31 Days of Prayer for LRI

Enjoying Your God in Prayer

Dear Praying Friends and Partners,

We asked you to pray at the beginning of last year. Good news! . . . the Lord has graciously answered your prayers. For example . . .

Last year, you prayed for our staffing needs – a North America regional director, an expanded development department, and critical support staff. Dave DeHaan and Brad Warren joined our development team, and Joe Paglia took over as our North America regional director. Praise God for these provisions.

You prayed for new trainings in the Middle East. We now are able to conduct trainings in three countries in this region. We are still looking for the right partners to launch ongoing pastoral training groups in each. Prayer is still needed!

Precious friends, we covet your prayers! The opportunities before us and our partners are greater than ever, but the challenges are daunting. Entering into 2019, we again invite you to pray with us.

Here are 31 more prayer requests, one for each day of the month. Please pray for . . .

  1. A country in South Asia – key mentor trainers who are leading the movement. Pray for God’s protection over them because of the anti-conversion laws in this country. There have been reports of arrests and fines.
  2. Our team – that God will continue to fuel our sense of total dependence on Him for everything needed for successful ministry.
  3. A restricted-access country – that westerners like LRI workers can still be allowed to come in undetected and not jeopardize the security of the pastors who are being trained.
  4. Ethiopia – that our training would permeate the traditional Ethiopian Church so that ministers are able to properly handle God’s Word in their context.
  5. Our team – for wisdom as we face this question: how much flexibility and adaptability should we allow in our training process?
  6. Brazil – a deepening movement of the Word in churches where pastors often struggle against neo-liberal theology, syncretism, prosperity gospel, and pragmatism.
  7. A restricted-access country – that God would continue to grow His Church in a country that is undergoing great oppression by the government – some are experiencing church closures, imprisonment, and persecution.
  8. Ukraine – for wisdom for our in-country leader as he forms a national training team empowered to lead training throughout the country.
  9. Our team – for wisdom: how much caution or risk should we take as we minister in countries strongly opposed to the gospel?
  10. India – that key leaders there would develop in confidence and competence as mentor trainers for northwest India.
  11. USA – that a movement of God’s Word would develop among the 100 Nepali-Bhutanese pastors/churches in North America.
  12. Ethiopia – for wisdom for Country Director Eshete Belete as he selects 3-5 regional training directors to expand the training within the country.
  13. Our team – Rejoice with us over the many generous partners that the Lord has given to us . . . including many of you!
  14. Europe – for new partner churches to support the expanding work in Europe for 2019 and beyond.
  15. Haiti – for pastors who face heavy spiritual darkness and daily struggles.
  16. Our team – that God will protect the integrity and reputation of LRI by superintending over every spending decision, wherever it is made and whoever it is made by.
  17. Poland – that the Church would be strengthened through our training and that Mateusz Wichary would grow as a leader of the training in Poland.
  18. Russia – that our leadership team would meet the growing desire for training in their nation and organize themselves for expansion.
  19. Uganda – that doors would be open for new training groups in new locations and for the establishment of a strong national training team led by Country Director, Jacques Masiko.
  20. Our team – for wisdom regarding how aggressive or conservative we should be in hiring new staff.
  21. Russia – for God’s favor in obtaining visas so we can enter the country . . . it’s a big problem.
  22. A restricted-access country in Southeast Asia – Praise God that these men are making great strides to exposit the Word and shepherd the people of God with its transforming purpose.
  23. Bangladesh – for wisdom for a third training venue to be launched in 2019 and protection and provision for our 36 pastors being trained in this, the fourth most populous Islamic nation.
  24. Our team – for wisdom in how to be both generous with our national partners and, at the same time, promote local sustainability.
  25. A restricted-access country – for safety of trainees during travel and the time at the training center.
  26. Indonesia – that the mentor trainers become more skilled in training others in expository preaching so that our national leader there is supported by a strong team.
  27. Our team – that the Lord would raise up many new partners who resonate with our mission to equip and encourage pastors around the world to teach God’s Word with God’s heart.
  28. USA – for increased capacity to facilitate additional training groups in North America and wisdom about how to best promote these new groups.
  29. Peru – that God would transform the hearts, minds, and wills of pastors as they study His Word and give them a strong sense of sufficiency in His Word alone.
  30. Our team – for wisdom as we develop a Global Leadership Team to guide the work around the world. How centralized or decentralized should we become?
  31. God – that He be glorified in every training, every conversation, and every decision made by our team and our partners.

So many of these requests admit to our lack of wisdom. Thanks be to God for his invitation and promise in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV).

With much confidence in Christ,

Craig Parro

President

PS: You can use this PDF to print a copy of the prayer requests.

The Costly Results of an Impaired Prayer Life


Every Christian is called to pray. Every minister is called to pray. And yet many of us struggle to pray consistent and heartfelt prayers to the Lord. Norwegian preacher Ole Hallesby wrote in 1931 about the costly results of an impaired prayer life, and the wise will take his words to heart and ask for the Lord’s help in prayer.

Children of God can grieve Jesus in no worse way than to neglect prayer. For by so doing they sever the connection between themselves and the Savior, and their inner life is doomed to be withered and crippled, as is the case with most of us…

The result is that we go about at home and in the assembly of believers like spiritual cripples or dwarfs, spiritually starved and emaciated, with scarcely enough strength to stand on our own feet, not to speak of fighting against sin and serving the Lord… This neglect is the cause of my many other sins of commission as well as of commission…

The more of an effort prayer becomes, the more easily it is neglected. Results which are fatal to spiritual life follow, not immediately, but no less certainly. First, our minds become worldly, and we feel more and more alienated from God, and therefore have less and less about which to speak with Him. Then we develop an unwilling spirit, which always finds pretexts for not praying and excuses for having neglected prayer.

Our inner life begins to weaken. The pain of living in sin is not felt as keenly as before, because sin is no longer honestly confessed before God. As a result of this, again, our spiritual vision becomes blurred, and we can no longer distinguish clearly between that which is sin and that which is not. From now on we resist sin in essentially the same way as worldly people do. They struggle against those sins only which are exceedingly dangerous from the standpoint of their consequences.

But such people have no desire to lose their reputation as Christians. For this reason they try to hide the worldliness of their minds as long as possible. In conversation, as well as in the prayer meeting, they are tempted to use language which is not in harmony with their inner selves. Empty words and affectation now seek to strangle what little prayer life is left in their hearts.

All this and a great deal more is the result of an impaired prayer life. And this is just what has taken place in the lives of many believers.[1]

Maybe Hallesby’s words convict you as they do me. My gut reaction in receiving such conviction is to try harder—make up for time I’ve lost and do it in my own strength. This approach doesn’t lead to lasting change or deepen my joy in the Lord.

What does motivate me and deepen joy is taking the focus off of myself and putting it on God, His glory, and His gracious invitation to us in Christ. In Christ, we are His beloved children. In Christ, we have a Father who has an open ear and willing heart to hear our prayers and anxious thoughts (1 Peter 5:7). He knows our failures and weaknesses and wants to be our strength and Provider. Fix your eyes on Him.

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV)

[1] Excerpts taken from pages 38–41 of Ole Hallesby’s Prayer.

A Movement of the Word…Even Among Drug Addicts

Dear friends and partners,

Jonathan* was not the one you would pick for “most likely to succeed” when training began a few years back. He was young, quiet, lacking confidence, and without a position to influence others. Then Jonathan surprised us.

“A few years ago I was wondering, ‘Who will I train?’ A group of drug addicts at a local rehabilitation center were eager to learn, so I began with them. Soon they were changed by the power of God’s Word. Their hunger for the Word grew further still.

“Our denominational leaders took notice. They asked if I would be willing to teach the center leaders so they can each train their 10-12 residents. I have begun with 30, but there are 100 leaders total. This group is made up of leaders, pastors, and small group workers, representing about 30 churches.

“We studied 2 Timothy and they appreciated the methods of study. One remarked, ‘We are now confident to preach!’ Another, the head of all the rehabilitation ministries, said, ‘Even I was afraid to preach, but now I am confident to handle the Word.’

“The difference in their preaching is dramatic. Before, they preached about the experiences of their lives. They went to the Scriptures to find verses to back up their story. Now, they base their sermon on the text and apply it to their lives. As a result, we are seeing God add more people to our churches. I have now been put in charge of Christian Education for my denomination and have access to many churches . . . 48 in my region alone.”

So much for not having a position to influence others! Jonathan is living proof that God’s Word is sufficient to equip men (even those lacking confidence!) for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Faithful partners like you make this possible. Thank you!

To God be the glory!

Craig Parro

PS: The country where Jonathan lives is one of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians (according to the “World Watch List 2018” report by Open Doors USA). Please consider a gift today to advance the gospel in dark and dangerous places.

*His name has been changed due to security concerns.

“…His passion is channeled by the text itself” | Kenya Update

Why are you wasting your time with more training???

. . . Pastor Paul’s friends wondered. After all, their friend had attended seminary in the U.S. Why would Paul, a Kenyan pastor, need more training?

Paul knew why, and he shared it on a recent visit:

“[Some] training is quite general. LRI gives the tools to divide the Word and to share. . . . If you don’t have a map, you can get lost. If you do have the map and the way to get you there—that is what the training does.”

Having a roadmap to the Bible is great, but how does it translate to preaching? Who better to ask than Paul’s wife, Abigail:

“His teaching has become more clear and to the point. He doesn’t just appeal to emotions. Paul is still a passionate preacher, but his passion is channeled by the text itself.”

Preaching the text of Scripture not only lets God’s voice be heard by Paul’s congregation, but it has brought together leaders in a nation fragmented tribally and denominationally.

“The training unifies us. . . . At the end of the day we think the same. It doesn’t matter where you came from, your background, your training; this training brings people together. I can invite a friend [from a different denomination] to speak at our church. . . . We have become friends and partners in the ministry.”

I hope hearing Paul’s story brings joy to your heart! What a mighty God we have who brings people together to partner for His kingdom’s advance. We thank God for your partnership and making stories like Paul’s possible.

In His service,

Craig Parro

PS: We praise God that our training is truly cross-educational, bringing together different denominations and folks from different education levels. God’s Word is an equalizer! What if your gift this month helped bring unity to the Body of Christ in this way? What a cause for rejoicing that would be!

Devoted to the Public Reading of Scripture: Ideas, Techniques, and Resources

Paul commands Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture. . . .”

Why be devoted to the public reading of Scripture?

Let’s take a look at the theological foundations of public Scripture reading and some ways to give Scripture a more prominent place in public gatherings.

Theological Foundations

  1. God has spoken.

From the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:3), we see that God speaks, and His word is powerful and life-giving. At the end of the Bible, we see that a word from God ushers in the culmination of history (Revelation 21:2-4). In contrast to idols that cannot speak or do anything (Psalm 115:3-8), we serve a God who speaks and who has ultimately spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2), the Word made flesh (John 1:14-18).

  1. It is written.

Because God has spoken, we know His words were worth writing down to be remembered for all of time. God shares with us in Scripture that His Word has two audiences in mind: the original audience and future generations (Romans 15:4).

  1. God’s Word brings life.

“. . . [M]an does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NIV). Through the Word, we are made wise unto salvation, trained in righteousness, and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We proclaim God’s Word through preaching and public readings because we long to hear from God so we can love Him, trust Him, obey Him, and receive life. To put it more simply: when Scripture is read, God’s voice is heard.

Biblical Examples

In addition to Paul’s command to Timothy, the Bible offers several examples and additional commands relating to the public reading of Scripture. Here is a sampling:

  • Public reading is commanded in Deuteronomy 31:11: “When all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (ESV).
  • Ezra and the Levites: “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. . . . They [the Levites] read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:1, 8; ESV).
  • Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue in Luke 4:18-19. As He concluded, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21, ESV).
  • At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, James describes the public practice of reading Scripture, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (15:21, ESV).
  • The New Testament church read letters publicly: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16, ESV); and “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (1 Thessalonians 5:27, ESV).

How to Read Scripture Publicly

Tim Keller writes in the foreword to Unleashing the Word (see suggested resources):

“In most church services the reading of the Word is poorly and hurriedly done. What a missed opportunity! The public reading of God’s Word is an interpretive act that takes skill and thought and has historically been understood as means of grace equal with preaching and sacraments.”

As people who take the Word of God seriously, let’s take public Scripture reading seriously.

1. Study the passage.

Studying the passage (and reading it over several times) helps you understand it better so you know what it communicates and how it communicates it. Simon Roberts suggests that readers “mark important words, bracket groups of words that belong together, and highlight important connecting words (e.g. ‘but’, ‘therefore’, ‘so’, ‘then’).”

It might be worth dissecting the structure and looking for a main idea as well. If there are any words you are unsure how to pronounce, ask others for help, or listen to an audio Bible on Bible Gateway for suggested pronunciation.

2. Practice reading the passage aloud.

Max McLean suggests, “Practice your delivery aloud until you feel ready to present it as if you’re having an animated conversation with a good friend.” McLean also advises paying attention to pause, pace, pitch, volume, and breathing. As you practice, you might record yourself to hear how you’re doing. Most phones now have voice recorder apps.

3. Make your inflection reflect the intent of the original author.

“When I read, I also go over the text multiple times,” writes McLean. “I think about how I will phrase the line so I can determine my inflection: the way I change my pitch or the loudness of my voice as I read a particular word or phrase. In my readings, getting the right inflection is one of the essential keys to communicating the meaning of the text.”

He continues, “The proper inflection helps me find the emotional undertow within the text. It connects the passage more viscerally to the congregation. While we certainly want hearers to connect at the head level, understanding the meaning of each thought block in the text, we also want them to go deeper and gain an understanding of the author’s motivation and intent at that moment.”

4. Pray that the Spirit would open eyes to see the glory of Christ.

The goal of Scripture reading is to behold the glory of Christ and be transformed into His image. Pray for listeners to experience our Risen Lord through His Word and for them to long for His Kingdom. Pray for the evils of sin to be exposed in hearts and the grace of Christ to be magnified.

You might also benefit from: 3 big ideas and 7 tips on how to read the Bible in church by Simon Roberts (GoThereFor)

Ways to Dedicate Yourself to Public Reading of Scripture

  1. Make Scripture reading an important and valued part of your church’s services. Choose your texts intentionally to reflect the service’s theme. Select and train a group of Scripture readers. Consider reading longer portions of Scripture to remind listeners of its importance.
  1. Consider holding special events to focus on reading Scripture. During a sermon series on Deuteronomy, The Orchard EFC in Arlington Heights, Illinois, held a special event to listen to the entire book being read. If the book’s original purpose was to be read publicly in one sitting (Deuteronomy 31:11), why not experience it like Israel did?
  2. Host a Scripture reading marathon. Involve your whole church in reading Scripture publicly by reading the entire Bible aloud over the course of several days.
  3. Memorize a whole book of the Bible and present it on a Sunday. (You will need many months of intentional preparation!) In doing so, you will not only bless your church with God’s Word, you will encourage them to memorize Scripture. Consider these examples: RomansHebrews, and 1 Corinthians. (Also see: 11 Steps to Memorizing an Entire Book of the Bible)
  4. Incorporate reading Scripture into everything possible: counseling sessions, small groups, member meetings, staff meeting, and church-related sporting events.
  5. Decorate your church with Scripture art. No, this isn’t necessarily public reading, but it does allow God’s Word to penetrate souls and proclaim the beauty of our God. God’s Word never returns void.

Suggested Resources:

Why Preach Overview Sermons of Bible Books

Preachers want their people to love the Word of God. They also want to grow as preachers and keep their preaching calendar fresh. Preaching a whole book of the Bible in one sermon is one way to accomplish all three of these objectives and might be worth adding to your preaching repertoire. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons encourages Bible engagement in the congregation.

All preachers should want their preaching to engender responses like, “I can read this for myself!” The more exposure your people have to different parts of Scripture, the better. Working in a book-overview sermon allows you to mix in other parts of Scripture that you wouldn’t normally cover.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons adds more variety in the preaching schedule.

If you have ever gotten bogged down by preaching consecutively through entire books, you might consider taking a break from your current series and preaching an overview of another book as a way to mix things up.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons helps show different contours of the book that are sometimes lost in a normal exposition.

Approaching the Bible with a wider lens reveals a book’s big ideas, turning points, and other vital details to the book’s message. More atomistic preaching risks losing the forest for the trees—or even the leaves on the trees. Teaching the Bible atomistically can lead our people to read the Bible atomistically. Zooming out to see the whole book reminds listeners that God moved authors to write whole books with coherent messages, not loosely arranged collections of verses.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons grows the preacher.

Pastor Paul Alexander commented, “I myself learn so much as a preacher from preparing overview sermons. I learn both content of the book, and a different method of study, and my learning in those ways helps my congregation learn in those ways too.”[1]

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons helps you see how the book testifies to Christ in its macro themes and structure.

All of Scripture testifies to Christ. Focus on entire books allows preachers to more easily explain how higher-level ideas in books point us to Christ. The book of Judges’ steady drumbeat of “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) points to Christ, the Promised King from the tribe of Judah. Joseph’s words near the end of Genesis, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20), summarize not only a major theme of the book but a major theme of the Bible—one ultimately fulfilled when sinful man’s crucifixion of the Christ opens the door for salvation.

Responding to Potential Pushback

Preaching book-overview messages isn’t for the faint of heart, as two points of pushback testify to. Careful thought should help a preacher overcome pushback.

Pushback #1: But . . . you won’t cover everything a book has to offer in one sermon!

Isn’t that the case with every sermon text anyway? Scripture has an unlimited depth of riches no matter what size text you choose to preach. Occasionally sprinkling in book-overview sermons will help make more parts of the Bible accessible for our people so they can discover its riches for themselves.

Pushback #2: But . . . it takes so much time!

Yes, it takes time and is hard work. Consider Pastor Paul Alexander’s recommendation:

“The main downside is that if you’ve never done it before, you can make it harder work than it is (both to prepare for it and for your congregation to listen to it!) by choosing a long book rather than a short one. So start small and work your way up to the bigger books if you’re inexperienced. Start with an short NT epistle like Philemon or Jude, or 3 John, then a book like Philippians, then try a short OT prophet like Obadiah, or Haggai, then graduate to Ruth, etc. . . . Major prophets, Gospels, and the Psalms should be among the last overviews preachers do.”[2]

Example Sermons

If you’ve never heard an overview sermon, here are a few examples from pastors Paul Alexander of Grace Covenant Church in Elgin, Illinois, and Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC:

[1] Quote taken from a personal email with Alexander on May 30, 2018.
[2] Ibid.


Related Resources:

Putting God’s Glory on Display Together: The Story of Dave Jaspers

Leadership Resources’ ministry relies on gospel partnership, individuals, and churches who share our vision of seeing the Word of God flow powerfully from every church to every nation.

Dave Jaspers is one partner God has transformed through our relationship. Even though he has decades of preaching experience, advanced education, and is a third generation pastor, God used the Fellowship of the Word program to greatly sharpen his handling of God’s Word.

Watch Dave share his story below. Scroll down to the second video to see Dave share how our partnership to train Colombian pastors has transformed his church’s missions strategy.

“Instead of having to come up with creative ideas of how to conclude my sermon in a personal way, now I can say, ‘This is how the original audience heard and responded. And here is how it looks like for us today.”

We are grateful for our partners, Pastor Dave Jaspers and Ridgewood Baptist Church, and seeing God’s glory displayed in our partnership.

Learn more about the Fellowship of the Word program or how your church can partner with Leadership Resources to equip pastors worldwide in biblical exposition in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

 

Two Tools for Preachers on Applying Scripture

The difference between a hearer of the Word and a doer of the Word is stark—just read James 1:22–25. Those who only hear the Word and fail to live it out deceive themselves (1:22) and are like a man who looks into a mirror, “goes away and at once forget what he looks like” (1:24). But the one who hears the Word and does it “will be blessed in his doing” (1:25).

As preachers of God’s Word, we desire to do God’s Word and produce other doers of the Word. One crucial step in producing doers is by applying Scripture in our teaching and preaching.

Just like preachers need to grow in our handling of God’s Word, we need to grow in applying it, shepherding God’s people (and ourselves) with the transformative intent of the Word of God.

While many see the need for application, many pastors fall into the pitfall of applying Scripture in the same ways to the same types of people without thinking through the wide swath of people and circumstances present in the pews. The two resources below will help you think through application for pew-sitters in different places spiritually:

  1. Sermon Application Grid developed by Mark Dever and 9Marks. See blank grid and a sample of a filled-out grid.
  2. Tim Keller: The Kinds of People to Consider as You Apply Scripture in Preaching (Expansive List) (PDF)

By no means are these the only tools for thinking through applying Scripture, rather they provide a helpful framework for thinking through applications for a diverse group of people. Our prayer is that they would help you teach and apply God’s Word for maximum spiritual transformation.

Related Links:

“Lord, please make this pastor go away!”

Dear Partners and Friends,

“Lord, please make this pastor go away.”

Our Latin American team didn’t actually say those words, but they thought them!

Pastors bring their different personalities to our training times. Colombian Pastor Luis has a “larger than life” personality – he’s outspoken, even boisterous. Unfortunately, because he brought a strong framework that didn’t fit with what he was hearing and experiencing, Luis didn’t like our training . . . and he let everyone know it! Our team actually hoped that he’d drop out from the training because he could be so disruptive.

But Pastor Luis continued on for two more years. Almost every time he opened his mouth, criticism poured out. “Well, that’s not what I see in the text! We need to find the spiritual meaning of the passage.” Frankly, our team was discouraged.

Then one night, while we were studying the book of Habakkuk, Pastor Luis raised his hand. Our team cringed. What grenade was Pastor Luis going to lob now? But then came these words. . . .

“I now realize that I’ve been doing it wrong for 20 years.”

Our team was dumbfounded. Pastor Luis had finally realized the true value of reading God’s Word as God intended it to be read. He, at last, understood that God’s Word needs to be applied as God intended it to be applied.

Our team had just witnessed a miracle of God’s transforming power – a power flowing out of God’s Word. The dam had broken. Through a long process of two years, Pastor Luis stopped being a thorn in our sides and, instead, became a reminder of God’s nothing-is-impossible grace. To God be the glory!

Equipping pastors isn’t always a smooth process – there are lots of ups and downs. Your prayers and your gifts encourage our team to “keep on keeping on.” Thank you for your partnership in this work!

With much gratitude in Christ,

Craig Parro

President

PS: As I write this, Pat Paredes, Juan Torres, and Pastor Dave Jaspers are heading back to Bogota next week to equip their friend, Pastor Luis. Please, would you encourage our team this week so that our growing work in two underfunded Latin American countries might continue unhindered?

2 Corinthians: The Supreme Pastoral Letter – Interview with Phil Smith



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Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran: When we think of the Pastoral Epistles, we usually think of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus because they were written to pastors and bear the official title of “Pastoral Epistle.” Even so, some have called the book of 2 Corinthians the “Supreme Pastoral Letter” because it helps us see the pastoral heart and pastoral suffering of the Apostle Paul in a unique way.[1]

Since Leadership Resources is an organization that encourages and equips pastors to teach God’s word with God’s heart, I thought it would be useful to talk about this book that provides unique value for pastoral ministry. With me is Phil Smith, the Executive Director of Leadership Resources. Before coming to LRI, Phil pastored for ten years.

Phil, you’ve shared with the LRI staff how God has used 2 Corinthians to encourage you greatly in your ministry. How did this love develop?

Phil Smith

PS: Thank you, Kevin. My love for 2 Corinthians really developed during my time as a pastor. Coming right out of seminary, I went into a pastorate for ten years on an island in southeast Alaska. There were challenges in that pastorate. I sought to figure out: How do I evaluate ministry? How am I doing as a pastor? I had a different personality from the previous pastor. Was I failing because I wasn’t like him?

I came to love the message of 2 Corinthians: that if you are loving your people, if you are clear with the gospel, shepherding people with the Word and you’re prayerful, depending on the Lord in it—that is what true Christian ministry is about. It was very encouraging for me. It gave me great confidence in my ministry. People in my congregation also needed encouragement in their own ministries—to persevere in ministry even when it’s hard. Much of the message in 2 Corinthians is persevering in the midst of difficulty in ministry.  

KH: What’s going on in 2 Corinthians? We know Paul is writing to the Corinthians again. Can you give us traveling instructions to help us understand the original context?

PS: You’ve got to do traveling instructions with 2 Corinthians. I did a conference on 2 Corinthians recently, and the first sermon was simply doing traveling instructions – starting in Acts 18 when Paul first goes and plants the church in Corinth, then moving to the tumultuous relationship that develops between him and a segment of the church in Corinth as it just descends into mayhem between him and the church. This is the fourth letter to the Corinthians, we think, based on what we read in the two letters that we have here (see 1 Corinthians 5:9–11; 2 Corinthians 2:3–4, 9, 7:8, 12). To see Paul’s continuing, loving pursuit of this church despite the way many of them treated him is remarkable, as is his shepherding care for them. To read this letter in that context is particularly helpful.

KH: One of the key ideas in 2 Corinthians, especially for the pastor, is the idea of New Covenant ministry. Can you define that for us?

PS: Yes, he does spend some time talking about himself in contrast to what seems to be some version of Judaizers in the church, the “super apostles.” They came as “servants of Christ, servants of righteousness” but served a different gospel. In chapter three he contrasts his own ministry with this ministry that emphasized the Ten Commandments, the Jewish traditions, and that sort of thing. So, those who emphasized rules and regulations without surrounding it with the gospel of Christ, that’s what you would say is a modern-day Judaizer. I think we’re all in danger of that in our churches where we emphasize rules without getting to the gospel of Jesus. New Covenant ministry is a ministry that is immersed in the gospel and empowered by the Spirit, looking to the Spirit to work through the gospel of Jesus Christ and expecting God to powerfully work.

New Covenant ministry is a ministry that is immersed in the gospel and empowered by the Spirit, looking to the Spirit to work through the gospel of Jesus Christ and expecting God to powerfully work.

A quick story: A pastor wanted to be hired here at LRI and we started listening to some of his sermons. I still remember while driving to Michigan listening to a sermon from the Old Testament that hardly touched on Jesus let alone the grace found in Jesus. In a sense, he was laying guilt upon guilt on his congregation, and it was like congregational abuse without pointing to the grace of Jesus. That’s a modern-day Judaizer. New Covenant ministry focuses on and gets to the grace we find in Christ.

KH: An important theme of 2 Corinthians is transformation. That pastor preaching in that way really lacks the transformative power of the gospel. It heaps rules upon people, but that isn’t going to change their hearts. With the New Covenant, we have new hearts, by God’s grace, and His Spirit, who is working in our hearts to transform us into Christ’s likeness.

PS: Absolutely. He talks about the surpassing power that comes from God (2 Corinthians 4:7)—His Spirit is transforming us from one degree of glory to another.

KH: Amen. You already mentioned one sign that that particular pastor didn’t grasp New Covenant ministry well. What are some other signs that maybe a pastor doesn’t fully grasp the implications of New Covenant ministry?

PS: The Corinthians struggled with this. They had a very worldly perspective on ministry, and even from the beginning of 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the cross, the power of the cross, and the pattern of the cross. Pastors are so often influenced by a worldly view of what success looks like, and New Covenant ministry is shaped by the cross and how we do ministry. This means that we are not surprised when there is suffering and hardship or when we feel weak or have feelings of inadequacy.

When I was in pastoral ministry, I asked, “Isn’t there more to ministry? Loving people, speaking the Word to people, speaking the gospel to people and praying for them? Is that it? Can’t there be anything more exciting to make it really powerful?” Actually, no—that’s where the power is.

We tend to want to make our ministries more impressive, more flashy. The power is in the clearly presented gospel and being servants of God who are coming as servants of the people – to serve them by bringing them the gospel.

KH: Like it says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, ”We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” It’s a crucial point to remember. Something that we see in 1 & 2 Corinthians is that the Corinthian culture valued power and oratory and celebrity, which is why the super apostles were such a draw. How does 2 Corinthians’ message speak to our culture today that emphasizes so much platform and influence?

PS: The church in America needs this letter directly preached to them. In a sense Paul is giving us a new set of glasses, as it were, to evaluate what true Christian ministry looks like. So often, we have a worldly set of glasses on that looks for success and, as you said, eloquence and magnetic personalities – people with imposing bearing about them that people are in awe of. People want a celebrity kind of leader. Those pastors who might not have that eloquence or a big personality may think they’re a bad pastor, when they’re really doing a good job, because they are faithfully teaching the Bible. Those pastors get discouraged, and they may give up on ministry when they should be encouraged, emboldened, and confident.

Paul demonstrates great confidence and courage in this letter, even though he wasn’t as eloquent as some. He didn’t have a huge personality like it seems some of them had there. He didn’t boast in the way that they boasted, and yet he had great confidence in the power of the gospel.

At the same time you have some pastors that are really doing a bad job because they’re not clearly preaching the gospel. They’re not loving their people; they are not men of prayer. Yet, because they have those worldly things about them, people pat them on the back. They say they are doing a good job. They’re really not.

So, that’s what’s so crucial for not only pastors but for the whole church to evaluate rightly. That’s what this letter is about: helping us understand what true gospel ministry is to look like.

KH: It’s interesting to think about. First Corinthians 3 talks about how our ministries will be exposed for what they truly are on the Day of Christ. It’s vital to use the right building materials as we do the work of the Lord because we will be judged (1 Corinthians 3:13–14). The artificial fruit and big platforms and all the flashy lights and a lot of followers may be proved to be nothing. What worse thing can we think of than all our work and ministry be burned up on the Day of Christ? But thank the Lord there is so much power in the true gospel and in weak ministry.

There’s power in weakness, there’s joy in sorrow. There is much sorrow in this letter and yet much joy. There’s life through death. As Paul is suffering, life comes through that. There’s confidence amidst apparent failure.

PS: Just as you said there, a weak ministry. That’s the beauty of this letter and its many paradoxes. There’s power in weakness, there’s joy in sorrow. There is much sorrow in this letter and yet much joy. There’s life through death. As Paul is suffering, life comes through that. There’s confidence amidst apparent failure. They thought he was a failure. In chapter 13 he refers to that and yet has such confidence, even though they think he’s failing. So, I hope, just by this conversation, that people are encouraged to reread 2 Corinthians, be encouraged by it, and preach it.

[1] Dr. Murray J. Harris wrote this in his article on 2 Corinthians in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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