Faith Shakers

(Please note that this article is an edited edition of a full sermon preached by Ryan French on July 27th, 2014 at Apostolic Tabernacle)

The average Christian is familiar with the story of Job.  Poor old Job has become the poster child for good people whose faith has been shaken.  It took Job a lot of suffering and a lot more questioning to realize that God was greater than his circumstances.  We have all experienced events that shook our faith in our entire belief system.

Faith Shakers: things that shake our faith in the reality that God is a good God. Faith Shakers: things that shake our faith in the reality that God is a powerful God. Faith Shakers: things that shake our faith in the promises of God that are yet unfulfilled.  We have all had them and we will all face them from time to time.  And no matter how many times that we face them and come through them victoriously we still seem to cower at the ferociousness of the shaking.  Even though, they had seen the Red Sea parted; even though they had seen Pharaoh’s Army defeated; the Israelite’s still struggled to believe that God could provide water from a rock.  Even though, they had seen thousands put to flight by God’s mighty right hand; they still struggled to believe that those Jericho walls could really come tumbling down with only a trumpet and a loud shout.

There are three basic forces that can produce enough turmoil in our lives to produce a shaking. One, the forces of Satan. Second, the natural tragedies produced by our fallen and finite world. Thirdly, the hand of God.  Let’s focus on that last one because it’s probably the hardest to comprehend.

Sometimes the “Faith Shakers” that we experience are by God’s design because He is preparing us for something great.

And when they had prayed the place was shaken where they were assembled together and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and spake the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).”  

Notice, just as God was preparing to provide a supernatural outpouring there was first a preparatory shaking, and because they endured the shaking they could enjoy the blessing.  We see this same principle on display later on in Acts chapter 16 when Paul & Silas are thrown into the innermost prison simply because they had been preaching the Gospel of Christ.  Not only were they imprisoned unjustly; they were beaten mercilessly.  They would not have been human had they not been discouraged. Certainly, DOUBT flooded their minds. Certainly, they had unanswered questions.  Certainly, they were afraid.

I’m sure that Paul & Silas were not feeling the level of faith that they would have liked while in that Roman prison.  They could not clap their hands because their hands were bound.  They could not leap for joy because their feet were bound.  They could not lift their hands because their hands were tightly fastened in stocks. But the enemy forgot about the power of a voice that is lifted to God in praise while storms rage.  The enemy forgot what a simple song at midnight can accomplish. It always seems darkest just before the rays of a new day begin to break through; so let’s purpose in our hearts to give God praise even in the middle of life’s faith quake’s.

It was midnight when Paul & Silas sang praises unto God, and immediately there was a great earthquake.  The earthquake was so powerful that the foundations of the prison were shaken; sometimes God has to shake our whole world just to set us free!  Sometimes God has to break up our foundations so that He can set our feet on solid ground.

Interestingly, the most important aspect of this story is really not the supernatural deliverance that took place, but rather the conversion of the prison keeper and his family.  Paul realized that there was a greater purpose for their painful experience than just deliverance.  Paul recognized that God had carefully positioned them to impact the life of an obscure prison keeper.  Often times we are so busy rejoicing in our deliverance that we fail to notice the bigger plan that God is bringing to pass.

“And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hanging from his hand, they said among themselves, “No doubt this man is a murderer whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire and felt no harm. Now they were expecting that he should have swollen or suddenly fallen down dead; but after watching a great while and seeing no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god (Acts 28:3-6).”

When things attach themselves to our lives in painful and unexpected ways just as that viper attacked Paul on the island of Malta, it is important that we become Faith Shakers. When our faith is shaken that means it’s time for us to shake our faith!

The Case for Yearly Preaching Plans

I remember a kind of gloomy fog settling over my mind after hearing from my Pastor (who doubles as my father) that we would be planning preaching and teaching strategies for the entire upcoming year. Dread! Panic! A throbbing, and all too familiar migraine, began forming in the base of my skull. Up until that point, I had mostly been a high powered evangelist approaching each new service like a maverick gunslinger. On some, albeit rare occasions, I even went to the pulpit with a few scribbled notes and an open Bible. I had a preaching mindset that prided itself upon being highly in tune with the Spirit, and evidently (according to my youthful way of thinking) the Spirit could only see a few days (or even hours) into the future.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a certain kind of desperate advantage to that style of ministry. Certainly, an evangelist is charged with the sacred duty of stirring a sudden response to the Gospel that is often best served with a large dose of spiritual spontaneity. But my role in the Body of Christ had shifted, and now my pattern was being drastically jolted.

Plan we did, with calendars and coffees in hand. We planned teaching series for Midweek Bible Study and Sunday School, and preaching series for Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings (we have lots of good church at Apostolic Tabernacle).  Thankfully, we left some wiggle room for my coveted spontaneity. We left no stone unturned. We met with our church staff (paid and volunteer) to plan yearly events and activities.  Meanwhile, I held my breath and nursed a silent tantrum fully expecting this strategy to fail magnificently. Not only did it not fail, it excelled beyond my wildest ability to believe.  When I say excel, I mean far more than that the church received good sound doctrine, grew at a reasonable pace, and enjoyed good health (although all of that is true); I mean that the process has been a tremendously freeing experience.

This is shocking to me because it seemed so constricting at first. I discovered a profound peace in having a structure (loose but not too loose) in which to study and seek God’s heart. Also, it seems that God is fully aware of what will be happening next month or even (gasp) next year. God can give direction far in advance of any man made time stamps. Not only that, God operates according to a certain command structure. God honors us when we surrender our stubborn will to ordained authorities.

Fast forward several years later, and I can’t imagine ministry without a well-planned preaching and teaching schedule.  I just happened to mention this to Dad at lunch the other day, he laughed and gave me a knowing look; then he said something profound (as he often does), “If you approach study without self-imposed parameters of difficulty you will always seek the most familiar path or the mediocre path of least resistance.” In other words, when we approach preaching and teaching like a maverick gunslinger we never challenge ourselves to learn, study, contemplate, and digest things that are unfamiliar. It’s well and good to have a favorite soap box or a tasty candy stick but those things, although comfortable, may become little more than an excuse for intellectual laziness if we are not very careful. So father does know best (sometimes).

14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor

I just read a great article entitled How to Serve Your Pastor Well by Jamie Brown. I encourage you to read his article for yourself (after finishing this one of course). Jamie writes from the perspective of a Worship Leader but most of his points are relevant to all ministry positions within the church. His article resonated with me because, like Jamie, I am approaching 10 years of full time ministry in the second chair position.

Almost immediately after graduating from Bible College I stepped into the position of Assistant Pastor.  Several years as a full time evangelist followed, which is still a second chair position with its own specialized set of challenges.  Currently, I am privileged to serve as Assistant Pastor to my father (Dr. Talmadge French).  Nearly 10 years in the second chair has given me a perspective that may be helpful to my fellow second chair colleagues, and perhaps for senior pastors to consider as well.

1. Count it an honor to serve your Pastor.  Now I know that in some church paradigms the role of Assistant or Associate Pastor is little more than a title with no meaning, but thankfully this sad paradigm is shifting.  Pastor’s desperately need faithful ministers who will stand beside them and hold their arms up in battle (Exodus 17:10-13).  However, if you view your role as nothing more than a stepping stone to a greater position, or as a launching pad for your personal (yet unappreciated) ministry than you are not serving your Pastor; you are serving your own selfish ambitions.  You may think that your motivations are sufficiently hidden but usually they are far more visible than you imagine, not only to your pastor, but also to the congregation that you are serving.  There is nothing more rewarding than ministering without hidden agendas.  Remember, it is God who exalts us according to His perfect timing (1 Peter 5:6).

Many capable ministries never reach their full potential because they refuse to see the value of the second chair position.  As a church grows and flourishes in healthy, God-given revival the need for dedicated support ministries becomes more and more vital.  To serve in the capacity of pastoral support ministry is an honorable and highly commendable calling.  If you closely examine any thriving, revival church you will find not only a dynamic Pastor, but a dynamic support ministry as well.  God uses unity to propel revival not a maverick mentality.

2. Remain fiercely loyal at all times.  Loyalty is becoming extinct in our fast moving culture.  Our grandparents drove the same Ford or GMC their whole lives, many of them lived in the same towns that they grew up in, attended the same church that they were saved in, lived and died under the same pastoral ministry, and drank the same brand of coffee every morning.  Fast forward to my generation; we’re moving from church to church, from city to city, from fad to fad, constantly moving to the next big thing, or the next big idea, and yet it never seems to occur to us that we have embraced a culture of disloyalty.  This is not how God intended the Church to operate, while fierce independence may be admirable in the dog-eat-dog world of corporate leadership, in ministry, loyalty and faithfulness are absolute necessities.  If you can’t be loyal in the second chair position than you can never expect loyalty from others when you find yourself in the first chair position.

3. Be a dependable shield and a worthy confidant.  One of the most admirable roles that you can fill as the second man is to shield your Pastor from harm.  Anticipate possible problems and internal factions, and do everything in your power to shield your Pastor from attacks.  Guard your words and your integrity.  If your Pastor confides in you be sure to keep that confidence or you will lose a level of trust that you can never fully regain.

Inevitably you will notice that your Pastor has weaknesses and flaws.  Except in extreme instances where sin is involved, it is your role to pick up the slack in these areas.  If you study the Apostles you will notice that although they were greatly used of God they had personality flaws that often needed to be put in the hands of God.  Your Pastor is no less human and he deserves your fidelity.  If you strengthen his weak areas he will return the favor when you are lacking.

4. Avoid flattery that produces unhealthy pride in your heart.  Often the second man will receive adulation from those who seek to undermine the Pastor.  I once had a man try to convince me that I should be pastoring the church that I was serving in at the time.  Needless to say, I shut that conversation down in a hurry.  He wanted to use me as weapon against his own Pastor.  Shame on any second man who allows himself to be used as a pawn in the hands of rebellious saints.  Sometimes the second chair position feels unappreciated and we become vulnerable to the enticements of flattery.  The book of Jude warns of those who employ flattery in order to manipulate others for their own selfish desires (Jude 1:16).  Learn to distinguish the difference between healthy complements and manipulative flattery.

5. Don’t be naïve.  Sometimes saints are simply refreshed by the variety of hearing a new voice.  This doesn’t mean that they don’t love their Pastor’s preaching, and it certainly shouldn’t cause you to feel superior.  Evangelists and all other support ministries must take care not to allow compliments to go to our heads.  Sometimes people are just being kind (they aren’t going to tell you that you did a second class job).  Accept compliments carefully and gracefully.

During my first year of full time ministry I had a family invite Rachel and I over for dinner.  Everything seemed kosher until dessert was served; suddenly we found ourselves dodging personal questions about our mutual Pastor.  This seemed highly inappropriate and I told them so with as much kindness as I could muster.  Many young ministers naively divulge privileged information in an effort to demonstrate their insider status.  This is a terrible ethical precedent to set for your ministry and life in general.  Appearing “in-the-know” isn’t nearly as important as being a man of integrity.

6. Avoid second guessing your Pastor.  There are going to be times when you feel as though something should be handled differently.  You might even feel as though you could have done something better or smoother.  Once more, you might even be right, but it’s unhealthy to dwell on those emotions.  Submission is only submission when you are in disagreement.  God honors us when we yield ourselves to spiritual authority (Hebrews 13:17; Romans 13:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Ephesians 4:11).  However, many times a Pastor makes decisions and judgments based on information and facts that we are not privy too.  If we are walking in true humility we must be willing to acknowledge that we may not always know what is best.  After all, a Pastor is the God called watchmen on the wall (Isaiah 62:6; Ezekiel 3:17-19), and this vantage point gives him spiritual insight that we simply do not have.

7. Don’t be high maintenance.  I’m taking this one directly from Jamie’s article (mentioned above), along with a few additions of my own.  Your Pastor is bombarded with high maintenance people on a daily basis and he certainly doesn’t need his close leadership adding to that chaos.  Remember your role is that of supporter and if you are constantly adding to your Pastor’s stress level than you are failing in that mission.  This is not to say that you can’t turn to him for advice and guidance but do so with care and moderation.  Learn to be respectful of his time, his privacy, his family, and his work load.  I guarantee that if you learn the value of this particular piece of advice your pastor will love you for it.

8. Respect, value, and be considerate of the needs of the family.  I have already alluded to this point, but it is extremely important that the second man is respectful of the needs of the Pastor’s family.  Many Pastor’s kids and Pastor’s wives suffer the indignity of waiting on their father or spouse to finish lengthy conversations that were dishonestly presented as only needing “a moment of your time.”  A considerate leader is sensitive to these things and learns to use the appropriate timing to make important connections.  If your Pastor’s family begins to resent your constant interruptions and intrusions than you will eventually find yourself feeling cut off and disconnected.  Work to identify the proper times to make lengthy connections and your Pastor and his family will love you for it.

9. Avoid telling your Pastor how other Pastor’s do things.  Every Pastor has their own style and way of doing things.  Most Pastors have their own biblical perspective of how the Church should operate.  It took me a few years to realize as the second man that my Pastor did not appreciate my constant little reminders of how so and so Pastor did this or that.  In a sense you are telling him that you respect this other Pastors way of doing things more than his way of doing things.  Furthermore, every church, city, and culture is vastly different.  What works in one context doesn’t necessarily work in another.

10. Follow through and finish what you start.  If you begin a project see it through to the end.  Nothing is more frustrating to leadership than watching another project get placed on the backburner.  If you make a commitment follow through, otherwise it will be very hard for your Pastor to entrust you with greater responsibilities.  Along this same vein of thinking, try not to despise the small, unpleasant, or seemingly unimportant duties.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

11. Don’t be a copycat.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t emulate your Pastor’s leadership or take on any of his characteristics, however, it’s ok to be you.  Your church doesn’t need identical twins, identical preachers, and identical leaders.  In fact, the differences are often refreshing for a congregation.  Variety is the spice of life, and your unique qualities will endear you to others.  Copycats become disingenuous and plastic over time.

12. Have fun.  Ministry is serious business, and we ministers have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously.   This might seem counterintuitive but you should cultivate a fun and friendly demeanor.  There is a time and a place for extreme seriousness, but no one wants to work closely with an individual who doesn’t understand the value of laughter.  Let the joy of the Lord be your strength (Psalm 28:7).

13. Know your role and what is expected of you.  You will circumvent all kinds of frustration by simply understanding what is expected of you.  Many Pastors are hesitant to tell you everything that they expect from you on a regular basis (maybe we’ll cover these reasons in a later post).  Dig deep and learn your parameters.

14. Be spiritually sensitive.  It should go without saying that we must be spiritually healthy.  Pray for your family, your church, and your Pastor.  Pray and pray some more.  Let’s lay aside our over inflated ideas of dignity and worship God with all of our might.  Guard your heart, guard your mind, and never stop growing in the Lord.

Related articles: Consistency – 16 Keys To Great Leadership, Right, Righteous, and Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes, You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 2), 3 Revival Killers, What To Do After The Storm, 7 Ways To Help Your Youth Group Backslide, Ministry Pitfalls, Been Hurt By A Pastor? (8 Reasons You Should Stop Talking About It)

Living Selflessly In a Selfie World

I recently saw a report claiming that the average teenager takes a minimum of 20 selfies a day. This seems narcissistic at best and narcotic at worst and we aren’t even discussing the closely related issue of highly sexualized selfies that clog up social media venues. This is a unique problem and it will likely take us several years to fully realize the consequences of a world with no sense of modesty, privacy, and dare I say, decency.

Selfie

Now obviously in Bible times smart phones were yet to be invented, but I think that Philippians 2:3-5 speaks directly to our selfie culture, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” When we have the mind of Christ we are constantly taking the focus off of ourselves (which goes against our fallen nature) and redirecting it on others and on Jesus.

On several occasions Jesus makes a point to warn us against having the spirit of the Pharisees. The Pharisees loved to wear attention grabbing clothing and they walked through the marketplaces demanding that people look at them (Luke 20:46-47). Anything to draw attention to themselves. They were obsessed with self-promotion and the outward was highly cultivated while the inward was sadly neglected. At one point Jesus said that they were like white washed tombs, clean on the outside but filthy on the inside (Matthew 23:27).

So is a well-timed selfie a grave sin? Certainly not, but is an attitude of constant focus on self and the outward a sin? Yes. Understanding the difference is extremely important.

Cute selfie

Clothed In Humility

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

This commandment flew in the face of the Greek culture because, like ours, it glorified self-assertion and aggressiveness. They worshipped bodily perfection and “wisdom,” as they called it, flaunting it before others as a basis on which a relationship would be conducted. Feeling better than, or being seen as better than others was of utmost importance to people in the ancient Greek world.

Greek culture, like ours, glorified youthfulness and the apostle Peter felt a holy unction to warn the Church against the dangerous sin of exalting youth and beauty above the wisdom of the elders. Godly young men and young women run from arrogance and seek out the wisdom that only age and grace can produce.

God commands us to be clothed with humility. Humility is pride’s opposite, its antonym. We learn a great deal about humility when we just do the opposite of what the Bible teaches us about pride. Part of the key to understanding humility is in this short phrase “just do”. Just do it, as the Nike® advertisement urges. Why would God want us to do such a thing? Because true humility is a choice. It is not something that comes naturally. We have to choose to do it.

Peter says that we must “be clothed with humility.” Meaning, we must put on humility in the same way that we choose to wear a winter jacket. Doing either of these activities is a choice. In this phrase, the apostle is reminiscing about Jesus at His last Passover, when He clothed Himself with an apron and knelt down before His disciples, including Peter, washing their feet as an example of His mind, His attitude, toward them (John 13:1-17). He girded himself and performed this lowly act. He had to put on, choose to practice, humility to do that. Every day we must reach past the garment of pride and clothe ourselves in humility.

If God manifest in the flesh could make himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:7); what choice do we have but to follow His example?