Month: September 2016

When Tears Arrive (Bereavement Ministry Ideas)

“He gives us comfort in all our troubles. Then we can comfort other people who have the same troubles. We give the same kind of comfort God gives us.” 1 Corinthians 1:4 

You slowly hang up the phone and close your eyes. “Lord, use me!” you pray. “Help me know how to ease her pain.” When death comes to a member of your church or to an unchurched acquaintance, your acts of Christian ministry can remind the bereaved of God’s love for them. 

Those days between a death and the memorial service can be difficult. What role can you play? As soon as you learn of the death, ask God to give you wisdom in how to minister to the family. Try some of these fresh ideas:

The Hand Holder. Your presence means a lot. Never overstay, of course, but when you’re there during crisis, it’s a reminder of God’s love. Share a prayer. A hug. A tear. A Scripture written on a note card.   

The Food Organizer. Five dishes of macaroni might be too much of a good thing. If you’re organizing food for their guests or a funeral meal, consider using one of the many free online schedulers, such as 

The Book Sharer. Find an encouraging pamphlet or book to share. Be sure it’s heavy on Scripture, the best words of comfort! I often give Joyce Rogers’ book, Grace for the Widow to recent widows. On the inside cover, write a note to tell something you loved about the deceased. 

The Gesturer. Carefully observe needs, and help meet them. Do they need a pet-sitter? A phone answerer? Babysitter during funeral? Help with airport pickup? Mow the lawn. Offer to pick up kids at school. Deliver flowers from your garden to brighten their home. Write your phone number on a card and offer specific help. 

The Rolodex King. When requested, a member of our church would help a grieving family to finish making personal notifications. After they’d called their closest friends, the volunteer sits in the kitchen with their list, and completes the calls. 

The Bag Lady. Early preparation enhances ministry. Stock up on sympathy cards. Keep a frozen casserole, soup or cookies for quick crisis ministry. Prepackage a grocery bag with paper towels, plates, cups, napkins, toilet paper and plastic utensils, and when you learn of a death, deliver it immediately to help with their guests. Plan ahead.

The Elephant. (No, I’m referring to memory, not size.) The moment you learn of the death, mark that date on your calendar each month for at least a year. This will remind you to pray, call, send a note or take him or her to coffee. Listen with love. Pray with them. 

When death comes to those around you, act quickly. Move gently. Love largely. When someone in your church or community dies, your timely touch in Jesus’ name shows that you and your God truly care.  

© Diana Davis

 This column is adapted from her book, Deacon Wives (B&H Publishing) 

El Paso congregation brings hope to violent region in Mexico

EL PASO “When we arrived, several vehicles surrounded us and lowered the windows, [the men inside] displaying their firearms,” Zulma Molina said, describing the greeting her group received this July at the village of Huajumar, nestled in the Sierra Tarahumara mountain range of Chihuahua, Mexico, a region plagued by drug violence.

Molina led 36 volunteers from Ministerios de Compasion El Paso, an organization associated with El Paso’s Immanuel Baptist Church, to the village of Huajumar July 23-31 to repair a church known locally as the “abandoned church.” They also brought Vacation Bible School to Huajumar and Yepáchic, a village an hour’s drive northwest.

Both villages have fewer than 1,000 residents, Molina said, adding that the area contains many illegal landing strips and is controlled by the drug cartel. 

“The main businesses are the drug plantation and trafficking,” she said. 

The mountains are “heavily patrolled by hit men,” Molina added. Police and army avoid the region, with its narrow, ill-maintained, single-lane roads.

The area has a history of both Christianity and violence. 

“Years ago, when the [drug] violence was at its worst, the church in Huajumar was abandoned by pastors and missionaries,” Molina explained. “On the other hand, Yepáchic has an established little church, but people are terrified since the violence continues and killings happen on a daily basis.” 

Even getting to the remote villages proved a harrowing experience involving flat tires, burned out brakes and vehicles stuck in mud. About 30 minutes from their destination, a trailer axle broke, stranding part of the group in the mountainous woods.

“It was about 7 p.m. and dark clouds were gathering in the sky. We realized the real danger we were in. We could hear the noises of wild animals; phones did not work; and we only had a couple of flashlights, light jackets and a blanket,” Molina recalled.

“Our only hope was in the Lord, so we prayed and sang praises. Right there in the middle of nowhere, we lifted up our voices to praise God. Suddenly, a flash of light filled the sky and … hit the ground right next to us. We felt the ground tremble.” 

After three hours in the woods, help arrived and the group entered Huajumar late that evening, greeted by machine guns as they unloaded vehicles and entered the mold-ridden, leaky, foul-smelling church.

“We could feel a very dark presence,” Molina said. “Although no one said anything, we all knew we were stepping into the enemy’s territory and war was declared.” The night was spent in some measure of unease and doubt, Molina admitted. 

“In the morning, the Lord renewed our spirits, and we got up ready to work. People looked at us with curiosity. … Little by little the church was filled with light,” as the group labored to scrub mold and repair the structure that Sunday, even holding a small celebratory service before preparing to start VBS the next day in Yepáchic, despite warnings of violence there.

“We were told that it was not a good idea to visit there because the previous day [the cartel] had killed 23 people. But we could not cancel VBS in Yepáchic,” Molina said. “The local church invited the community, and children were waiting for us. So a group of brave warriors went to Yepáchic early Monday to conduct VBS,” while others remained in Huajumar to continue work on the church and to do door-to-door evangelism. The group also held VBS in the afternoons and church services in the evenings at Huajumar.

The danger was ever present, but God was glorified.

“While all of this happened, we had what we called ‘personal security.’ Everywhere we went, armed men were watching us,” Molina said. By week’s end, “we were exhausted but our spirit was filled with joy to see the abandoned church in Huajumar being transformed. More children and adults came to hear the Word of God. The last day, the church was packed, and it was beautiful to hear loud voices singing praises to the creator of the universe.”

Members from a church in Juarez, Mexico, accompanied the group from Immanuel Baptist to Huajumar and Yepáchic, Immanuel associate pastor J.C. Rico said.

Mission trips to Mexico have become a mainstay of Immanuel Baptist. In July, some 33 members also trekked through the Sonoran desert on the church’s second annual family mission trip to Peñasco, Mexico, a coastal city of about 100,000, at the request of a local church to conduct Vacation Bible School.

Immanuel BC’s involvement with the Peñasco church began when Rico was on vacation, attending a family wedding in the city in 2014. Rico had spotted the church on his way into town and decided to attend that Sunday. The pastor spoke on service and mission, ideas that Rico had been considering for Immanuel as well.

Rico introduced himself to the pastor’s wife and inquired about mission opportunities in Peñasco. 

“We need help with VBS!” she exclaimed. “We have 200 kids and not enough workers.”

The following July, more than 30 volunteers from seven Immanuel families spent summer vacation in Peñasco, helping with VBS in the mornings and enjoying time in the city or at the beach in the afternoons. 

In 2016, families from Immanuel led the VBS in Peñasco using LifeWay curriculum, Rico said. 

“After 1:30 p.m. each day, we were free to go back to the hotel, eat, have family time,” Rico added, calling the family aspect of the mission trip “just as important” as the VBS. 

Evangelistic opportunities came during down times, too. Last year, Rico presented the gospel to a local youth as the boy braided a souvenir bracelet for the pastor. The young man, Rogelio, prayed to receive Christ. “I got sunburned standing there, but it was worth it,” Rico laughed.

This year, Rico’s wife led a local woman named Elena to Christ while the lady braided the hair of Rico’s daughter. Removing sunglasses to reveal two black eyes inflicted by an abusive husband, Elena shared her story with the Ricos, who ministered to her.

A third Immanuel BC family mission trip to Peñasco is scheduled for July 2017. 

Pastoral visits offer hope in the midst of pain

Chronic pain and sickness play tricks with your mind. You feel isolated. You think no one cares. You wonder where you can find hope.

Even if you are a strong follower of Christ or have a supportive family, you still aren’t immune to the mind games.

Ken Lowrimore, a member of First Baptist Church in Houston, knows this firsthand. The 80-year-old has been battling Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for 20 years, undergoing 10 different rounds of chemotherapy. One thing that helps him is when his friend or associate pastor sits with him during treatments.

“You sit there hooked up to poison for hours at a time, and your mind just runs away from you,” Lowrimore explains. “To have someone sit with you and talk makes all the difference. You realize someone cares. You are reminded that God does care about you as an individual, by this simple act.”

Through a visitation ministry, pastors with a compassionate heart can show hurting church members love never fails. A visit from a cheerful person can change the course of a patient’s day.

Jaye Martin has a new appreciation for this type of ministry in the church. The IMB trustee and member of Houston’s First Baptist Church has suffered severe and chronic pain for the past two years. The pain medication often clouds her thinking or leaves her unable to complete sentences.

“Never before have I realized how quickly isolation can occur,” she says. “I have been abundantly blessed by the consistent contacts of the women’s ministry director, the executive pastor, ministerial staff, deacons and friends. The body of Christ has been wrapping its arms around me and a constant source of encouragement.”

Martin understands that pastors cannot be “all things to everyone,” but they can make a touch point, whether it’s praying, calling, emailing or sending a handwritten note.

“The important thing is that the pastor makes contact, then delegates to a deacon care team, pastoral ministries or members who have been trained,” Martin suggests. “As the body of Christ, I think all of us are responsible and all share the load.”

Lowrimore suggests pastors teach their congregation how to do visitation, encouraging them to work alongside him and eventually letting them take over part of it. That’s how he got involved
with his church’s visitation. He believes pastors should encourage those who have been through different “real life situations” to go visit.

One cancer patient (or survivor) can speak to another on a unique level. They can relate to the fears, mind games, chemo side affects, isolation, etc. They can give a personal testimony for “the big question: Am I ready to die?”

The 80-year-old emphasizes the importance of prayer at the end of a visit. He says it doesn’t matter if the person is a Christian or not, they want prayer. It’s a symbol of hope.

“People want hope. Christians have that hope. If you don’t share that when you visit someone, then you are doing a disservice,” says Lowrimore, who has prayed with more than 40 cancer patients to receive Christ. “Pastors, teach your congregation to share out of their own experiences. And above all else, teach them to always pray.”  

What I”ve Learned in Pastoral Ministry

The special report in the October issue of the TEXAN is on pastoral ministry. In a land far away I was once a pastor. Actually that land faraway was Louisiana. All of my pastoral experience came in my home state. Watching the TV shows Duck Dynasty or Swamp People reminds me of relatives or church members. With that said, I really do love my home state.

After answering God’s call on my life to the preaching ministry, I began as a youth evangelist and served on staff as a youth director (now known as student pastor). I planted a church and served several churches as pastor. Later I became a Director of Missions for a local association. For the last 18 years, I have had the privilege to serve you through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, but being a pastor was the most challenging for me.

All of the churches I pastored would be considered small except for one. I pastored a 100-year-old church located 20 miles from town, and I served another church that was surrounded by cotton fields. The largest church I pastored was in a paper mill town. My last pastorate was in a metro area, but we didn’t see the kind of growth I thought we should have. Although many factors have changed, the realities of pastoral life haven’t. I have a Ph.D. in the school of hard knocks. God had me repeat a few courses. I’m still learning, but here are few lessons I learned as a pastor.

Every decision in the church is not a hill on which to die. The inerrancy of Scripture, exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ, and other basic Christian doctrines cannot be compromised. Even if you lose your church, you can’t abandon sound doctrine. There are too many street corners in America where you can preach instead of trading truth for a pulpit. Baptist doctrine is vital—the security of the believer, believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership are just a few that make us Baptists. However, tertiary doctrines are not places to sacrifice your ministry.

Let God change the hearts of people. Learn to be patient. God can do his work in people when we can’t. Timing is everything. Don’t force an issue that can wait. Individually, extend grace to those you serve because you need grace extended to you.

Work through key lay leaders to accomplish God’s work. There are decision makers in an established church that can assist you in carrying out God’s plan. Don’t try to be the point man on every issue. Let laypersons advocate for you.

Be a model for evangelism, missions and discipleship. If you never intentionally witness to people, neither will your congregation. If you want your families to deepen spiritually, you need to have a family worship time. Whatever you desire to see in your church members, you need to live it. Practical ministry is more caught than taught. 

Realize you will have your critics; never get bitter or retaliate. You will never win in the long run even if you win a battle with your critics. Your calling should be enough to keep you from quitting, but when discouragement comes, let God’s Word and God’s people be your strength. Reach out to a friend or contact the SBTC Pastor-Church Relations Ministry. They are a wonderful resource when you need encouragement.

Find a support system to help you through the tough times. I had pastor friends with whom I met on a regular basis. It is not enough to have internet fellowship. You need someone you can play golf with, fish with or go to a game with. Touch from our pastor brethren can get us through the difficult days. Local pastors’ fellowships are great. Your SBTC Annual Meeting is a wonderful time to hang out with others on the same journey.

I don’t think I ever became a good pastor. Maybe God will allow me one more time before he calls me home to pastor in an obscure or tough place. Even in those places you can experience God’s favor. My prayer is that he will say at the end of my journey and yours, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

2015-2016 Reach Texas Offering largest on record

GRAPEVINE Receipts for the 2015-2016 Reach Texas Offering were finalized Aug. 31 and showed the largest giving year in the history of the state missions offering. The total amount given was $1,374,123.43, which was $74,123.43 over the $1.3 million goal.

The statewide challenge goal for 2016-2017, which runs from September 2016 through August 2017, has been set at $1.45 million. For more information, visit  

Intentional modeling by pastors key to top evangelistic Texas churches

BROWNSVILLE Pastor Carlos Navarro can remember when, early in his ministry, it was only he and his family doing evangelistic visitations at Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville. Yet Navarro remained committed to modeling personal evangelism for his congregation.

“The people won’t do it if the pastor won’t do it,” Navarro said. “The example has to be set by the pastor. People tend to think it’s someone else’s responsibility. If pastors don’t preach evangelistically, practice evangelism and show a love for evangelism, why should the church care?”

Throughout 24 years of Navarro’s ministry at Iglesia Bautista, God has rewarded that faithfulness. Today, Navarro says he has seen hundreds of people come to faith in Jesus through the ministry of the church.

With Southern Baptists struggling to push back declining baptism rates, throughout the country and in Texas, Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, urged pastors attending the Empower conference earlier this year to do what Navarro has done—be intentional in both their personal and corporate evangelism efforts.  

“We need to be reminded of the essential nature of intentionality in personal evangelism,” preached Lino, the current president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “You can do everything right, but if you lose intentionality, you lose the whole bag.”

Lino encouraged pastors to develop a plan to share Christ personally as he shared his own plan to have 52 evangelistic encounters each year, which he tracks on his phone. 

“What the concept of intentionality looks like with boots on the ground is a plan,” Lino said. “So maybe the greater question is, what is your plan to directly engage lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

Modeling isn’t just significant for adults but for youth as well, according to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Richard Ross.

“Pastors may need to forget the word ‘send,’” Ross writes in his book, The Senior Pastor and the Reformation of the Youth Ministry. “Pastors cannot send teenagers and leaders to share their faith. They can only lead them.” 

Ross describes modeling as the “most powerful tool for helping students reach their friends for Christ.” He points to a study by Dave Rahn and Terry Linhart that showed 85 percent of teens who had led friends to faith in Christ had previously seen an adult lead someone to Christ.

In his work as interim pastor of First Baptist Church of Quitman, Dewey Davidson saw the power of modeling evangelism firsthand. The church baptized 95 people during his time as interim, which came after the church had split in half.

Davidson led FBC Quitman in a variety of outreach projects, including regular door-to-door to evangelism, a harvest party and a showing of the movie Woodlawn. Most of the time, Davidson said, whole families got saved through these efforts. He surprised many in the congregation by participating in each of these opportunities.   

“If the pastor doesn’t go, the people won’t go,” Davidson said. “The fact that I was willing to go gave them courage or motivation to go.” 

Though personal evangelism has always been an important part of his ministry, Mark Broussard, pastor of Cedar Bayou Baptist Church in Baytown, says modeling personal evangelism became more fruitful when he was introduced to FAITH evangelism, an evangelistic process created by former SBC president Bobby Welch.

“When I started in ministry, I knew it was important for me to model this,” Broussard said. “But I’m a natural introvert. I knew this would be tough even while I was in seminary. That was confirmed when I got on the field.”

As a seminary student at Southwestern, Broussard learned the CWT (Continuous Witness Training) method of personal evangelism, but it seemed daunting with the amount of Scripture required to be memorized. He figured if he had a difficult time with it, it would likely be hard to motivate church members to participate. 

But when Broussard discovered the FAITH plan in the 1990s, he found it much easier to model evangelism and train others in the process. When he became pastor of Cedar Bayou in 2000, he brought the plan with him. 

Thanks to the FAITH plan, Broussard has become a consistent modeler of personal evangelism.

“I teach the basic class,” Broussard said. “It’s to show them I think this is important, to let them know I’ll be going out with a deacon or two every week. There was a time I went out a couple of times a week, just to let everyone know that this was important to me.”  

Small-group discipleship cultivates holiness

FORT WORTH “Making disciples who make disciples” lies at the heart of every pastor’s mission in his congregation, two Texas pastors say.

“Discipleship means radically different things to different people,” says Rodney Brown, pastor of Metro Bible Church in Southlake. “Our theme verse is 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Real discipleship is simply imparting the Word and imparting our lives.”

Chris Osborne says the emphasis on making disciples permeates everything they do at Central Baptist Church in College Station.

“We are real serious about discipleship,” Osborne says. “We use our Sunday school classes. We have intergenerational small groups. I’m a book-by-book, verse-by-verse preacher, so we try to really lay out the Scripture on Sunday mornings. We try to disciple the children all the way from preschool through high school.”

Central Baptist’s adult discipleship program is built around a curriculum Osborne wrote himself.

“I noticed there was really good intensive curriculum and really good beginning curriculum, but there was almost nothing middle of the road, so I wrote my own,” Osborne says. “It covers basic doctrines, and I took a group of men through it for a year, then I took a group of women through it for a year. Then they were responsible for taking other people through.”

Osborne encourages those he has discipled to teach the curriculum to groups of four or five: “That helps keep the discussion going; you’ve got better ideas being offered. It’s easier for an introvert to lead it. Plus you get the material through more people that way.”

At Metro Bible Church, discipling integrates with the pastoral care role of the church’s elder/deacon ministry.

“We pastor our congregation through small groups, so each elder—and in our case we have highly qualified deacons—leads a small group,” Brown says. “Small group discipleship is not the end road I’m trying to get to, but that’s where it’s modeled well, in soul care.”

Brown’s congregation is largely composed of Millennials who are first-generation Christians and often feel they aren’t qualified or don’t know enough to “impart the Word” to others.

“We try to make them comfortable and say it’s OK to come back and get answers,” Brown says. “And it’s not the venue. If you like to take walks with someone, if you like to get a workout with them, if you like gardening, if you’re a stay-at-home mom—we have to get creative. Invite someone over in the afternoon when your kids are down for their nap and have them help you fold clothes. But go through the Word of God and challenge one another scripturally and do soul care.”

Brown disciples members over nine months or a year, then delegates them to find others to disciple. He offers to be their “walker”—to join that new group and coach them as they lead that process. “I will show up 20 minutes early, and we’ll go over how we are going to do it,” Brown says. “Then I will debrief with them later in the week. I’ll do this for several weeks, and then they’re on their own.”

Brown followed that process with Chris Mordecai, a Metro Bible member who teaches fifth-grade science in Trophy Club. 

“I observed the way Rod was with me and the way he set me free to find a guy and be that way with him,” Mordecai says. “He called me to a life of holiness, of discipline, of giving up my life to serve the Lord, so the next call was for me to call someone else to give up their life to serve the Lord.”

Mordecai was discouraged when several men he met with didn’t follow through, but then a man began attending the church who was “rough around the edges” but open to being discipled. 

“I don’t know what the difference was, other than this was just the Lord’s orchestration, but he embraced the idea and ran with it,” Mordecai says. “Now he is an example of what it’s like to give your all, serve the church, be constantly focused on others, and love the Lord. It was a blessing to be part of his growth.”

Managing expectations is crucial, Brown points out.

“If you disciple 10 guys, you probably ought to count on two of them lasting long term,” Brown says. “You cannot take it personally when someone walks away. That’s why it’s so important on the front end that you’re really choosing, as best you can tell, the right people. You may spend three years pouring into six guys, and five of them walk away. But look what that one guy is doing. He’s multiplied himself five times over!”  

Mark Kelly is a career Southern Baptist journalist and hosts a podcast at

Pastors share how they lovingly shepherd the flock under their care

The word pastor literally means “shepherd.” A pastor cares for the flock God has given him, with the good shepherd, Jesus, as the ultimate role model.

For Jeremy Yong, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hacienda Heights, Calif., the idea of pastor as shepherd begins and ends with love of Christ and of one’s congregation. 

“By successful shepherding, I mean loving Christ’s sheep the way that Christ desires them loved,” Yong told pastors at the 9Marks First Five Years conference in Fort Worth, Aug. 16. Speaking on John 21:15-19, Yong said Jesus’ instruction to Peter to “feed my sheep” was a sign of love for him.

The key to loving the sheep is loving the savior,” Yong said, adding, “Christ must be your love supreme. … This supreme love for Christ is what brings forth a love for his sheep.”

The way pastors practically love their congregations was also the topic of a series of interviews conducted by the TEXAN with five experienced Texas pastors, each in his present position for more than a decade and serving different size congregations, numbering 150 to more than 1,000.

Know your congregation

Effective shepherds know their sheep, Mike Lawson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sherman, said. For Lawson, this includes learning people’s names; being present during major life events like weddings, funerals and hospitalizations; and “being willing to stay for the long haul.”

“If you want to know people, you have to be willing to invest in lives over an extended period of time,” Lawson said. “I have never gone to a [church] planning to leave that place.”

Manuel Martinez affirmed the value of longevity. Serving Primera Iglesia Bautista in Irving as associate pastor in the 1980s and later as interim created familiarity, which proved helpful when Martinez accepted the call as pastor in 2000. 

“Since we have been at the church such a long time, people have come know us, love us and respect us,” Martinez said.

For Tim Skaggs, pastor of Brownwood’s Coggin Avenue Baptist Church, knowing the congregation started with making public his cell phone number. With Sunday morning worship attendance averaging 1,200, Skaggs recalled the advice of a pastor friend early in his time at Coggin Ave., who said, “Don’t be friends with your people.“ 

It was advice Skaggs found impossible to follow. 

“I can’t do that,” Skaggs told his wife. To the church secretary who cautioned against publicizing his cell number, he replied, “I want to be found. I want to be accessible.” 

Coggin Ave.’s weekly bulletin features contact information of all staff members, including Skaggs. 

“People call and text me a lot. Every now and then, someone will call me at home at night and apologize. I jokingly tell them, ‘Look, if people stop calling me, I am out of a job,’” Skaggs added with a laugh.

What about the shepherd’s family?

Of course, caring for the flock and sacrificially loving a congregation should not mean sacrificing a shepherd’s family on the altar of duty. 

Lawson told FBC Sherman that he would sacrifice neither family nor health. Doing so would render him “less effective.”

The church encourages Lawson to follow these principles. Early on, two ladies with whom he teamed for an evangelistic outreach insisted he be with his son at baseball practice instead. 

“They called me on it,” Lawson said. “I am glad they did. From that point on, there was never a question that, except in an emergency, if something was going on with my family, the church knew that was where I was going to be.”

Balancing priorities can be especially challenging for younger pastors.

“For a young pastor just starting out, one of the hardest things [to] do is juggle church family and ‘real’ family,” Skaggs said. “Many times we have this messiah complex—we’re going to save the world. No doubt I put church before family early in my career.”

“I made mistakes my first few years,” Earl Duggins of Kilgore’s Forest Home Baptist Church admitted. “I thought I was the only one who could get anybody saved. When you put God first, you’ll have the right spot for your family. Do not neglect the wife and children.” 

Advice for young pastors

Lawson recommended young pastors pray regularly for a “servant’s heart.” Referencing Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet, Lawson said, “[Pedestals] are not where pastors belong. Pastors really belong on their faces [in prayer, emulating] Christ as a servant leader.”

Duggins advised young pastors to “make sure” of their calling. Quoting Proverbs 3:5-6, he added “Then, enjoy the trip. Just let God lead you and guide you.”

Skaggs cautioned against being defined by the title of pastor, even though people often define themselves by their jobs. “Let the Word of God define who you are and how you live. … I had better make sure that Jesus defines me. … I answer to an audience of one. Hebrews 13:17 says I will give an account one day … to God, not to people or to the church.”

Skaggs said this philosophy of answering to God rather than man influences how he shepherds. “People will disappoint me and hurt me. I will disappoint and hurt people. We are not perfect (but) Jesus never changes. He is the solid rock. That is where I am going to put my hope.”

Spending “quality and quantity time with Jesus” is essential, Skaggs added, emphasizing personal Bible study in addition to sermon preparation. “If Satan can’t make you bad, he will make you busy,” Skaggs said. 

“Remember, the pastoral ministry is not about you, it’s about God,” Martinez advised.

“Let your people know you love them,” Lawson added. 

Feed the sheep

Jimmy Draper’s Don’t Quit Until You Finish is a rich resource on pastoral ministry. The book’s theme seems to be that we should love the people God has entrusted to us. Jimmy Draper has modeled that priority through his years as pastor and Baptist statesman. You can see that genuine love in a pastor who has it, and you miss it in a pastor who doesn’t. It is the bottom line in pastoral ministry. People forgive someone who is diligent but not naturally gifted in preaching, as long as he loves his flock. The two or three men in my life I consider to be my “pastors,” though they live in various states, are not so because they are excellent preachers but because they listen, they love, they expend themselves for others, they keep confidences—they are pastoral. 

The word “pastor” is a term related to the work of a shepherd. A “pastoral” scene is a rural one, perhaps a pasture. We have three churches in Texas called Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor (“Good Shepherd Baptist Church”), or some version of that. When Jesus restored Peter in John 21, he told Peter to feed his lambs, in response to the love Peter professed for the Good Shepherd. So I’m not particularly taken with the scholarly pastor who only, or prefers to only, fill the pulpit and study the deep things of God. It’s hard to be a good preacher or a pastoral leader if you don’t actually love the sheep enough to embroil yourself in messy lives that take away the time you’d otherwise spend on “more important” or “strategic” matters.

It is true that “pastor” is only one word used to describe the role of a church’s undershepherd. He is also the overseer (bishop) of the church, and sometimes called an “elder.” I recognize that there is significant overlap in these three titles; that’s one reason I believe they all three describe one who is simply the pastor. The role of the shepherd is indispensable, and perhaps the most difficult role for most of us to do well. 

There is a servant aspect—meekness and humility—that, while necessary in the life of a faithful bishop and effective elder, shines paramount in the shepherd as he visits and counsels and comforts and disciples and teaches the flock entrusted to him. Some roles of the pastor can be done pretty well without that servant spirit, shepherding will not be done at all without it. 

We know examples of men in large churches and small churches who are exemplars of pastoral ministry. You can tell what kind of pastor a man is by only a little association with him. Some pastors you’ve never heard of do a great job at pastoring their flocks in out of the way places. Although the CEO pastor seems to work best in the suburbs, the true pastor is at home in all places—anyplace where there are people of God really.    

W.A. Criswell, in his Guidebook for Pastors, explains that the other things a pastor does are enabled by his daily service to his people, his relationships with them. He says, “When the pastor has established personal religious relations with his hearers, to them, even the simplest sermons are clothed with sacred power.” 

The significance of this ministry seems a pretty good argument for pastoral internships. Forming “religious relations” with people is not so simple as being nice or having a gift of gab. Experienced pastors emphasize that pastoral contacts (including I suppose, email and phone calls) should have a spiritual focus. I remember being an associate pastor right out of seminary. My pastor told me where my office was located and that I shouldn’t do anything troublesome to the church. That was it. My first year of hospital visitation was a mess. I had no seminary preparation and no training in hospital visitation, so I learned it by trial and error. I visited rooms and homes with no clear idea of what I would say, or not say, except that I would pray with the people. Some of those visits were a waste. Later, I understood that I wasn’t anyone’s buddy showing up before or after a surgery, or in a bereaved home, or in the home of a discouraged church member. It was obvious to everyone else why I was there, so it was important that I was ready to be pastoral. Training and coaching could have been a head start on experience in my pastoral ministry. 

The bottom line is that we must do it. If we love people, we must do more than offer platitudes when we happen to see them in the hall. Pastoral ministry goes to find the lost or injured sheep entrusted to us by the Good Shepherd. That trust makes it a high priority indeed.   

Pastor offers advice on how to make changes in a church

FORT WORTH Having walked through the process of revitalizing a dying church, pastor Garrett Kell offered six principles for leading change in a church during a 9Marks conference in Fort Worth, Aug. 16, designed for pastors in their first five years of ministry. 

Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., said his first word of counsel was to pray. 

“Brothers, do you pray?” Kell asked. “I don’t mean do you pray during your service or do pray over your meal, but I mean do you, in the quiet of your closet, in the solitude of your study, do you ask him who holds the keys of life and death, do you ask him, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do with your church? How do you want me to lead your church? How do you want me to love your church?’”

Because pastors and churches are embroiled in a spiritual battle, they must use spiritual weapons, he said. 

“Prayerless pastoring is a form of unbelieving pride that trades God’s wisdom for our own,” Kell said. “Prayerfulness tempers our ambitions so we don’t run over people or outrun God. Prayer cultivates courage and quiets anxieties as we battle against people’s opinions of us.”

Second, Kell said, pastors must wisely choose which hills are worth dying on. While some are worth dying on immediately, such as gospel issues or what the church believes about God and his Word, others are important but require patience and slow application. 

“Everything we do is important, but not everything is equally important,” he said.

Third, pastors must study the sheep that God has given into their care. Kell urged pastors to ask questions and listen to their church members. While pastors shouldn’t be enslaved to people’s opinions, they should be attentive and willing to apologize when they make a mistake.

“Remember, brothers, that God’s people are not a project,” Kell said. “They’re not just a bunch of people to be manipulated into your little system of what you think a perfect church is going to look like. Rather, they’re the beloved bride purchased with his blood.

“A loving pastor is the most welcomed preacher. How you lead people with love outside the pulpit will warm their hearts toward you when you are in the pulpit. Brothers, lead God’s people toward change with love and instruction.”

Fourth, Kell said, pastors must “teach people toward maturity.” 

“If you want to change something, teach on it over and over and over,” he said, adding, “Let God’s Word do the work; it changes people. … Open the Bible, and show people from the Bible what God’s Word says about his church and about them.”

Fifth, pastors must be willing to consider what God might want to change in them first. 

“There is nothing like leading a church that will expose our idolatries and insecurities,” Kell said. Pastors must walk in repentance and humility as they lead the congregation toward change.

Finally, Kell instructed pastors to pace themselves with perspective. Too many pastors either steamroll church members or leave them behind when working toward change.

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short run and underestimate what we can do in the long run,” he said. “Love your people with the long view, and God will change your church.”

To watch a video of Kell’s message or other messages from the 9Marks First Five Years Conference, visit