Two Edifying Conversations on Finding the Main Idea of a Book of the Bible

In recent episodes of the Church Theology podcast, friends of the ministry Kirk Miller and Dan Allen talk through finding a book of the Bible’s overall message. The first conversation explains the importance of the principle (which we call “Finding the Main Idea and Intended Response”) while the second applies the tool to the book of Philippians. They are edifying conversations you should enjoy.

Finding a Book’s Overall Message: Part 1

Finding a Book’s Overall Message: Part 2 – Case Study: Philippians

In Part Two, Kirk and Dan share one helpful way to think about the Intended Response of a book of the Bible, and it’s a handy little formula:

Author + Audience + Argument = Aim

You may also be interested in our article, “How to Find the Big Idea of a Book of the Bible.”

This is How My Lord Jesus Has Taught Me to Love: Loving an Enemy in the Face of Persecution


The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:8 to “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord . . . but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” The following story of a man we have trained in Southeast Asia illustrates this verse well.

Gunadi* was a Muslim for twenty-five years and a teacher of Islam. His wife and three kids were Muslim, and he taught them in their religion.  

One day Gunadi traveled to a town known for having many Christians. He initially dreaded the visit, but to his surprise, the Christians he met were friendly and hospitable – a special new experience for Gunadi. 

Gunadi traveled to this city a second time, and again, had a special experience when he came upon a huge monument of the cross while traversing the city.  

When I saw that cross, there were mixed feelings inside of me. I was used to hating the cross, and I taught my followers to hate the cross. . . . I should’ve had feelings of even greater hate for such a large cross – but praise the Lord, what I felt was a feeling of need.

This experience motivated Gunadi to begin listening to a Christian radio station – with headphones, of course. He would never want his family to know he was listening to a Christian broadcast! Then months later after listening to the radio broadcast, Gunadi prayed along with the radio pastor and received Jesus as his Savior. That was October 2012. 

The feelings that came up were of peace and joy, but I understood at that point that the journey ahead would not be easy.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, you and your household.”

A couple of months went by and there was a difference in my house. My wife and my three children were confused, seeing me as a teacher of Islam now telling them about Jesus Christ. 

One night my wife came to me and she told me, “Tonight I will receive Jesus Christ.”

One night my wife came to me and she told me, “Tonight I will receive Jesus Christ.” My wife called all my children one by one. And to my surprise she had already taught the children to believe! That night each of my children came and told me that they had received Jesus Christ. That night was a very joyful night.

Confident in the Face of Persecution

[The conversion of my family] made me very grateful to the Lord and also gave me confidence to be a bold witness to others. With the minimal knowledge that I had, I started to teach those surrounding me. I reached out to the people that were my followers as a Muslim teacher.

One day, Gunadi shared the gospel with some former students, angering a family member of one of the students. This family member approached Gunadi with a small sword and stabbed him. 

I tried to defend myself. To save my life I had to break that man’s arm. I was bleeding at that point, but I brought my attacker to the hospital with me. I asked the hospital to treat him first instead of me, because his arm was broken and his bone was sticking out. It’s funny when I think of it now – I took my attacker to the hospital and paid for all of his expenses. After he was taken care of, then I asked the hospital to treat me.

A few months after the attack, this man came up to me. He was confused because he had stabbed me and I was still willing to help him and pay for all the treatment for his broken arm. He asked me, “Why are you doing this?” My answer was very simple: I told him, “This is how my Lord Jesus has taught me to love.” 

Until now that person is still not a believer. But praise the Lord, a couple people who know my attacker and me have heard this story and have become believers as a result.

“Why are you doing this?” My answer was very simple: I told him, “This is how my Lord Jesus has taught me to love.”

This isn’t the only time Gunadi has suffered for Jesus. Bricks have shattered windows in his house because of the gospel. Another time, while conversing with “friends” of a different religion, he noticed that the sweet tea given him to drink tasted strangely bitter. He had been poisoned. 

At the hospital, the doctor told me that the amount of poison in my blood was enough to kill a cow. I had surgery one week later. They cut open my liver and cleaned my blood. The surgeon told me that there was a time during the surgery where I was dead. I know that it was God’s power that allowed me to regain consciousness. It took a couple months to recover and even now I still feel the effect of that poison.

But what I believe is that when Jesus takes care of us, many men can do many things to us but God can always keep us safe. It brings me great joy to know that as believers we will never be alone and God’s promises are always true for us. I’m very blessed to see this in my own life. God promises to be with the believer who’s not afraid and not ashamed to proclaim the gospel.


Gunadi (center) with two trainers
Gunadi sharing his story with LRI staff

Please pray with us for Gunadi and other persecuted brothers and sisters in his region.

  • Pray that they would be rescued from wicked men (Romans 15:31). 
  • Pray that they would “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord . . . but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). 
  • Pray that their proclamation of God’s Word would bear much fruit and that their joy in the gospel would grow each day.

* His name has been changed to protect his identity.

COVID-19 Cannot Bind the Word of God

COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees. Even so, we’re thankful that even in tremendous suffering and uncertainty, God is faithful and will do His work through His Word. 

Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy while in prison. He knew suffering, and yet he could write, “. . . I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8–9, ESV). That is our great hope as believers! And that is what we are witnessing around the world.

Below you’ll find a sampling of how God’s Word is going forth in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. As you read, would you please pray for our dear partners to have deep joy in the Lord and a fruitful season of ministry? 


Ecuador

 

When the COVID-19 crisis started to intensify, two trainers, Oscar and Alexander, found themselves quarantined in the house of another trainer, Clever (pictured above), in a city seven hours by car away from their families and church. God used their two weeks together to deepen friendships and further ministry. These three trainers experimented with training and preaching over Facebook Live and have since led several trainings over social media for church members and others in their community. One Facebook commenter shared at the end of the training in Ruth:

God has taught me that in spite of our circumstances, He has control of all things. And he has taught me that we are the people who should be encouraging others without losing hope because MY REDEEMER LIVES!


South Africa

 

From a partner who taught with Jeff Gage (pictured above) in South Africa: “Shepherds School at our church is a two-year course in which we work through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Using the Dig and Discover tools, students are equipped to read, study, apply, and disciple others. We meet once each month for four hours in a workshop setting. Since we are under a strict lockdown in South Africa and unable to gather, we all joined in a Zoom meeting while I taught from home. We interacted about the students’ assignments from last month, and filled out our understanding of Biblical theology. While some of the workshop dynamic was lost by not being able to work in small groups, the experience was positive and beneficial for all.”


Latin American Mentor Trainers

 

Patricio Paredes, LRI’s regional director for Latin America, and the mentor trainers from that region, meet weekly to study the book of Daniel and sharpen each other as trainers. A hopeful outcome of this group is that new and strengthened relationships will result in expanding our training into new Latin American countries. One trainer commented, “I’m convinced amazing things are coming!”


A Security-Sensitive Country in Asia

A core group of forty pastors meet weekly over video to go through Hebrews, taking turns to teach a passage they have prepared using LRI’s principles. In turn, these forty train about forty other groups (each ranging from about ten to twenty participants) in what they have learned, reaching somewhere between 400 and 800. 


A Security-Sensitive Country in Central Asia

One mentor trainer from Central Asia leads an online training with eleven preachers, mainly from his church. Another more experienced trainer sits in on the training to share feedback. While training over the internet has its disadvantages and will never equal face-to-face training, the trainer and his preaching team are growing in their handling of God’s Word.


Three Countries in South Asia

God’s Word is impacting people in three South Asian countries in which we work in a variety of ways. Several pastors are recording audio messages or preaching every day on Facebook. One brother is preparing a study in 2 Corinthians for the next mentor trainer workshop that will take place when the shelter-in-place order is lifted. Several pastors (including the two brothers pictured), are meeting physical needs in their community and calling other pastors from their training groups for prayer and mutual encouragement. 


United States

 

After experiencing two of our workshops, Pastor Marty Paparo (pictured above), from a training group in North Florida, decided to lead the people in his Wednesday night Bible study through the book of Ruth using the Dig and Discover principles. After the coronavirus situation led them to stop meeting in person, they’ve continued their interactive study of Ruth online over video. Pastor Marty commented that it’s so great, rather than simply spoon-feeding people week after week, to equip them to read and understand the Bible for themselves.


Pray with us

Pray with us for God’s Word to continue to go forth in power to bring many to faith during these days of crisis. Also pray that God would use this time to strengthen a global movement of His Word by raising up gifted trainers and preachers to equip His saints for the work of Word ministry.

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you…” (2 Thessalonians 3:1, ESV)

Legalism vs. Liberalism vs. Gospel – A Helpful Chart about Staying on the Line

The hermeneutical principle called “Staying on the Line” teaches the biblical truth that God wants us to take Him at His Word, not adding to what He has said or subtracting from it. 

To truly stay on the line of God’s Word, we need to understand the what (the content) and also the why (the intent) of Scripture. When we fail to adequately understand each of those, we find ourselves on shifting ground, prone to both legalism and liberalism.

I recently came across a helpful chart that shares theological examples of how legalism and liberalism may manifest themselves. (Gospel in the chart is interchangeable with The Word of God.)

*This helpful chart is from Romans 1–7 For You by Timothy Keller, copyright 2014 by The Good Book Company, used by kind permission.


Other Resources about Staying on the Line:

5 Ways Exodus Confronts Our Secular Age

Exodus is epic. An underdog leader of a slave nation stands up to the world’s most powerful man. Hail, frogs, flies, and rivers of blood plague the most prosperous nation on the planet. God miraculously divides a major body of water so his people can escape their captors.

That’s just the first half.

No wonder Exodus has held Hollywood’s attention for a long time. Consider full-length feature films including The Ten Commandments (1956), The Prince of Egypt (1998), and more recently, Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). While these movies get some things right, the true message of Exodus is often lost to make it more palatable for modern taste or for more sensational storytelling.

That’s a shame, because I’m convinced that the true story of Exodus speaks powerfully to our secular world in several ways.

1. God’s focus is his own glory—a good thing.

Throughout Exodus, God unabashedly seeks his glory and wields his sovereign power over creation to achieve it. At the burning bush, he called a self-doubting octogenarian with murder in his past to deliver his people from bondage and lead them to worship in the desert (Ex. 3:1–4:11).

In the plagues, God showed his supremacy over the gods of Egypt by using elements of his creation to prove his power over them (Ex. 7–12). In hardening Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17), he demonstrated his sovereign power over world rulers and nations.

God alone is worthy of all praise—a truth that drives many in our secular culture crazy. While the secular mindset may tolerate some “religious plurality” or say “you can believe your truth while I’ll believe mine,” Exodus makes clear that every false god will one day be crushed, and every knee will bow before our Creator and judge (Phil. 2:10–11).

God isn’t a megalomaniac who desperately wants attention; he’s a loving Creator accomplishing his good purposes by redeeming a people for himself. No raging nation or hardhearted leader will steal his glory or thwart his good purposes for this world or his people.

2. God’s holiness requires judgment of the wicked.

God’s holy wrath burned hot against Egypt’s pharaoh. Egypt’s leader mandated the Hebrew people abort their male offspring (Ex. 1:15–16), enslaved God’s chosen people, and forced them to serve Egypt instead of God (Ex. 5:1, 7:16, etc.). God’s holy wrath led to the final plague that took the lives of all the firstborn in Egypt, from pharaoh’s house to Egyptian slaves to cattle (see Ex. 12:29–30). God even graciously warned them (Ex. 11:4–7).

The righteous judgment of God isn’t the most popular of topics in our supposedly tolerant secular world. Even so, our culture cries out for justice that can be found only in a sovereign God who sets the standards and executes judgment on the guilty.

Without a sovereign God of justice, we have no hope that ultimate justice will come against this world’s oppressors, abusers, traffickers, and murderers. A God of perfect justice will judge every evil deed, and he alone can help us endure this unjust world.

3. Redemption comes by the blood of the Lamb.

The exodus from Egypt is the greatest picture of redemption in the Old Testament, pointing forward to the rescue from the bondage to sin led forth by Jesus Christ, the new and better Moses (Heb. 3:1–6).

A secular worldview doesn’t leave room for redemption, because it would require acknowledging sin as the Bible defines it. According to Kevin DeYoung, the secular confession is not, “‘Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips,’ but ‘Woe to me if I think myself unclean.’”

With personal autonomy and finding the authentic self as key aims of the secular worldview, Christian redemption is as offensive as it is esoteric. The secular world must grasp that sin exists and has consequences. Not even Israel could escape God’s judgment without a blood sacrifice of a lamb (Ex. 12:1–3). No sin disqualifies us from redemption that the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) offers by the blood of his cross.

4. God’s grace precedes God’s law.

God gives Israel his law in Exodus 20–24, and as always, context is key. God reminds Israel of how he saved them from Egypt (Ex. 19:4; 20:2) before he explains how the law will help them live out their holy calling among the nations (Ex. 19:5–6; 20:3–17; cf. Eph. 2:1–10; Titus 2:11–14). Stripping the law from this loving, relational context twists its purpose and warps our understanding of God. We should obey because he has saved us, not because a divine taskmaster requires obedience for salvation.

I fear many in our secular age have a bad taste of Christianity due to leaders and churches missing this crucial point. Instead of gospel-motivated obedience that produces life and joy, legalistic understandings of the law lead to fear, misery, and at worst, apostasy.

5. God’s presence brings the transcendent close.

Exodus 1–20 may be the most vivid story of the Old Testament, but that’s only half of the book. The second half focuses on the plans and construction of the tabernacle, the earthly place where God would dwell. Exodus 29:46 is the driving force for the whole book: “And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them” (ESV, emphasis mine).

Our secular world champions the notion that every person is equally good and right, yet the tabernacle flies in the face of this notion. The tabernacle shows that nobody is naturally good, and nobody naturally has access to God’s presence without a mediator and a sacrifice for sin. In Jesus, simultaneously our mediator and sacrifice for sin, the transcendent God draws us close.

If our world understood what the tabernacle represents, it wouldn’t search for the transcendent in celebrities, athletes, technology, or astrology. It would rejoice that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14, ESV).

Greatest Miracle

There’s a lot in Exodus the secularist would reject. First to go would likely be the miraculous events like the burning bush, the plagues, the provision of manna, or the parting of the Red Sea. But the greatest miracle of Exodus—and of the entire Bible—is how a holy God would make a way for sinful people to dwell with him.

That’s a miracle you won’t see in the movies.


This article originally ran on The Gospel Coalition.

4 Free Disciple-Making Resources from Matthias Media

Our friends at Matthias Media are doing what they can to continue to partner with the church by providing top-notch resources for making disciples.

Some of their books we’ve mentioned on this blog before include The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall, One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm, and God of Word: The Word, the Spirit and how God speaks to us by John Woodhouse.

In a recent COVID-19 related update, Matthias Media announced how they are operating and shared how to get a few resources in the “Free Digital Resources for You” section.

If you email Marty (msweeney@matthiasmedia.com) or call the Matthias Media office (1-866-407-4530), you can get a copy (PDF and/or Kindle) of the following titles:

You’ll also be interested to note a 50% off sale on the following resources:

  • The Everlasting God by Broughton Knox – “Few minds have explored the depths of God’s revelation with such humble and innovative perception,” says Phillip Jenson of this book’s author.
  • Full of Promise – Learn how the entire Old Testament fits together as one great story about God.
  • From Sinner to Saint DVD Study by John Chapman – Though Chappo is well into his 70’s when this video was made, I had a youth pastor tell me that his kids were enthralled going through this course. Great for a weekly family study!
  • Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton – what better time to dive into this thick but valuable book? As one Amazon review says “this is the best kept secret in ministry leadership.”

In addition to these suggestions, all orders with Matthias Media have free shipping to US addresses.

Establishing Transparent Ministry Teams

This is the final part of the transcript of a conversation on Preventing Disqualifying Sins in Ministry between Kevin Halloran and John Eichholz.



It’s important for us as individuals to think about, how we can we best prevent sin in our ministries, sin that could derail our ministry. How might we encourage a leadership team in a church or an organization to seek to protect one another? 

JH: I want to bring out our organization, Leadership Resources, as a good model. I find this mission organization a better environment than some churches I’ve served in just because there is a real openness that encourages guys to challenge one another. There is a culture of openness, of caring. There’s a freedom to be yourself but also to go to other people, whether there’s a need for confession of sin or confronting sin. Initially, I was a little off guard, because in other church situations I didn’t experience that same thing.

In any church or other Christian organization, two dynamics ought to be fostered. The first is that the higher leadership, say the pastoral team, ought to foster openness with one another. That is a challenge for anyone who might read this. If you don’t have openness or you serve with someone else who is not being accountable, you need to develop it. This is crucial to good leadership, because if leadership doesn’t do it, neither will anyone else in the body. The second thing is, strong godly leaders need to develop a desired culture and determine what that culture will look like. Again, this is something that LRI has done over the years. Our founder, Bill Mills, has been such a godly influence on the organization, and we have other leaders who have been raised up and are doing an equally good job at developing that culture.

Let me read four things that we work on regularly. We have a culture of love, a culture of humility, a culture of hope, and a culture of faith, and then under each one of those categories we describe what that culture looks like. We talk about those things. When we cultivate cultures where people are encouraged to be open in  expressing their struggles or their sins, and then a culture of love where we embrace those people, we encourage them. 

Most pastors are very aware of the “one another” Scriptures. There are many of them. Sometimes we don’t practice these in our church situations, whether in Bible Study or in larger groups. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another.” Closely following that  is Colossians 3:1 which talks about “bearing with one another” and “forgiving each other.” Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another”; and then, of course, the most plentiful of the one-another Scriptures are the “love one anothers.” As we show true sacrificial love, that fosters a wonderful relationship and a wonderful spirit in the organization, knowing that other people have your best interest at heart and, in fact, they will sacrifice for you. There are several Scripture texts that talk about being subject to one another: Clothe yourself with humility, 1 Peter 5:5 tells us. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens,” and so on. Several of the one-anothers talk about honesty. You put those together and as a leadership team work hard to foster that. You have an environment where people feel conspicuous if they are fostering patterns of sin in their hearts. There is one thing that you can do as an individual believer, but praise God when you have a church or an organization that encourages you not to have those private things going on in your heart and encourages you to share your weaknesses when you stumble.

KH: Thank you so much for your time, John. I’m wondering if you’d close our time in prayer.

JE: It’d be my privilege.

Father, we thank you for calling us to be your children. What a high and holy privilege that is. Thank you for your gift of salvation. We realize that it was purchased through the blood of your precious Son. Father, help us, whether we’re in a church-leadership situation, a mission organization, or we are just a co-laborer with other people who want to exalt Christ in our community. Father, may we be free from sins that overwhelm and disqualify us from giving glory to You. I pray for our own organization. Thank you for what you’re doing and for the way it’s expanding. I pray that you would keep each leader and coworker growing in godliness and encouraging one another in that. Father, I pray today for pastors and leaders who are reading this. I pray that they would check their own hearts and lives. May this conversation be an encouragement to double-check with what’s going on in their lives or in their homes or in their churches. We pray for partners around the world. Lord, these are such days of opportunity. We simply pray that you would cause us to be so joyful in our relationship with Christ and so thankful for the gift of salvation that we would be disciplined. That we would be putting sin to death in our lives so that we can live fully for the glory of Your Son. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.


A Few Resources to Help Protect You and Your Church

Preventing Sin by Pursuing Faithfulness

This is Part Two of the transcript of a conversation on Preventing Disqualifying Sins in Ministry between Kevin Halloran and John Eichholz.



John, let’s think practically for a minute. We’ve seen some of the things that can lead to this type of sin, but what are some strategies that a pastor might implement to prevent this in his life?

JE: Kevin, I appreciate you asking that. I should mention there are many things out there, different ministries have lots of resources. There are books. So, there’s no excuse for a pastor or ministry leader not to read about and put into place safeguards in their lives. I think it really starts with your relationship with the Lord Jesus. You can have accountability, you can have other things in place, but I always like to ask men in ministry, “How is your walk? What kind of relationship do you have with your Lord? Are you growing?” Guys have different answers to that. You can put prayer, Bible reading, and other regular habits in your life and still have a disconnect in the Christian walk. It’s really about growing in your relationship with the Lord Jesus and then, out of that relationship, growing with other people. 

I like what John Piper says. “One reason lust reigns in so many of us is that Christ has so little appeal.” We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. I think for a pastor not to have that delight, not to savor that relationship, is a warning sign. If we don’t wake up in the morning and have joy in our salvation and want to meet with our Lord, spend time with Him, if we’re preparing messages and not finding joy, if we are not finding satisfaction in understanding the Scriptures and then preaching and teaching them to other people, we need to check ourselves. We need to ask people to pray for us.

“One reason lust reigns in so many of us is that Christ has so little appeal.” —John Piper

I am always astounded when I hear about or, in some cases, have seen pastors who preach day in and day out, every Sunday, midweek, and maybe for several years preach well, and yet something is going on in the background. There is a sinful relationship. I always ask, how can that disconnect take place? Men need to ask themselves, What is my relationship? What is my walk? It’s a lifelong commitment. We are called to follow Christ as disciples, which brings to mind Mark 8:34 where Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (NIV). Sometimes, when ministry becomes difficult, men look for an out, they look for a way to escape that’s not from the Lord. The Lord Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and if we’re playing fast and loose with those small things, those “small” sins in our lives . . . that’s a warning sign. I love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” A pastor should be able to tell if he’s really committed to his Lord through very difficult times, through the very joyful times, and if he’s not, he needs to ask some serious questions about what this does to his ministry or whether he needs help.

One other idea for those guys who are so confident that they don’t think that they can fall or stumble, is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,” and at the end of that phrase, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” There are things we need to examine in the Scriptures about our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. It’s really all about Him, and there are the two commands, two overarching things we need to accomplish as believers in our life: to love God and to love one another.

The second idea, besides looking at our own life and our relationship with Christ is looking at relational safeguards. Do we have those key relationships in our lives? Most of us in ministry are married. How are we doing with our wives? Are we nurturing that relationship? Even when that relationship is not bringing me satisfaction, am I committed sacrificially to my wife? If we can answer, “No, I’m not”, then we need to check that relationship. We also need to have one or more key men in our lives who we can check in with us regularly. They don’t always have to be on the same spiritual leadership plane as we are.

I’ve talked with men in churches who can’t find someone in their church as a sounding board because they feel that other guys are not as spiritual as they are. Well, maybe there’s someone else in the community, or maybe they need to humble themselves a little bit and just find a guy who is very honest and can speak into their life. Check your relationship with Christ, your relational safeguard., Who are the key people in your life that you’re regularly asking, “How am I doing? What do you think?” Invite them to speak honestly to you.

KH: I appreciate what you said, John, about relationships being a key part of this. Obviously, first our relationship with the Lord, abiding in Christ. Everything flows from that, but relationships with our wives and other people in the church are crucial.

One of the warning signs we’ve mentioned is isolation. That brings to mind Proverbs 18:1: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire, he breaks out against all sound judgment.” If we isolate ourselves, other sins can so easily creep in that other people may not be around to notice. Sin may be deceiving us, telling us that we’re okay. Douglas Wilson, author of Father Hunger, wrote, “Sins are like grapes; they come in bunches.” That’s his way of describing when we’re bearing the fruit of the flesh instead of the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:19–23). Having other people in your life who can speak God’s Word to you in an encouraging way but also when you need a rebuke is crucial. 

JE: There was one other Scripture text that is good to bring alongside what you’ve just said: the idea of disciplining yourself and the cravings, the desires we have. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says he disciplines his body and keeps it under control so that he won’t be disqualified as a minister of the Word. Our culture encourages us to feed the flesh, to relax, enjoy ourselves, and not take life so seriously. Pastors, spiritual leaders, ought to discipline themselves for the sake of those around them.

KH: One other attitude that we need to cultivate is a hatred of sin. I know a pastor who says that he prays every single day that he would hate sin more and more. I think that’s kind of two sides of the same coin as we talk about loving Christ, loving what He’s done for us. I think of John Owen and his book The Mortification of Sin and his famous quote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” [Hating sin should lead to] mortifying sin and not letting it grow—always trying to extinguish the presence and the appeal of sin in our hearts as soon as it comes up.

John, I think one of the tools that God gives us is what the Word says in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus  about qualifications for elders. How might a pastor use those passages to fight the good fight of faith?

JE: That’s a great question, and this is a good text for anyone who is a leader in any spiritual ministry. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 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.

I like the way this starts: There is an overarching characteristic that the pastor or overseer must be above reproach, and that doesn’t mean without sin but rather that there are no obvious patterns of sin in the person’s life. Sometimes men default in an are of something like anger, and our society or even in churches at times allows leaders to do that, to even have explosive or ungodly anger issues because they are so good in other areas. They’re gifted.

KH: Or, “The church is growing, so we’ll let this slide.”

JE: Yes, we look at their giftedness but not their godliness. First Timothy 3 gives a list of how a man ought to look overall. This is an overarching characteristic. I like that the book of Acts says leaders are chosen who are full of the Spirit (Acts 6:3). That doesn’t mean that just occasionally the Holy Spirit fills them, but that’s the character of their life. They’re producing fruit. They are given to relying on the Spirit in their life and ministry, and that’s a characteristic that comes out. That’s what you need to really fulfill these things, the help of the Holy Spirit. There are categories of these many qualities. Some list them as twenty, some list thirty or more between these two passages (from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) and others, but I like to think of just basic categories, like the husband of one wife or a one-woman man. That goes along with managing your house well. If you’re not doing well at home, then Scripture asks ow will you do in the church of God? Managing for Him?

There’s another characteristic among the two lists, free from addictions, free from the love of money. Uncontentious, gentle, not violent, those things go together. Another one: self-controlled. And finally, a good reputation outside the church. That’s a good test. Sometimes guys can be very good in their own church context but outside maybe in business dealings or just snubbing people. Maybe the way we drive in traffic, can be tell tale of something disqualifying in our life.

KH: Good. One more thing I’ll say about hating sin, and it’s really a practical way to cultivate that in our hearts. It’s meditating on the consequences of sin. Randy Alcorn wrote an article called “Deterring Immorality by Counting Its Cost.” In it he includes a long list of things what would happen if he were to have an affair, to fall morally. He meditates on that to cultivate a hatred and a seriousness in his heart about what sin could lead to. That’s something that has helped me think through my own life and develop a hatred of sin.


Stay tuned for the final part of this interview, Establishing Transparent Ministry Teams.

Preventing Disqualifying Sins in Ministry: A Conversation

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (NIV). 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to think of ministers who haven’t watched their lives or doctrine closely. Within the last couple of years, two high-profile pastors in the Chicago area have had their sin exposed publicly, even covered by news outlets like the Chicago Tribune.

Major sin by Christian leaders leads to great pain, not only in the ministers’ lives but also in their families and churches, and often can damage Christian witness in the community.

John Eichholz

So how can we think biblically about preventing sins that disqualify from ministry?

To answer that question, Kevin Halloran spoke with John Eichholz, a former pastor and current Field Director for our ministry. In our conversation, we discussed:

  • warning signs that someone is headed down a bad road;
  • attitudes and relationships we need in order to avoid disqualifying sins; and
  • how to establish healthy and transparent ministry teams.

In conversations like this it’s crucial that we define terms, so let me very broadly define “disqualifying sins” as any sin that would make a Christian leader violate the qualifications for elders as found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

We realize the seriousness of this conversation. We engage in it humbly and with much trepidation. Our prayer is that God would use this conversation to strengthen your walk with Him, to expose sin where it is needed, and also to encourage all of us by reminding us of all that God has given us in Christ to enable us to walk in holiness and in grace.



Read the transcript of the interview:

Warning Signs a Fall into Sin Could Be Imminent

This is Part One of the transcript of a conversation on Preventing Disqualifying Sins in Ministry between Kevin Halloran and John Eichholz.



John, this first question risks being obvious, but it’s an important one: Can you explain why preventing disqualifying sins is so important for pastors and ministry leaders?

JE: I’d be glad to comment on that. First of all, I think these kinds of sins really wreak havoc in ministry. We brought it up with our staff because our guys are traveling all the time, and there’s also heightened spiritual risk when an organization or a key leader is doing well. We need to be constantly alert and watchful. Also, Kevin, you had mentioned our current climate in the culture. . . . The Me Too movement – but even the Kavanaugh hearings – shows us that people are really sensitive to leadership overstepping its bounds. It’s hypocritical in the culture, but for Christians I think it’s an opportunity when we walk closely with the Lord and our life shows that we are following the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a great testimony. When a leader defaults – and obviously when it ends up in the newspaper, as you’ve mentioned – it really causes shame on the name of Christ and the organization. I’ve seen many times in ministry that when someone defaults, it follows that leader for years. It affects those he has been shepherding. There often are devastating consequences. Sometimes people walk away from the faith for a time because of that leader’s hypocrisy.

KH: What you mentioned reminds me of 1 Peter 5:8, that says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (NIV). And those words, be sober minded and be watchful should always be on the mind of every Christian but, I think, especially of leaders, considering some of the things you just mentioned. 

JE: I appreciate your bringing that up. And 1 Peter 5 is in the context of Peter exhorting elders and undershepherds of the Lord Jesus and is very appropriate. 

KH: It’s easy to think that these types of sins sneak up on us. It’s easy to think, How could that have happened to that person? Often there’s a longer road that gradually leads to devastating sins. Can you explain what some of the warning signs might be in the life of a pastor, telling him that maybe he’s heading down a bad road?

JE: Sure. There are a number of those things, but there are basic categories of patterns. I think you’ve already mentioned one is being lax in a spiritual battle. The text that you already quoted talks about being sober minded, being watchful. That’s really the Christian life. I think we are in a spiritual battle; we need to be aware of what’s going on around our own lives, our families, our churches. I think sometimes we are lulled to sleep. Things are going well, there are no major problems, and we are not as diligent as we ought to be. 

I think it’s interesting that Christ is warning His disciples as they are following Him to Jerusalem, and they’re not heeding the warning. They’re not understanding where they’re going and what’s about to happen. Obviously, as He goes to prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, He tells them to watch and pray. That should be our stance at all times in the Christian life, when things are going well, and things are difficult. 

Also, the leaders I’ve worked with in the past, some who have defaulted from ministry, have  sometimes had a sense of self-sufficiency: I’m strong. I can do this. I’ve worked with men who also have a sense of independence. They don’t really want to cooperate closely or share their lives openly. There’s maybe not an accountability. There’s a lack of dependence on Christ because they feel strong and capable, but that self-sufficiency is a warning sign to me. Sometimes guys think, Sexual sins? I love my wife. We have a good relationship; that won’t happen to me. Yet they are feeding the flesh in other areas, maybe pornography or a subtle playing with things in the mind or a subtle relationship they’re coddling behind the scenes but are not dealing with.

KH: One of the scary things about this topic and the nature of sin, is just how deceitful sin can be. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (NIV), and so often in these cases there is deceit. Maybe deceiving others, trying to hide certain actions or certain thoughts, but ultimately, sin deceives us. That’s scary, because we don’t realize we’re headed down a wrong path. We’re disobeying God, and it’s blinding us to reality. That’s something for every pastor and every Christian to be very careful about. Am I telling the truth about my personal life, about sin that may be in my life? Am I rationalizing it? Or am I holding up God’s Word as a mirror, looking into it, and being honest with myself?

John, some of what you said reminded me of a study that Howard Hendricks did. He studied 246 men who had disqualified themselves. After interviewing them, he found four characteristics that seemed to sum up just about everybody. 

  • None of the men were involved with any kind of personal accountability. They were isolated.
  • Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of private prayer and Bible reading.
  • More than 80 percent of the men became sexually involved with other women after spending significant time with them, often in counseling situations.
  • Each of the men, without exception, had been convinced that this sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

That points to what you said about self-sufficiency in the life of a pastor: “Hey, this can’t happen to me.” But we must remember what Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (see James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34) and pride comes before a fall (see Proverbs 16:18).


Read the next portion of the interview.

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