One of the joys of ministry is striving together with others for the faith of the gospel.
I’m thankful that I get to work and enjoy fellowship with pastors of all ages. Here at West Coast Baptist College, I have the privilege to invest in young men preparing for the ministry, and as I’m in conferences and meetings around the country, I am able to preach and fellowship with men who are seasoned, just getting started, and everywhere in between.
Because I talk with so many pastors over the course of a year, there are certain questions I’m asked more often, particularly by younger pastors. I really love the dialog with these pastors, and I appreciate their spirit to learn and their commitment to serve the Lord with a biblical philosophy.
Below are ten of the questions, in no particular order, which I’m commonly asked. Nothing I’ll say in this post is new. (I’ve published material, either on my blog or in book form, on all of these topics previously.)
Others may hold different opinions or convictions on some of these matters. That’s fine. I loath argument just for the sake of argument (actually, it’s against my biblical convictions), and since we are serving as unto the Lord, I respect the freedom of good men to agree to disagree on matters of preference or personality. However, I’m always happy to share what I believe personally. In fact, it’s my desire to hold fast to the biblical traditions that have been passed to me.
So, with those points in mind, here some common questions and my regular answers:
1. What Is the Bible Basis for Ecclesiastical Separation?
In short, Scripture commands us to contend for the faith (Jude 3), preach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), and reject—not serve with—false teachers (Romans 16:17).
I have practiced ecclesiastical separation in many forms. I’ve separated from preachers of false doctrine, ecumenical gatherings, and even from “fundamental” preachers who are ungodly, angry in their spirit, or those who cover sin. Scripture commands me to avoid such men (Romans 16:17).
On the subject of ecclesiastical separation, if a dear friend of mine were to have in his pulpit someone who advocates false doctrine, then I could not have that good friend preach for me nor would I preach for him, because it violates biblical principles (such as Amos 3:3 and 1 Corinthians 14:8, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:8). I do not want to confuse our flock by featuring a preacher who associates with a false teacher.
I am cautious of those who belittle ecclesiastical separation. It is true that we do not want to separate over trivial issues or dominant personalities, but doctrine matters. Many of my mentors separated from conventions where they heard the miracles of the Bible mocked or the inerrancy of Scripture questioned. I am thankful that these men, such as James Rushing, Don Sisk, and Curtis Hutson, took a bold stand.
A book that helped me with this many years ago was Biblical Separation by Ernest Pickering. I also cover this in my miniboook The Saviour-Sensitive Church and The Promise I Cannot Keep. (This book is no longer in print, but I wrote it back when The Promise Keepers movement was popular. I described how I could not in good conscience take men in my church to join up with other churches that preached works salvation, various unbiblical doctrines, and embraced worldly lifestyles.)
I believe that, according to Jude 3 and other passages, practicing doctrinal separation is one of the characteristics of a true Biblicist.
2. Is the Baptist Name a Hindrance? Isn’t it Just a Label?
I am a Baptist by conviction. I believe in the Baptist distinctives because I believe they come from the Bible. Names and labels identify a position. The name Baptist generally identifies us as Biblicists.
I recently stood in Ilstom, Wales, at the site of one of the earliest Baptist churches in Wales, established in 1649. This entire congregation ultimately relocated to America because they were persecuted for their Baptist faith. Years ago, I stood in caves where Waldensian churches gathered in hiding during times of severe persecution from the twelfth to seventeenth centuries.
Although sometimes called by different names throughout history and in different parts of the world, I believe that the lineage of Baptist beliefs is traceable back to the time of Christ. I believe there have always been pockets of people who have been unaffiliated from state churches and have held New Testament church doctrine. Today the name Baptist describes a faith many shed their blood to preserve for me.
We don’t worship labels—we worship Christ. But language and labels define a position. And I believe the Baptist label defines a biblical position of New Testament church doctrine. (I dealt with this more extensively in chapter 2 of The Road Ahead.)
3. What Is Your Opinion on the Heritage of Independent Baptists?
I am thankful for my independent Baptist heritage. I’m thankful for men like Tom Malone (whom we named a West Coast Baptist College dormitory after), Lee Roberson, and Curtis Hutson—all of whom preached at Lancaster Baptist Church and took time to personally encourage me when I was a younger pastor. (Of course, I am still a young pastor. )
Are there some who have used the same moniker of unaffiliated or independent Baptist who we would not identify with? Sure, but that could be said of any group. I gladly identify with the principles early leaders of the independent Baptists taught. (I address my gratefulness for our heritage and suggestions for correcting imbalances in The Road Ahead.) Furthermore, I will not let the imbalances or wrong behavior of a few change my appreciation for a heritage of faith. I do not want to be a reactionary leader who moves from group to group in angry insecurity. I want to move from Scripture to active obedience in a causative fashion.
4. How Closely Should I Work with Other Pastors?
For many years I’ve advocated from Philippians 1:27 for “striving together for the sake of the gospel.” In fact, this is the theme verse for our church. The theme of our nationwide conferences is “Striving Together,” and the name of our publications ministry is Striving Together.
Recently, I was at a retreat in Colorado with a group of thirteen pastors from across the country who graduated from ten different Bible colleges. We prayed together and talked about family, soulwinning, and ministry. I think every one of those men, including myself, were sharpened by that experience.
You will always be able to find areas of disagreement with another pastor. A carnal servant takes a little matter and makes it bigger. A spiritual servant, however, takes a big matter and makes it smaller. Spiritual men will be thankful for God’s blessing in others’ lives.
Whatever you may disagree with another pastor over, remember to “love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8). There are men with whom I do not fellowship ecclesiastically and some with whom I may not fellowship in the future so far as pulpit meetings are concerned. But as long as they are not denying Bible doctrine, I can have a good relationship personally.
5. What Is Wrong with the CCM Movement?
I do not believe music is amoral. I am not an expert in music, but I believe there is certain music that moves the flesh rather than inviting the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18–19). Some pastors never use newer songs but only songs that are fifty or more years old. I personally do believe there are some newer songs that are biblically sound with beautiful melodies that glorify the Lord, and we use these occasionally. (Our church is not alone in this. For instance, a newer song, “That’s What Grace Is For,” has been sung at several meetings where I’ve preached recently.)
But the CCM movement as a whole is built on the premise that music is amoral and can be used to create a bridge to the world. Many CCM artists have lifestyles I do not want promoted to our young people. For these and other reasons covered in my booklet Biblical Principles for Music and Worship, I could never endorse the CCM movement.
I am aware that some arguments in the music issue can be confusing, but I desire a spiritual church, and I believe songs of the Spirit are vital in pleasing Christ.
You will have to determine “spiritual music” for the church you lead, but I have noticed that radical shifts in music philosophy can lead to radical shifts in doctrine.
6. Does the Pastor’s Attire while Preaching Matter?
It has been my custom to preach the services at Lancaster Baptist Church in a suit and tie (although I don’t always wear these at camps or retreats or on mission trips). I plan to do this as long as I am preaching. I am a bit old fashioned here. But I go to church to worship God, and I feel a leader needs to consider his role in this area. When I have met with state governors or political leaders, I wear a suit. I do the same for a time of public worship.
I would not, however, separate with someone over this issue. All of my friends in Hawaii preach while wearing a Hawaiian dress shirt. Sometimes during the summers here in Southern California I have been envious of them and have wondered if I should consider a calling to Hawaii.
7. Who Should I Look to for Leadership, and How Can I Gain Influence?
I believe that influence is a gift from God. I am not a leader because I announce I am. I am not a leader because I announce I am different than a previous generation. Leadership is more about who I am with the Lord than what I do or say for the sake of men. (“For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another,” Psalm 75:6–7.)
The way men are achieving influence is changing in some ways. Men who collaborate around various issues via social media are currently gaining some influence. Meanwhile, men who have labored for decades and are less technically inclined are not sought after. Sometimes older men lash out in frustration because of these changes and their diminishing influence. I encourage older pastors everywhere to reach out to younger pastors. Have lunch with them, and get to know them. Love and service will build platforms of influence over time.
For my part, I want to do my best to be that faithful pastor through the decades who tries through venues like this blog to encourage and help young men who want to hear. At the end of the day, however, whatever influence one has or does not have can be trusted to God’s sovereign plan.
8. Should a Pastor Prepare for Succession or Leave that Solely to the Church?
A lot of younger and older pastors are discussing the subject of succession. It is true that many pastors are retiring, and some are concerned about the statistics of fewer younger leaders coming up.
I would encourage every pastor facing retirement to find a young man who is solidly committed to the Scriptures, proven, separated, clean, and godly—one who fulfills the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Then, with intention, mentor him, and see if the local church will recognize God’s hand on his life for their future.
I believe the senior pastor should work with the deacons to find someone who will follow the tradition of those who sacrificed to build the church. Jesus condemned tradition that was elevated to the place of Scripture, but Paul referenced continuing in traditions that were biblically-based and taught by him or other godly men in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6.
9. How Do You Balance Family and Ministry?
My core answer is that you must remember your family is your first priority and a direct responsibility from the Lord. As an older pastor once told me, the church can get another pastor, but your wife and children cannot get another husband and father. By God’s grace, all four of our adult children are serving the Lord, and Terrie and I don’t regret a single effort or sacrifice we made to raise them for the Lord and invest in their lives.
In my newest book, Making Home Work, I’ve included a chapter-length appendix on the ministry and your family. Throughout the book, there are many truths that are as applicable to families in ministry as to any other family.
10. What Are the Best Soulwinning Methods?
This question comes up almost every time we have a Q&A session in a conference, and for a book-length answer, see Out of Commission.
At Lancaster Baptist Church, we still go door to door in our community with the gospel, and we see great fruit from it. Many of the people in our church today and recently added to our church were reached in this way.
We also use any other means we can to get the gospel out, including billboards, Facebook ads, special events at church, and serving our community in practical ways. We encourage our members to steward every relationship for the gospel. Many people in our church were reached through a friend, coworker, or neighbor who was faithful to build a relationship over time and share the gospel with them.
This is not an exhaustive list of questions younger pastors ask, nor is it an exhaustive answer to each question. Of course, the ultimate answer for every question is the Word of God. Although opinions will differ from one pastor to the next in issues of relative unimportance and although seeking counsel from others is wise and can be helpful, we must ultimately hold our beliefs and practices to the standard of God’s Word. And we must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom as we follow His leadership in ministry.