There are some conferences where one goes and one serves and one is grateful for the privilege, and there are other conferences where, although that is true, nevertheless, one comes out feeling again and again and again like a debtor, and this is one of them, so I am grateful to have been here. This evening I would like to direct your attention to 1 Timothy 3. I shall read the first seven verses. This is what Holy Scripture says:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1–7)
This is the word of the Lord.
The Pastor as Father
So, “The Pastor as Father to His Family and Flock.” You might well ask how these roles can be so tightly tied. “Isn’t this a wee bit artificial?” But God himself makes the connection and not just in this passage I’ve just read but pretty commonly. Thus, we read, for example, in 1 Corinthians 4:15, where Paul tells these Corinthian believers, “Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
“Yes, you have learned some important lessons from Peter and from Apollos. There have been other preachers on your block, but I beg of you to remember,” Paul has the temerity to say, “spiritually speaking, I’m your dad.” He uses that to suggest in some sense, therefore, they ought to be patterning themselves after him because that’s the way fathers and sons worked in the ancient world.
Or in Philippians 2:22 at the individual level, “You know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” Genetically, of course, Timothy wasn’t Paul’s son, but in the ancient world, sons learned their trade, their behavior, their skill set in their vocation very normally from their dads. Timothy has learned the ministry from Paul. “He’s served with me as a son in the ministry,” which means, of course, Paul has served with Timothy as his father.
Or 1 Thessalonians 2:11–12: “ For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” In other words, Paul’s approach was not simply that of the apostle, though he could appeal to his apostleship, not simply as a witness to the truth, although on occasion he does that. His appeal is as a father, exhorting and encouraging.
Or this passage we’ve just finished reading, 1 Timothy 3:4: “[The pastor, elder, overseer] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.” It could well be read that way. “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5).
Or in the Old Testament, there is Elisha serving a kind of apprenticeship to Elijah. When Elijah is suddenly snatched away, Elisha cries, “My father! My father!” because there has been a father-son relationship of apprenticeship in the ministry itself, as it were.
I love the small accidental things that crop up in Scripture. That wonderful passage in Nehemiah 8–9 where the people of God are called together after the wall has been built in a great Bible conference led by Ezra the scribe. Ezra trains a whole lot of Levites. The Bible, of course (the Old Testament), was written in Hebrew, and by this time the people spoke in Aramaic, but they have a whole Bible conference breaking things down into sections with the Scripture read and translated and explained by all of Ezra’s helpers.
We read Nehemiah 8:8, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly [that means translating it], and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” After this first day’s conference was over, most people went home, but the fathers and the other leaders stayed for an extra day of Bible conference.
This was now on the second day of the seventh month, and the great feast day, the Feast of Tabernacles, was scheduled for the fifteenth. Nobody had been observing what God taught for the Feast of Tabernacles. Not for centuries! Now these men were beginning to exercise leadership in their own families in their own clans across this small fledgling exiled community.
After they had been taught the Word of God for this whole additional day, then they taught their families, and in consequence, people went out and got the twigs and shrubs that were necessary to build these little booths, these little temporary shanties, to remind themselves they had been a pilgrim people before God brought them into the Promised Land (in some sense, they were still a pilgrim people), to remember God’s mercies.
Then on the fifteenth, halfway through the month, the feast started. It lasted seven days. On the eighth day, they followed the law yet one more step. On the eighth day, there was supposed to be a special reading of Torah, a public reading of the Word of God, and that, too, was undertaken all because the men of the nation had gathered together to study God’s Word and exercise leadership in their families and clans.
God Uses Fathers as Means
Let me tell you, we need that big time in our churches. I was brought up in French Canada, and because of the social dynamics of the time, you almost never evangelized any family by going after the children first. You didn’t get them. There was just too much antipathy. It was very rare to see a woman saved on her own (it happened, but it was rare), but if you got the father, you got the father, the wife, the kids, and the pocketbook. It was a bit of a patriarchal society, but let me tell you, it was a great blessing for the gospel when the gospel did start moving in that province.
You got the father, the mother, the kids, and the pocketbook. Then, after years and years and years of almost nothing, in eight years between 1972 and 1980, our churches grew in number from about 35 to 500, and about 80 percent of the converts were young men. Almost all the leaders in French Canada today come out of that bunch.
After a while, when I moved into English Canada and started pursuing a little more education, I heard some statistics that made no sense to me at all. I heard statistics like, “Far more women become Christians than men.” Implication: evangelize women. “Most people get converted at the age of 18 or younger.” Pour your energy into children. None of that made any sense to my experience. Besides, by that time I had done a chemistry and math degree. It wasn’t hard to see where the statistical problems were.
The teacher who taught me that 85 percent (or whatever the figure was) of converts take place under the age of 18, I asked him, “How many man hours? How many women hours? How many people hours of service do you spend in these churches for the different age groups?” You have your nursery. Then you have your toddlers. Then you have your pre-schoolers. Then you have your kiddy winkles.
Eventually, you get junior high. Then you get your senior high. Somewhere along the line, you throw in AWANA Club and Pioneer Girls. Then you have your high school outings and all of that. Then you have your women’s circles in those days and your women’s missionary society and all of that. Maybe, if you were lucky, the deacons met once a month. Then you ask why you’re getting more converts for the younger ones.
“Hey! I’m a Calvinist. I know how to fix that!” You go after the men! When I became pastor of a church on the West Coast, we managed to get rid of about a third of our “kiddy” programs and put the men who were involved in them into evangelism, and within two years we were seeing more men than women being converted, and I’m Reformed! Because God uses means, don’t you see?
These are such terrible distortions, and equally, it’s a horrible distortion today when we see women coming forward and exercising leadership in the home in Bible study and leading the children in family devotions and taking up responsibility in the church just for the simple reason that men don’t step forward. Then we wonder why we have something we call today the effeminization of the church. It’s not the women’s fault. It’s ours.
Don’t misunderstand me either. I don’t want the women to sit back and do nothing. All I’m saying is I love this passage in Nehemiah 8–9, where the men step forward and lead the entire returned exiles into reformation and revive a national act of contrition in a public renewal of the covenant, because the men stayed on for extra Bible teaching and made sure they knew what they were doing.
Then they led the entire family of God into this next step. Thus, you see concern for the families and concern for the public ministry of the entire covenant community suddenly becomes almost indistinguishable. You really can’t have one there without the other.
Parallels Between Fathering at Home and in the Congregation
What I want to do in the rest of my time tonight is list some of the obvious parallels in Scripture and in experience between being a father to the family and a father to the congregation. Not every man is the one and the other together, not every man who is the one must be the other, but there are enough parallels that will help us to think through these commonalities.
Father as Sons
Before embarking on this list, I remind you that we who are fathers to families and/or congregations must see ourselves as sons first, sons of God, sons of fathers and mothers, sons even of congregations, because just as we as pastors become fathers to congregations, others have pastored us.
Do you know what my first impetus to the ministry was? It wasn’t from my parents. My parents were far too wise to try to push me toward the ministry. No. I was finishing chemistry and mathematics at McGill and was heading off to Cornell to do a PhD in organic synthesis. The minister of the church I was going to in Montreal stopped me one day halfway through the winter and said, “I want you to be my assistant this summer.”
I said, “There are a lot of young people in this church. You have me confused with somebody else. I’m not doing divinity. I’m not a theology student. I’m a chemistry student. I think you have me mixed up.” “No, I haven’t got you mixed up. I want you to be my assistant this summer.”
So we had a fight. I won. I didn’t do it, but for the first time I began to wonder if maybe I should at least be thinking about it and praying about it. It’s not that I was trying to run from the Lord at that point. I mean, I wanted to be a serious Christian. I was vice-president of our McGill Christian Fellowship, the IVCF chapter, and I was involved in our church, but I was doing chemistry. Ministry was what my dad did.
I spent that summer working in a research lab in air pollution up in Ottawa, and up the valley, another chap and myself, we were starting a small Sunday school on the English side trying to bring in some parents in a poor district to see if we could begin a small church up there. Going through my mind a thousand times that summer was a little chorus.
By and by when I look on his face,
Beautiful face, thorn-shadowed face;
By and by when I look on his face,
I’ll wish I had given him more.
I could just picture myself coming before the Almighty on the last day and saying, “Here’s my chemistry. Isn’t this cool?” For some people, that’s what they’re called to do, in all fairness, but it didn’t ring anymore, and I returned for further study and heard another minister of the gospel get up and preach a sermon on Ezekiel 22. “I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me . . . but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30).
It was as if the Spirit of God poured over me and said, “Stand up,” until I could do nothing more but cry in my turn, “Send me.” I didn’t think that stuff up. It was not something I was looking for. If anything, I was looking the other direction, but those two men were fathers to me. Then another one took me under his arm and began to teach me the rudiments of intercessory prayer.
So before we think of ourselves as pastors, fathers to the congregation, we have to remember we stand on other people’s shoulders. We are sons first, sons of the living God, sons of our fathers and mothers, and sons of pastors, fathers in the congregation before us.
Now, let me get to the parallels. This is not in any tight order of importance, although they overlap so much. I’ll just leave it at that.
1. Training and Teaching the Whole Counsel of God
Training and teaching the whole counsel of God to the whole family or to the whole people of God. We’ve seen it implicitly on the fly in Nehemiah 8–9. In fact, this whole business of referencing God’s Word and making it the center part of your life shows up in many, many surprising and frequently overlooked ways.
Do you remember the wonderful passage in Deuteronomy 17? There Moses is looking forward to the time when there will be a king in Israel (there still isn’t one), but when eventually there is a king in Israel, we read “When he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law” (Deuteronomy 17:18). This law either refers to Deuteronomy or to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).
He shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and [notice that] his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18–20)
He becomes king. What’s he supposed to do? Audit the books of his predecessor? Appoint a commander in chief? Find a decent secretary of state? No. He’s supposed to take out his quill pen and copy longhand the Pentateuch. That doesn’t mean download it from a CD onto a hard drive without it passing through anybody’s brain. It means, “Write it out in such clear copy that it becomes your reading copy all the rest of your life.”
We’ve come across this theme before, haven’t we? It recurs again and again and again in Holy Scripture. “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to hide God’s Word in our hearts so we do not sin against him. That must be true in the home and in the church.
If you are a minister of the church of Jesus Christ, I’m so thankful for your service. Do you take responsibility for the biblical instruction of your family or have you delegated that to somebody else? I wish I had always been wise on this one. We did some things right when we were bringing up our kids. Some things we got wrong.
I said this morning my daughter was very verbal. I have an English wife. That means she was brought up on nursery rhymes. Endless nursery rhymes. The Brits are just famous for their nursery rhymes. My daughter was verbal, so amongst the little books our children had were four nursery rhyme books with a picture on the left and a nursery rhyme on the right.
Each book had 25 of these nursery rhymes in them. By the time she was just under two, she could open any one of these books, look at the picture, and recite the nursery rhyme. That was a hundred poems. It suddenly dawned on me (I was a bit thick), if she could do it for nursery rhymes, she could jolly well learn some Scripture, so in our family devotions she sat beside me in the high chair. That day I started with 1 Corinthians 13 and the first paragraph of 1 Corinthians 1.
The next day 1 Corinthians 13 and the second paragraph of 1 Corinthians 1. The next day 1 Corinthians 13 and the last paragraph of 1 Corinthians 1. Although I was working through 1 Corinthians, every day she got 1 Corinthians 13. After about two and half weeks I dropped off the last word of each clause.
“Though I . . . “ I looked at her.
“With the tongues of men and of . . . “
“But have not . . . “
“I am only a resounding . . . “
“Or a clanging . . . “
“Cymbal.” She has dropped them all in just like that. Two weeks later, she reached over and said, “Tiffy do it,” grabbed my Bible, stuck it on her chair, and recited 1 Corinthians 13. She made two mistakes. Mind you, my wife and I fell off our chairs when she got to the bit about, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
By the time she was three and a half, she had memorized twenty-three chapters of Scripture, but by then, you could tell she was beginning to chafe under it. We quit. Instead, we started with endless Bible stories. You know how kids at a certain age want the same story about fifty thousand times? I think we did all the narratives of Scripture about fifty thousand times. As they got a little older, we started adding other bits.
I can remember the day my daughter, then about 11, said, “When are we going to do the Proverbs?” “You’re not ready for them. You can’t understand them yet.” “Oh, come on. I am too ready.” “No, you’re not. You’re not ready.” Reverse psychology worked wonders with my daughter. It never worked with my son, but with my daughter it was terrific.
By the time she was convinced she could do it, then we read the book of Proverbs, only I had chosen one in advance and asked what it meant afterwards. They didn’t have a clue, so we worked at it and teased it out and made a game of it until she could figure out what one Proverb meant in Proverbs 1.
The next day we did Proverbs 2. I had picked out another on in advance and tried to figure out some stories as to what it meant. Because my job as pastor of the family and as pastor of the church, my job as teacher in the family and as teacher in the church, and my job as father of the family and father of the church is to teach the whole counsel of God.
My wife shares in all of this with me (I understand that), but I don’t want my kids ever to doubt, not for one moment, that reading and thinking about and teaching the Bible is for women and children only. Likewise, in the church, in Acts 20:27, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Listen. In both domains, the fathers of the families and the fathers of the churches are mandated to teach God’s Word to a new generation.
2. Wielding Authority
This has followed already from quite a few things that have already been said in these last two days. We’ve seen the authority, for example, in the discipline we find in the book of Proverbs. We find it, likewise, in the congregation in passages like, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” where the reference is to rulers in the church not to civil rulers. There are other passages that talk about that (Hebrews 13:17).
When we read the Pastoral Epistles, again and again and again Timothy or Titus are told, “Command and teach these things.” There is an authoritative element. This, too, is part of leading. In fact, leading is not just teaching the Word of God. There is a conceptualization. In the New Testament, pastor and elder and overseer are three names given for the one office. Beyond that, there are deacons.
That’s fairly easy to demonstrate in my view, but pastor and elder and overseer are three names given for the one office. Elder calls to mind somebody who is spiritually or in some ways a little more mature and who is using a title that was used in village rule in any case. Pastor — that’s simply a word that means shepherd, which has all of the overtones of rule and of care and of mercy and discernment and feeding the flock and so on. Overseer, or bishop, has notions of rule, oversight.
It is crucially important to teach the Word of God. It is crucially important, but it is not for nothing that the Bible tells us the pastor is also the elder is also the overseer. That oversight is, first and foremost, done through the Word, but if you’re teaching the Word so that the sermon is not an art form to be admired but God’s means of disclosing himself to people, whether in the family or in the congregation, then those who are ruling well are conceptualizing, thinking all the time ahead as to what is needed next.
What’s the next brick that needs to go into place? What’s the next instruction that needs to be handled? What doctrines have we not covered? What practical outworkings have we not dealt with? What ways of applying the gospel to life have we been overlooking? Now that my children are teenagers, how should I be tweaking things to make them see more deeply into the Word of God? Now that my congregation is at this stage, with mixed races and multi-cultural, how do I change to handle this sort of thing well and in a godly way?
That’s not just saying, “I’ll do the next book.” There is an element of oversight, of planning, envisaging the future, and thinking through the steps of getting from here to there. That’s part of the pastor’s, elder’s, and overseer’s job. Teaching is at the heart of it. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to turn this merely into managerial success.
At the same time, it’s not just teaching. Occasionally, you come across a pastor who just loves to sit in his study and read book after book after book and craft gorgeous sermons that can go right to the press. Church is a wonderful place, apart from the people. They’re a bit of a pain, but the sermons are really good things. They’re sort of an art form to be admired. God help us.
We don’t need them in the ministry, because at the end of the day, Christian leadership in the elder-pastor-overseer’s role doesn’t make the sermon an end but a means to an end to bring glory to God and good to the people whom God has redeemed by the death of his Son. That means a certain kind of authority must be exercised.
It’s at this point I want to remind you of one of the most important passages in the New Testament on authority. I think it is sometimes misunderstood. Matthew 20:20–28:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20–21)
Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, or something like that. Numbers one and two after the head honcho. She’s still thinking of a purely nationalistic kingdom.
Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22)
“Take up my experiences?” He is thinking of the cross. “Can you follow me there?” With remarkable ignorance and audacity, they reply, “We can.” You can almost see Jesus smiling.
They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup.” (Matthew 20:22)
One of them was going to become the first apostolic martyr; the other one was going to end his life in exile on an island. Yeah, they were going to get more than they bargained for. They were going to drink from Jesus’s cup, all right.
But to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. (Matthew 20:23–24)
Only, of course, because they didn’t get their dibs in first. It’s not because they were rebuking them for their arrogance. They just felt they could be passed by.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “[Here’s the point.] You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)
I think sometimes we have heard Jesus’s antithesis, “I didn’t come to be served but to serve,” and “He mustn’t exercise authority but become a slave,” in an antithesis that is not quite right. Instead of exercising authority, then we become everybody’s rug. Anybody in the church can tell us what to do, and if we start insisting on anything in the lines given by our brother this morning, Crawford Loritts, then we’re charged with being insensitive or being a bully boy or being brash or throwing our weight around.
We get intimidated because, on the one hand, our culture is saying, “You’re supposed to be nice,” and then you read a passage like this and it gets interpreted in this sort of niceness motif. We don’t throw our authorities around. We’re nice. But whatever this text means, it can’t possibly mean that. Do you know why?
Because the archetype of this antithesis is Jesus himself, and Jesus says all authority on heaven and earth is his. He expects to be worshiped as God. Jesus really does have wonderful authority. It’s not as if he’s rejecting all authority, and he’s not telling his followers to reject all authority either.
He’s telling them to reject authority as it used amongst the pagans and to use authority as he exercises it himself. What’s the difference? The authorities keep using authority in such a way that, regardless of what they say politically, at the end of the day a huge component of their interest is simply to be number one. They want to rule because they like ruling.
It’s one of the reasons why, when we do elect a leader whether in a parliamentary system or in a Republican system, after a few years we begin to suspect they’re becoming insensitive. They become so used to the perquisites of power. They enjoy having Secret Service open their car doors for them and everybody singing and clapping and approving them or the press dividing around them; nevertheless, being important in the limelight.
After a few years, we want to turf the blighters out now and then and get in a fresh lot, don’t we? Except we know in a few years’ time after that, they’re going to become the same sort of people, aren’t they? It’s very, very rare to find someone who is put into a high position where it does not finally go to their heads, and suddenly, protecting their position is a big part of their mission.
They never put it quite like that, but you can see it. It’s in all the signs, isn’t it? What about Jesus? He doesn’t view his genuine authority with God as something to be seized and hung onto, Paul writes to the Philippians. He doesn’t have to protect it; it’s already his, and he says he doesn’t come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. His authority is exercised in such spectacular self-giving for the sake of others that all of the authority he musters is bound up, not only with his identity as the eternal Son, not only with his identity as the God-man, not only with his identity as the one whom the Father has insisted should be honored as all honor the Father himself, but it is bound up with that damnable cross.
It is bound up with the cry of desolation. It is bound up with bearing my sin in his own body on the tree, and none can doubt not even for a second that he exercises all of his authority for the good of others. Certainly not to protect his perks. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).
In the same way, Jesus says those who exercise authority amongst his people must exercise authority in the same way. That is, with self-sacrifice, self-death, self-denial, transparently for the good of others. As soon as people in our churches or in our families start suspecting we’re throwing our weight around simply so we can pat ourselves on our shoulders and be number one, we lose everything.
Apart from churches that are just made up of remarkably mean, unconverted people, where a minister is giving himself transparently for the sake of others for their good, it’s remarkable how much authority he actually begins to accrue to himself. There is an authority to be exercised in the church of the living God as fathers and in our families as fathers.
3. Exercising Compassionate Love
This is tied, likewise then, as a further extrapolation from this passage, Matthew 20, to loving compassion that must be exercised in both places: in the home and in the congregation. It’s bound up with that text I read briefly this morning about not exasperating your children. There is a kind of exercise of discipline that is merely scoring points even in the family, isn’t there?
But if a father is exercising his authority out of genuine love for the sake of the son and for the good of the son, being careful, trying with all his might not to take actions and to say things that merely exasperate and frustrate and alienate the son, then it becomes an exercise of authority in love, doesn’t it?
In the church this is seen often enough, isn’t it? Here we find: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1–2). Or 2 Timothy 2:
Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:22–26).
I read through my dad’s journals. He kept them sporadically. He didn’t keep them all his life. Although there were many moving passages in them, amongst the most moving was on one occasion when I was out of school and in hospital. I was out of school for most of an academic year. I was ten or eleven, and the doctors didn’t know what to do. It turned out I could have died.
I was weeks and weeks and weeks in pain in hospital and in bed. My dad’s journals during that time are unbelievable. “I spent my prayer time weeping for Don. Last night I went to bed without giving him a word of encouragement. Dear heavenly Father, forgive me.” That’s what our relationship with the church should be, too, shouldn’t it? Training and teaching. Authority. Loving compassion.
Not because discipline is something other than training and teaching and other than love and compassion, but discipline must be exercised in love and compassion. In fact, isn’t that something we already saw in the family in the book of Proverbs? It’s the man who hates his son who doesn’t exercise discipline, because exercising discipline in a good and godly way takes reserves of energy, of strength, of determination, of care, and of self-examination trying to get it right rather than simply ignoring a problem and hoping it will go away.
The same is true in the church of the living God, too, isn’t it? Of course, discipline is more than turfing blighters out. It’s admonishing, encouraging, rebuking, training in righteousness, sometimes taking a person aside and trying to win them over to something a better way, gently admonishing them, and sometimes flat-out confuting them.
In three general categories in the New Testament, there is a place for the most severe sanction not to be undertaken easily or quickly or lightly, but it is there in three categories of sin: excommunication, people being cut off from the assembly of God’s covenant community. Those three categories are:
1. Major doctrinal sin. Especially amongst those who are trying to promote it as opposed to some brand new Christian who still hasn’t figure out which end is up.
2. Major moral defection. As, for example, in 1 Corinthians 5, with a man sleeping with his stepmother who will not quit.
3. Major persistent, loveless, schismatic attitude. Paul says, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10). Those things do have to be addressed, not only for the sake of the entire church, knowing as Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (we would say, “A rotten apple spoils the whole barrel”), but also for the sake of the individual in the hope he will be saved on the last day (Galatians 5:9).
That’s what the text says. So we read such texts as the one we find at the end of Galatians. Galatians 6:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1–2)
That is, you’re carrying this person’s burden as you try to restore the errant sinner. Thus, you are following the teaching of God in Christ Jesus. If instead, someone thinks he something when he is nothing, he’s kidding himself. “I’m not like them, you understand. They got into a lot of trouble. It was their own fault. They didn’t take any of the precautions.
No. If that’s what you think, “Let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor” (Galatians 6:4).
That is, you don’t compare yourself with broken people. It’s always easy to find somebody who is dirtier than you are. It’s always easier to find someone who is less faithful than you are. Then you just end up promoting yourself. No. You examine yourself before God. You carry your own burden in that sense. “Without comparing yourself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:4–5 NIV).
I am old enough now that I’ve lived through several really miserable, really horrible church discipline situations with people in the ministry. I won’t even tell you one or two of the ugliest, but I’ve just come through — I don’t want to call it a delightful one — a wretched one with a delightful ending. It doesn’t happen all the time, let me tell you.
This chap began by stealing sermons and parading them as his own. That is not only stealing, but it indicates the person has already abandoned what the ministry is about. What the ministry is about is to free up some person (a pastor) so he is studying and thinking the Word of God to enable him to teach the whole counsel of God to others, and if instead, he is merely an organic tape recorder, he’s taking money under false pretenses quite apart from the stealing.
Then on one of the church computers, he started gambling. It became addictive. He was a lawyer before he was a minister so he knew how to set up dummy corporations. Pretty soon, he had stolen $50,000 of the church’s poor fund to finance his gambling addiction and then a further $20,000 from two women in the church, one of them a widow, and other things as well. Eventually, he refinanced his house and lost the money on that, and then it all blew up in his face.
He was broken. He was on the edge of being suicidal. What he had done was not only immoral and unbiblical, but it was illegal. Eventually, he went to jail over it. But I have to tell you that those around him put him into a program that the Free Church has set up to try to restore people like that, not to ministry but to communion with God and with the saints, to genuine fellowship in the gospel. He and his wife hung out together and restored their marriage. He has paid off his debts. He lost his house. He lost his law license. He lost his ministry license. He has a low-paying job he’s working at hard to be faithful and learning, learning, learning to be faithful in small matters, accountable before God.
For a long time, he was only given $5 a week in his pocket. His wife took over all the finances. You couldn’t trust him with money. He wasn’t allowed to get on any computer unless it was in an open place where other people could watch him because we couldn’t trust him with computers. That’s just the negative part of discipline. That’s just the “No!”
But eventually his love for the Lord was so restored. In his enthusiasm for holiness and his shame and contrition and bitterness at all his old sin, he went around to everyone apologizing. When it came to the actual court case his lawyers said, “No. You plead not guilty and then see where it goes from there.” He said, “No. I can’t do that. I am guilty.”
I’ve heard of a lot of people who get caught say things like, “Yeah, it was my fault, but there were extenuating circumstances.” I don’t hear any extenuating circumstances from him. That’s one of the reasons why I know there’s repentance. Two Sunday nights ago, we had a restoration service in the church. Not a restoration to ministry. Ministry and leadership — that’s another issue.
There, there are qualifications that are laid down including: “above reproach . . . well thought of by outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:2, 7). He has lost that, but the discipline has been removed. He’s a brother in good standing because, at the end of the day, “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
This is a community of redeemed people, isn’t it, of forgiven people? Discipline. Discipline to preserve the integrity of the church, to preserve the faithfulness of the church, to preserve the purity of the church, to preserve the lordship of Christ in the church, and, if it is humanly possible, to do good to those who are under discipline themselves.
That is true, likewise, in the home as long as the children are in the home. I don’t worry too much about a minister whose 15-year-old son comes off the tracks and starts doing drugs provided I see the minister is handling it wisely and well and powerfully and shrewdly with discipline and authority and compassion and firmness.
What bothers me is if he doesn’t do anything. Then he doesn’t have any right to be in the ministry because he’s not doing anything in the home. That’s what 1 Timothy 3 says. If he doesn’t know how to rule his own house properly, then he doesn’t have any right to rule in the church. Do you see? The two are tied together.
5. Having Flexibility
Inevitably, these matters — teaching, discipline, the way love is expressed — are all shaped differently for different ages of our kids and different maturity of the congregation.
Do you know what my first memory is as I stretch back? The very first memory I can think of — I mean, they’re so far back I’m not even sure which one is first or second anymore — but a very, very early memory is sitting in the bathtub getting done by my dad.
Dad was a sort of plodder. He wasn’t quick. My mother was quick. She was efficient: efficient as she spoke, efficient as she thought, efficient around the house. My father was a careful plodder, and when he gave us baths, he was a faithful plodder there, too. It took a long time, partly because he always told us Bible stories.
We’d start off, and he’d begin in a book. Then he’d give us a bath, and we’d get a Bible story. The next day (whatever day we were getting a bath from him) we got a quick review from the last one. Then we got a bit more of the Bible story all carefully acted out. It was great fun. Let me tell you, some Bible stories are very effective in the bath. Naaman, for example, was a great one in the bath. I remember Naaman. By the time I was fifteen, that wasn’t the way my dad was going to teach me Bible stories.
Likewise, in the congregation. You get brand new baby Christians. It’s all marvelous, but they’re just incredibly naïve and don’t know anything about anything. You don’t give them Hodge on Romans. Maybe somewhere down the road but not the first week. What this suggests, therefore, is that we need flexibility.
As we grew older, there were fewer spankings, fewer times being bawled out, more encouragement, and quiet words of discernment. Like John Piper, I started being afflicted with the poetry bug. In one of my early sessions of this poetry disease, I was writing poems all over the place. Often funny ones. Often nature ones. I published them in the school paper.
This particular day I was thirteen or fourteen. I was outside weeding in the garden with my father. As I was weeding, I stumbled across the odd earthworm, and I thought, “It’d be really quite cute to write a poem from the point of view of a worm.” You probably never were afflicted with a mind like that, but I was.
As I was weeding, I wrote the poem in my head. It was just eight or ten or twelve lines (I don’t remember now) about how this worm came up in the warm dirt and looked up and turned to the warmth of the sun on this bright spring day and squeezed away the particles of dirt and smelled the freshness of the dew. The last two lines were, “I saw a spade glint in the sun. Woe is me; I am undone.”
I thought it was hilarious, so I promptly recited all twelve lines or whatever it was to my dad. My dad kept on weeding and didn’t say anything. Usually, he was a big supporter of my poetry however awful it was. He didn’t say anything. Then he said without even looking up, “Don, are you sure you want to put the words of the prophet Isaiah when he sees a holy God onto the non-existent mouth of a worm?” Then he kept on weeding.
I said, “Dad! It’s only a joke. For goodness’ sake!” But I never published it. Now, if he had descended on me as he might well have done for some minor infraction when I was four, I probably would have published it out of sheer cussedness, but he was adapting his way of teaching as we grew older and changed ourselves.
That’s true in the church, isn’t it? You, who are pastors of the church, one of the first things you get ahold of when you get into the church is the bookstall. You don’t trust that to anybody, not anybody, unless you’ve personally vetted them. Not some sweet little old librarian who knows how to make cards or sort things out on a computer list but has no discernment whatsoever and stacks the library with things like Sixteen Ways to be Happy Though Married. You don’t want that in your bookstall.
In a Christian church bookstall, you want books that edify the saints for different levels so when there are people who are getting converted and beginning to ask first questions, you say, “We have a section over here just for you.” You vet that. You control that until you have somebody whom you’ve trained who will then do it for you, because that’s part of pastoral leadership. That’s part of teaching and being prepared to handle all the different kinds of things that take place in the local church. You don’t delegate that one out until you have real confidence.
Likewise, in steps of maturity, small groups can be handled so they are positioned under eldership rule and under the rule of pastors so they meet different needs at different levels of maturity. In one church I know, they began a reading club. It was an upper-middle-class church. It was a church full of readers. In any case, they started a reading club, and the idea was you read one book a month. It was assigned by one of the pastors. You read one book a month in this club.
These books might have been a devotional piece, a commentary piece, some systematic theology, some social science to understand what is going on, a piece of poetry, or a really good piece of literature. Then you’d come together at the end of the month and discuss it. After two groups had gone through this for a whole year, they started a second level and then started the first level again being led by somebody else.
Within a few years, they had four levels. In level three, they read somewhere along the line of two volumes (two parts) of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. In year four, the remaining two parts of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. After a few years, you couldn’t be an elder in that church unless you had gone through three years of the reading program.
Do you hear what’s going on here? There’s a ratcheting up of the entire theological conversation. I know you can’t do that in every blue-collar church. I understand that. There are some people who are never going to join in any case, but if you’re thinking about building up the whole people of God with the whole counsel of God, you ought to be thinking of ways in which you can elevate the expectations right across the board of the entire church.
6. Enduring Hardship
Some kids and churches are just plain mean. They’re just terribly tough. Some kids grow up in Christian homes and they’re just awful, and for a long period of time — maybe for years and years and years — they cause their parents unimaginable heartbreak, and some churches do that too. God have mercy on your soul. Just endure. I wish I could say more about that, but I’ll pass.
Both in the home and in the church, you persevere. Family devotions are not a one-shot deal. Discipline in the home is not a one-shot deal. Care in the church is not a one-shot deal. Things come back again and again and again and again and again. You persevere in the home and in ministry.
8. Being a Mentor
Be a mentor. You’re not just teaching propositions. You’re to be a mentor. Dad taught us by how he played games. He was never, ever a poor loser. He laughed at himself more than any person I have ever seen. If he did something or said something stupid, he laughed at himself. That teaches us to laugh at ourselves.
I have an assistant at Trinity named Michael Thate. He used to be associated with Bethlehem. He has grown a great deal in the last few years, and he is one of my part-time assistants. He does a lot of secretarial work for me. When I decided I’d put this book together for Dad, I got him to transcribe my father’s handwriting (hundreds of pages) onto a computer just so it was a little easier to manipulate. He only had to do about half of it because my father wrote about half of it in French.
The beginning was almost all English with a little bit of French. In the middle, it was about half and half. By the end, it was almost all French. Michael did all of the English bits. After he sent me the last file by email, he said, “When I came to Trinity, my desire was to be a missionary in the hardest part of the world. Now after reading your dad’s journals, I have a higher calling: to be faithful.”
Perseverance. Faithfulness. Mentoring. In his later years when he couldn’t do quite so much, partly because he was looking so much after Mum, he and another man began what came to be called La Pastorale. I don’t know how you translate that. The pastors, except it’s more abstract in French.
All the French-speaking pastors in the Outaouais region where they lived came early on Monday mornings and spent somewhere between four and seven hours working over various challenges in the church, praying through the concerns of the church, and he was really giving them a kind of in-house theological education. These were young pastors. Most of them had converted fairly recently and were still working on their theological educations. This was in light of the fact the church had grown so fast we didn’t have a lot of mature leaders. La Pastorale.
Today, when I go back to that region, all the pastors come up to me. They don’t talk, first of all, about Dad’s preaching. Dad was a faithful expositor, but he wasn’t brilliant at it. He never wrote a book. He never spoke at a national conference. Most of his life, he spoke to vast crowds of thirty. Only toward the end were the crowds becoming a hundred or two hundred and the like.
What they speak to me about, without exception, every time, is the quality of his life, especially in La Pastorale. He showed them how to care. He showed them how to think. He showed them how to pray. He modeled how gospel works out in life and in pastoral leadership and in thought and in valuation. It was such a simple thing and so utterly profound.
I tell you, this is bound up with the Word of God in powerful ways. Do you recall that remarkable passage in 2 Timothy 3–4? Paul describes what will take place in the last days. “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money,” and so forth (2 Timothy 3:2). He describes the treacherous people as “those who creep into households and capture weak women” (2 Timothy 3:6).
This is not because all women are weak-willed, but if you get unprincipled power brokers with weak-willed women, the combination is dynamite. Usually, when a minister in the church of God goes astray sexually, it’s not just a sexual problem. There’s also a control problem. It’s a combining of sins on both sides and neuroses and insecurities on both sides until there’s a conflagration that blows everything up. It’s just awful.
Then, after describing all of this mess, Paul says,
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra — which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. (2 Timothy 3:10–11)
Do you see what Paul is saying in context? He’s saying, “Choose your mentors and choose them well. Do you want to follow those characters, or do you want to follow me?”
We’re not used to thinking in those terms, but doesn’t Paul say elsewhere, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”? (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s what he’s saying here, too. “Do you really want to follow these dudes? Look at me, Timothy. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my persecutions and sufferings and how the Lord has come to me and rescued me again and again. Choose your mentors, and choose them well.”
I have told a story in this respect before. If you’ve heard it, forgive me. It was very powerful to me at the time. When I was an undergraduate at McGill University, another chap and I began an evangelistic Bible study. We didn’t want too many to come, so we didn’t ask too many. Eventually, by week five we had sixteen people in that room and only two of us were Christians, and I was way over my head. I didn’t have a clue how to answer most of the questions that were coming up.
There was a chap on campus named Dave Ward, a graduate student, who was a rough gem. He was a slam-bang, uncouth, throw-your-energy-around sort of chap who was genuinely converted and was really interested in apologetics and how to help younger guys. He was a master’s student, but when we got stuck we took people to Dave Ward.
I had two guys who I didn’t have a clue how to answer, so I brought them down to Dave Ward. He, with all of his energy, slammed around. “Why don’t you sit over there? I’ll make some coffee.” Bang. Poured it. He was just a sloppy, big guy. What can I say? Then he turned to the first one. “Why did you come?” Tact was not his strong point.
The first one said, “I’m at university. It seemed like a good time to ask questions about religions, so I want to study some Buddhism, and I want to study some Taoism, and I want to study a bit of Islam and some Shintoism. This Bible study started, so I thought maybe I’d come along to that. I’d like to find out a little bit more.”
Dave looked at him. “Sorry. I don’t have time.” The guy said, “I beg your pardon?” He said, “I don’t have time. I’m a graduate student. I don’t have time. You’re just a dilettante. You want to sit around and talk. I don’t have time to sit around and talk. I’ll give you some books. If you want to find out about them, I’ll tell you about them. I’ll give you some books, and then when you have some serious questions, you come back and see me. I don’t have time.”
He turned to the next guy. “What did you come for?” I told you he was a rough dude. The second one said, “I come from a family who I think you people call liberal. We don’t believe in stuff like the resurrection and supernatural and virgin birth. We just don’t believe in that, but we’re a good family. We go to the United Church. We’re tight. My mom and dad love each other. My sister and I love each other. We’re a good family. We do good in the community. What on earth do you people think you have that we don’t have?” Dave looked at him and said, “Watch me.”
The student said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Watch me. I have an extra bed. You can come and live with me. Three months until the end of the term. I’ll pay for your food. You get up when I get up and you go where I go. Go to your classes when you have to. Then you watch me, and at the end of three months, you tell me there’s no difference.” The student, whose name was also Dave, didn’t take him up on it literally, but went back again and again and again, and he was converted. Today he’s a medical missionary.
“Watch me.” There is a huge place for mentoring in the church of God. That means some of you who are older ought to be looking for young men in the congregation and saying, “Look. I want to train you how to pray. I want to teach you how to have family devotions. I know you’ve never done this before, but I want you to join my Bible study and learn how to read the Bible.”
Some of you guys who are younger and you’ve come out of homes that have not been too stable and you’re not sure which end is up, you ought to be looking around in your churches for people who have been tried just a bit. Maybe they’ve come through cancer. Maybe they’ve been through some serious experiences in their lives and they’ve been walking with God for about forty years. You ought to be saying, “Teach me!” Because there must be mentoring ongoing in the church of the living God in the family and in the broader community. That’s what fathers do.
9. Fostering Independence
You want your children in the church and in the family to grow to become strong and independent. You don’t want them to become merely dependent upon you. There are some pastors like that. There are some pastors who will never, ever give anybody an opportunity to test their wings and do anything because “the pastor does it.” Such churches never become churches of more than two hundred people because, eventually, the pastor has run out of energy and time.
Part of multiplication besides wisdom and helping people grow to maturity is starting a small group Bible study that will go for a whole weekend with only seven guys. Two months later, do it again with a new seven guys. Only you take one of the seven guys from the first one and he comes in as your assistant on the second one.
On the third one, you get him to teach it and you’re his assistant. On the fourth one, he runs it by himself and chooses another assistant while you’re doing something else. You’re thinking big but you’re starting small, and you’re training people to take over as much as they possibly can until you begin to see exponential growth, because you want them to be strong.
I look at the PhD students coming out of Trinity today, and the best of them, let me tell you, they stand way taller than I stood when I finished my PhD. Way taller. Because it takes time to build up a reservoir and a heritage of confessional evangelical scholarship. Likewise, in the ministry of the church, our job is not to feel jealous when somebody starts questioning our theological judgment but to keep training and teaching the people of God and giving them opportunities to teach and speak and witness to others and lead others, testing them, pushing them, encouraging them again and again and again so the whole ship, as it were, is raised.
I don’t want my kids to be dependent on me at this stage. I still want to have influence in their lives (God knows I pray for them), but likewise, in the church of the living God, although there will always be some very weak people who always depend on others, yet, the aim surely is to build maturity in the family and in the church.
10. Spending Time with People
For all of this, you have to spend time with people. For all of this to happen, you have to enter into their world. You can’t do it merely from a distance. You have to spend time talking with people, listening to people, taking people out for lunch. What that looks like is different at different stages in the family, and sometimes it’s different in different churches.
My wife (bless her heart) decided very early on that, so help us God, where it was humanly possible dinnertime would be sacrosanct. That was family time if it was humanly possible. We moved the time of dinner around to accommodate the violin lesson or the flute lesson or the dance class or whatever it was the kids were having or that I was doing, but we ate together if it was humanly possible at the dining room table with silverware and candles, and we wouldn’t rush. Family devotions were at the end of that.
We turned that into a gabfest. “What’s going on in your day?” Talk, jokes, what they were reading. Anything. It became the family social time for us, and we discovered before the kids were out of high school, they didn’t resent that time; they fought like anything to be there for family time themselves, because that’s when we were family. That’s when we did things together. Then it always ended with our family devotion time, and I learned that from my parents.
Of course, there are other things you do as time goes on. The kids go into this activity or that activity, and off you go to games. For my daughter, it was endless concerts and symphonies and bands and orchestras as her flute performance went up and up and up. She got a music degree. Then she was in one more thing after another. Yes, yes, yes.
My son was different. He announced one day when he was eighteen, “I’m going to get a motorcycle.” My wife said, “No way,” and he smiled sweetly and said, “Dad, didn’t you ride them when you were my age?” So we negotiated, and provided he took a motorcycle safety foundation course and wore all the equipment and so on, then yes. He got his motorcycle and rode carefully.
About a year later, he came and put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Dad, you know what would be really cool? If you rode with me.” So we got two motorcycles. It’s hard being a dad, isn’t it? I still ride. In any good weather, I ride my motorcycle into Trinity. What can I say? I have to do this for my son’s sake.
Now he’s in the Marines. Somewhere along the line he picked up bow hunting, so I learned to handle a bow properly. Somewhere along the line, of course, he was in the Marines and said, “Dad, I’m going to show you how to shoot a pistol properly.” He comes home and takes me out to a pistol range. He has his own .45, a Smith & Wesson XD made in the Czech Republic. A wonderful little automatic.
He said, “I’m going to teach you how to shoot.” He puts those targets out there, and those Marines know how to shoot. I was all over the place. He said, “Now, Dad, I’m going to show you. You carry the weight in this hand. You lean forward a bit more. Don’t close your eye. Squeeze the trigger. No, your thumb is a little lower. That’s better. No, no. You’re anticipating the shot.”
He’s teaching me, step by step by step. After I fired about three hundred rounds, I’m actually grouping them. It was quite marvelous! The next time he comes home we do it again. Three hundred more rounds and I’m all over the map, and he teaches me again. Gradually, gradually, my groupings are coming in. Then we go to Culver’s restaurant on the way home, and I can ask him how he’s doing with his soul. Otherwise, I can’t. He’s such a private dude.
Isn’t that what goes on, likewise, in the church of the living God? You try to find out where people are. It takes time, care, and sometimes these things come together. I read a lovely blog a week ago from Phil Ryken of Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia. I learned something I didn’t know they had. They have a father-son reading club — I don’t know how it works; I just noted it — a father-son reading club where fathers and sons read the same book and then come together with other fathers and sons to discuss the book.
The book they had been reading this month Phil had liked so much, because he was reading it with his son, that he put it on his blog. It was Out of the Black Shadows, the biography of Stephen Lungu, abandoned by parents at a young age, joined a violent street gang in Rhodesia, as it then was before it became Zimbabwe, was eventually wonderfully converted, and is now the international director of African Enterprise. Isn’t that a great book to read with your son or your dad?
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
Redeeming Father-Son Relationships
I’m sure there are some of you for whom all of this is still very strange, but if you know the Spirit of God has been tugging at your own heart, I beg of you, where you sit right now, lift your own heart heavenward and cry, “God be merciful to me, a sinner. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. I want to be a son of the living God. I want to call you my Father.” Will you do that?
I’m sure there are some fathers and sons here who are barely on speaking terms with your own fathers and sons, whether they’re here or not. Before you go to bed, phone them. Do you not hear what our heavenly Father says at the end of the Lord’s Prayer? Our heavenly Father says that he will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. Jesus himself teaches, “Neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.” Run short accounts. Don’t nurture bitterness. We have been forgiven far more than we can ever have to forgive.
For those of you who are still of an age where your sons are part of your charge, resolve in you before the Lord to be a father to them, to be a pastor in all the ways the Bible mandates. For those of you who are sons still under your father’s jurisdiction, honor your father and your mother and obey them.
For all of us, ought we not to honor our parents and above all to come to our heavenly Father and thank him for his watchful care over us in giving his own, infinitely dear, eternal Son on our behalf, which is the beginning of worship, the beginning of life, the beginning of joy, the beginning of entrance into the community of the family of God, both for this life and for the life to come?
Because otherwise, quite frankly, these two days have been a waste of time, but if they are to bear fruit in our lives, both for now and for eternity, God in his mercy grant repentance and faith and contrition and holy joy and obedience and heartfelt adoration of our heavenly Father with all of this truth spilling out into our relationships with our own fathers and sons, world without end.