, 2003).
• Book: Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community (203 pgs; New Growth, 2005).
• Dissertation: Competent to Counsel? The History of a Conservative Protestant Biblical Counseling Movement (500 pgs; New Growth, 1996), re-published as The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context (New Growth, 2010).
In the first half of our series, my friend David Powlison introduced us to two fictional works that each featured pastors—Cry, the Beloved Country and Gilead. In the second half, which you are about to read, David recommends six fictional works he classifies as “dark realism,” books that look honestly at the darkness of the human heart without Christ. Along the way David will explain what pastors can gain from works like these.
Like the previous half, this interview except was transcribed from an audio recording.
PART 2: DAVID POWLISON ON “DARK REALISM”
I am a real believer that pastors need a better sense of the messiness of life. You can have your nose in the Bible, you can do all your exegesis, and you can actually miss how gritty the Bible itself is. And you can certainly miss it and develop little idealistic, plastic-smile versions of the Christian life that are not reckoning with what real life is, the things you read about in a history of World War II or in Dostoyevsky. Even in a redeemed sense of things you read in these other two novels [Cry, the Beloved Country and Gilead] that have a powerfully redemptive, overtly Christian theme to them.
I mandated my class read three books. Cry, the Beloved Country and Gilead were two of them. For the third one I gave them the choice and they could pick from a list of the most despairing—but thoughtfully despairing—twentieth-century works I could think of:
• Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
• The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill
• Anton Chekhov's Short Stories
• A short story by Raymond Carver
• Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
• The Plague by Albert Camus
I called these six books "dark realism." They are all worldviews that explore the darkness of human life. What I like about them is that if there is no Christ, they are right. And I don’t think we present Christ well if we do not reckon with the alternative, and the alternative to Christ is darkness.
I have appreciated all six of those books. Conrad, in Heart of Darkness, is looking about as straight as one can look into the pit of the human heart, and he sees the horror of human evil. Conrad is so profoundly pessimistic, an almost unalleviated cynicism and darkness. I think if you want to know about the nature of sin and death, it really behooves us to be aware of some of the more modern writers.
Chekhov is interesting because he has an equally pessimistic worldview, but there is a kind of common grace. Chekhov treats his characters with love, with a palpable love and respect in the way that he portrays people, even though he has no basis for it. In his worldview you die, and that's it. But there is a kind of dignity and grace of spirit.
One very admirable thing about all these guys is that they value honesty. And even if I fundamentally disagree with their vision, there is a certain way in which they have a love for what is true and a hatred for false fronts and hypocrisy.
They usually hate religion—which is what they think Christianity is. And they don’t have kind words to say about the church, but I always think it's worth hearing us at our worst, or hearing how we may be coming across, not because I don’t believe in Christianity, but because the Bible I read has an even more unsparing critique of the church's failings. But the Bible also has a Redeemer.
So these six books will give you vicarious wisdom to learn about people. But they shouldn’t rattle your faith—this is the alternative to faith!
More to come…
I appreciate David’s list of books (and just in time for summer). Over the coming days and weeks be watching for more from David.
Coming soon we will be posting a number of audio clips we recorded with David, including a narrated bibliography. I asked David to walk through several resources on biblical counseling that he has authored over the years to explain why he created them, who will benefit, and how. I think this recording will provide a useful overview to David’s most valuable tools for pastors.
We also recorded four short podcasts with him on topics including good advice versus the Good News, cravings and conflict, feelings versus reality, and the value of personal emotion. Stay tuned for more.
May our summer reading remind us of the light of the gospel that broke into our darkened souls. And may these books supply us with a sobering reality of sin’s darkness and generate a deeper love for the lost.
Ministry expectations can spread a pastor's energy thin as his duties expand in all directions. So how does a pastor serving alone prioritize his life and ministry to ensure that he is faithful to what is most important? During a Pastors College Q&A meeting this winter, a visiting pastor asked C.J. the following question.
: With 18 to 20 hours of study a week, small-group training and leadership, parent-teen leadership, generational leadership, etc., for a guy like myself who is pastoring by himself, what do we do? Obviously we should preach on Sundays at the gathering, but where do we back off? And how do we gauge our family hours?
: Your challenge will be the consistent temptation to compare yourself unfavorably to other pastors and other contexts. You hear about other churches and what they are accomplishing, and you can be tempted to think this is immediately transferable. Always look behind the immediate illustration to the history behind that church. That is too often what we don’t do. So realize that behind that other individual is a body of experience and a number of years. That church didn’t begin the way you now see it. And that is no small challenge for someone who is serving by himself in pastoral ministry, but it is your challenge, and it is one that I think you can walk wisely through.
Your priorities at present sound like they are in place.
(1) First is the priority of caring for your own soul before God, cultivating affection for the Savior, and growing in your appreciation for his death on the cross for your sins.
(2) The second priority is caring for, serving, and leading your wife and children.
(3) Then we arrive at preparation for the Sunday meeting. If I were to open your planner and study your calendar, I would want to see reflected in your schedule a sufficient number of hours to prepare for the Sunday meeting. This meeting must be your priority because, until you have a team around you, this is the most effective way you can serve the entirety of the church as it exists now.
From my experience, the demands of counseling often most forcefully intrude upon your preparation for serving the church on Sunday. Identifying and training those capable of serving as small-group leaders would be, I think, your next priority. I would train them in biblical counseling so that they can help you with pastoral ministry and free you to devote more undistracted time to preaching and leading on Sunday. Given the strategic role they play, I wouldn’t be simply training these small-group leaders in generalities, but developing a specialized training program for those individuals so that they can assist you in detailed counseling situations. Although you may be required in the toughest cases, finding capable small-group leaders will relieve much of the counseling burden that single-staff pastors cannot carry themselves.
And at this point there are ways I think you can specialize, depending on the makeup of your church. But you don’t have to think in terms of official, formalized ministries. For example, you may consider developing a class based on a book like Age of Opportunity
to train parents and teens for a period of time without the obligation of creating a formalized, ongoing parent-youth ministry.
That is what I would recommend for someone in your present situation. I want to address the immediate pressing needs of your church that aren’t being addressed through Sunday and that can’t be addressed adequately through small-group leadership. Then asking, “How can we create a way to effectively address those pressing needs temporarily, without obligating you to create an entire ministry?”
And then, primarily, you must be particularly aware—which I am sure you are—of this vulnerability to compare yourself to other churches. You must guard your heart carefully, because if you don’t pay careful attention to your heart, there will be a cumulative low-grade discouragement in your soul. I am jealous that you serve the Lord with gladness in this season of the life of your church, and not postpone this joy for some future time when you are surrounded by a pastoral team. Whatever season we find ourselves in—whether a staff of 20 or a staff of one—I am jealous for all of us that we “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2 ESV).
Recently, I spoke to a pastor walking through a prolonged and difficult season in his church. As he was informing me about the specifics, I had a mixture of emotions. I care deeply about this friend and pastor. And as he communicated his diverse challenges, I grieved with him and sought to counsel him wisely.
After listening thoroughly to his situation I communicated my care and sadness and then sought to draw his attention away from the immediate circumstances to evidences of God’s grace in his life and the church (which are easy to ignore or overlook in trials). Also, I drew attention to issues of his heart now being revealed by these circumstances so that he could apply the gospel to his heart.
But most importantly in that conversation, I attempted to strengthen my friend by reminding him of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and grace. God is working through these difficulties to accomplish his good purposes. God is at work in the adversity to sanctify his heart. God is at work using the trials to draw my friend into a deeper relationship with himself.
Rejoice in the Lord
And I drew my friend’s attention to one particular passage: Philippians 4:4—“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (ESV). There was nothing new or unique in what I said. I was only applying counsel I have learned from others and—by God’s grace—applied to my own soul.
I find this verse easy to ignore in the midst of adversity. But I must not ignore this verse or assume that this passage doesn’t apply to me. It does. God has given this verse to us for the good of our soul and, ultimately, for his glory.
Permit me to put this story on pause in order to explain why I normally draw attention to just one verse when I have the privilege of caring for someone.
This approach of focusing on one specific passage in counseling settings is one I learned from my friend David Powlison, articulated in his article “Think Globally, Act Locally.” He writes,
In a nutshell, connect one bit of Scripture to one bit of life. In other words, always ask two questions for yourself and others: What is your current struggle? What about God in Christ connects to this? … Apply one relevant thing from our Redeemer to one significant scene in this person’s story. Bring one bit of Bible to one bit of life. You can’t say it all at once. (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2003, p. 3)
Well, you cannot and should not say it all at once, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying in the past! My impulse is to help others by downloading as much information as possible. But I’ve learned this is not wise and really unhelpful. Those we counsel can contemplate and apply a limited amount of information, so in caring for their souls—and especially in the immediate situation—I want to provide counsel they can easily consider and remember. And that’s where David’s wisdom proves so valuable.
In these situations, we must restrain the impulse to bury others under vast amounts of theological information.
Back to the Story
Now, back to my friend. I reminded him of Philippians 4:4 and passed along D.A. Carson’s comments on the verse from his book Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996):
The ultimate ground of our rejoicing can never be our circumstances, even though we as Christians recognize that our circumstances are providentially arranged. If our joy derives primarily from our circumstances, then when our circumstances change, we will be miserable. Our delight must be in the Lord himself. That is what enables us to live with joy above our circumstances. As Nehemiah puts it, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Lord sometimes allows miserable circumstances to lash us—that we may learn this lesson.…Whatever the mysteries of evil and sorrow, they do have the salutary effect of helping believers to shift the ground of their joy from created things to the Creator, from the temporary to the eternal, from jingoism to Jesus, from consumption to God. (p. 106)
How about you? Are you personally experiencing a season of adversity with no end in sight? If so, rather than peering into the future trying to predict the concluding date of the trial, I recommend you look down
and then up
and realize a transition is under way to shift the ground of your joy “from created things to the Creator.” Then look up
and delight in the Lord himself. Contemplate his changeless character and the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Then—dependent upon God’s grace—obey this command given for our good and his glory. Rejoice as you realize afresh you are doing much better than you deserve.
This will not alter the severity of your trial, but it will transform your perspective and strengthen your soul for the trial.