Pastor

From Affluence to Monasticism – The Story of St. Benedict

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In my previous post, I briefly outlined the project I will be working on for my Doctor of Ministry at Sioux Falls Seminary. This project is rooted in a deep and practical study of an ancient rule known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” In this post, I will provide a little more information on the author behind this ancient monastic rule. 


Monasticism become a popular movement around the time that Constantine declared Christianity to be the favored (and then legal) religion of Rome in the 4th century. The Church went from being a persecuted minority, depending on one another and the Holy Spirit for community life, to a powerful majority as a state religion. As a result of this change, the faith slowly become corrupt. Church leaders began making extravagant amounts of money and yielding extraordinary power over those in their charge. It became the opposite of how Jesus taught his followers to exercise leadership:

Matthew 20:25-28
25 Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Many Christians were deeply pessimistic about the corrupt nature of the church. In order to live out the radical elements of the Christian faith, many retreated to the desert to be alone with God, study God’s Word, and commit to intercessory prayer on behalf of the Church.

It was in this climate (during the 6th century) that Benedict was born into an affluent family in Rome. From the little we know, Benedict lived a charmed life and had all the comforts of luxury. As he got older and was studying in the great city of Rome, he became disillusioned with his wealth and the state of the church. It was during this time of seeking that he felt drawn to monasticism.

Benedict retreated into the desert and pursued the life of a hermit. A hermit was a monk who lived on his own in an effort to seek God through prayer, Scripture study, and manual labor. Benedict’s fame began to grow and a large multitude of people were regularly visiting him to receive his counsel and insight into the spiritual life. Eventually, other men decided to apprentice themselves to Benedict and become his fellow monks. Benedict’s first foray into forming a monastery ended up as a failure; his disciplines were too strict and demanding for those who sought to follow him.

Eventually, Benedict formed another monastery at Monte Cassino around 529 (about 80 miles southeast of Rome). It was from within this monastery that Benedict developed what has come to be known as “The Rule of St. Benedict.” It was written with the purpose of applying the Gospel to the everyday lives of those in his monastic community. Nevertheless, since it was a faithful exposition of the Scriptures for community life, it became the standard monastic rule of the Western church. The fact that there are Benedictine communities all over the world, 1,500 years after the writing of the Rule, demonstrates the power of this ancient rule for our lives today.


In my next post, I will briefly outline the Rule of St. Benedict and explain how you can study it for yourself to experience the benefits of this ancient document.

The Death of Pastoral Ministry

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The majority of those who embark on the journey of pastoral ministry will end up being a statistic of burnout, depression, exhaustion, and bitterness. On average, seminary-trained pastors will last less than five years in pastoral ministry.

This is a problem. Our current philosophy of ministry is killing the pastoral office.

As many of you know, I have begun the journey of attaining my Doctor of Ministry through Sioux Falls Seminary and I am hoping to address this problem. A few years ago I was on the verge of becoming another statistic; I was becoming pessimistic about ministry and drinking the poison of bitterness. It was during this painful season that a mentor of mine invited me on a 3-day retreat to a Benedictine Monastery known as St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

As a good, nondenominational pastor, I was not a fan of liturgy or the Roman Catholic Church. I assumed that liturgy (i.e. written prayers) were inauthentic and aligned with the babbling Jesus warned against in the Lord’s Prayer. Regarding the Roman Catholic Church, I followed the lead of Martin Luther and assumed the Pope was the Anti-Christ and the Roman Catholic Church was the Babylon spoken about in the Book of Revelation.

Nevertheless, I was desperate.

Desperate for a spirituality that was deeper than a surface reading of a text with vague applications.

Desperate for way of measuring success that went deeper than attendance and budget numbers.

Desperate to truly experience the ancient God of the Bible rather than the false american god many of us worship in our churches.

Desperate to align my ministry with the trusted traditions of the church rather than sleek business models that propagate the false gospel of marketing and excellence.

With the Psalmist, I realized my soul was panting for God like a deer pants for streams of water (Psalm 42:1). The wells of evangelicalism and popular church culture had run dry. I was discouraged by attendance numbers, giving statistics, and my lack of “success” as defined by modern evangelicalism.

That 3-day retreat was a turning point in my faith and leadership. I participated in the Daily Office with the monks – gathering throughout the day to chant the Psalms and listen intently to the reading of Scripture. I began to read a small book placed in the guest room called “The Rule of St. Benedict.” This is an ancient monastic rule written by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Holy Spirit used this ancient monastic rule to save my ministry and renew my resolve to remain faithful as a husband, dad, and pastor. I will be spending the next 3 to 4 years studying and applying this Rule to the lives of other pastors with the hope that the Holy Spirit will breathe renewal into their lives and ministries.


This is the first post in a series – stay tuned for more discussion on the Rule of St. Benedict, my story, and how I believe this ancient rule offers a philosophy of ministry that is able to bring greater healing and depth into the ministry of pastors in small churches. 

When is Renovation Church Getting a Building?

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When people find out that I lead Renovation Church and that we meet at the Garretson School for services, one of the first questions they ask is, “So… when are you guys getting your own building and becoming a ‘real’ church?

It’s a pretty innocent question but the assumptions behind it are fatally flawed.

For those who are curious as to when Renovation Church will get our own building – the answer is probably never… at least not while I am the pastor (unless God clearly makes it known to all of us that He wants us to purchase a building).

There are two primary reasons why our vision is to remain a portable church:

1. Mission Drift
When you purchase a building, the people of the church begin to believe that the church is a building. The truth is, the church is a PEOPLE called by Christ to be on mission with Him to make disciples of all the nations. For the first 300 years of the church, there was no such thing as a church building!

Virtually every church will affirm that the “church” is not a building but rather the people who follow Jesus. Nevertheless, it is clear by the way most churches spend money and by the very language they use, most don’t really believe this. As soon as a congregation purchases their first building, the temptation is to fill it with programs so it does not sit empty the entire week. These programs end up giving everyone a full schedule and destroys their witness to the community.

It’s difficult (impossible?) to be a witness in your family, community, and workplace when you are trapped in a holy huddle at the church building every night of the week.

2. Financial Difficulties
If you have ever attended a church business meeting, you will quickly realize that 99% of the time the members are obsessed with maintaining the church building. They are forced to do bake sales, fundraisers, and other means in order to keep the lights on and pay for the debt the church finds itself in. Even if the building is paid off, maintaining a church building comes with an EXTREMELY high price tag! (The Church and the Government have something in common – both are really good at having expenses  exceed income… which brings devastating debt).

In our first year as a church, we have given over $17,000 to outreach (both locally & internationally). At our last Member Meeting we decided that we would begin giving away our entire offering every 2 months and we voted on who we would give our money to. I do not think fundraisers are always bad but I find it a little silly that the church has to ask for money from the community so that they can use that same money to try to reach the community (or, let’s be real, to pay off the debt they find themselves in due to their building).


Do you disagree with me? Do you think church buildings are something all churches should aim for? Let me know your reasons by leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

How Do I Prepare a Message?

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As many of you know, I am a pastor which means I need to be ready every 7 days to speak a 30 – 40 minute message from the Bible that is both faithful to the text and engaging to the audience. I was working on my message late last night and Ashley (my wife) was asking me about the process. After sharing it with her, she encouraged me to share it with anyone/everyone interested so they understand everything that goes into a Sunday morning message!

1. Choose the Text
Before I can begin the process I need to choose the text I am preaching from. This is relatively easy at Renovation Church because we generally preach through entire books of the Bible verse-by-verse. I simply pick up where I left off the previous week. I DO need to “cut up” the text in such a way that we are examining one coherent thought rather than trying to preach an entire chapter of the Bible at once.

2. Meditate Upon the Text
The first thing I do is read through the text I am preaching on slowly. If possible, I also like to read the entire book that the text is in so I am reminded of the overall context. I use the word “meditate” to explain an unhurried process of trying to absorb the text into my own life. Generally I write out the entire passage by hand, commit the whole passage to memory, and then make note of every observation and question I have about the text. The closest comparison I can think of would be that of a scientist studying the almost hidden characteristics of an animal – the scientist spends hours with the animal and takes copious amounts of notes.

3. Make Sure I’m Not a Heretic
After I have an understanding of what I think God is saying through the text, I invite a few scholars into the discussion by reading commentaries. Commentaries are books that go verse-by-verse through books of the Bible and share the scholarly and historical views about the text. I know that if I discover something completely “new” in the text that probably means I am reading it wrong. My goal is to be faithful to the original author’s intention under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – not be “cute” with the text.

The reason I do not begin with commentaries is I do not want to give the people of Renovation Church the opinions and thoughts of a scholar. I do not think the common practice of pastors utilizing each others’ sermon outlines or manuscripts is wise (instead I think it is laziness and/or bad time management). Preaching is an “incarnational” event – God has something specific he wants to speak to the people in a specific place and the role of the pastor is to be attentive to both the text and the congregation so that the message is both relevant and theologically sound.

4. Manuscript the Entire Message
Once I have selected the text, meditated on the text, and studied the text on a scholarly level – I write out my entire message word-for-word how I want to say it. This helps me organize my thoughts and think of illustrations that would be helpful in encouraging others to encounter God through the text. For one of my regular messages (which is usually 30 – 40 minutes) this is anywhere from a 6 – 8 page document.

5. Outline the Message
Once my thoughts are organized and I have some illustrations to help others understand the text, I create a one-page outline. This outline has two major functions: First, it helps the Powerpoint person at church follow along with the message; Second, it is available for me to use in case I feel the need for notes on a certain Sunday. If you were to look at one of my outlines it would make absolutely no sense because I generally just use single words to remind me of the things I want to say.

6. Practice & Preach!
Once everything is done I practice the entire message at least two times as if I was preaching it live. The goal of practicing this many times is NOT to turn it into a performance but to rather absorb the message. I cannot preach something that hasn’t first changed my own heart. When it comes to Sunday morning and I have the opportunity to share the message with my congregation, I usually do so without any notes. I try to make it more conversational by only using my Bible and maybe some words jotted down on the page but other than that I try to prepare myself adequately while trusting that the Holy Spirit will give me illustrations and words of encouragement during the preaching of the message that I hadn’t thought of in my preparation.


This is a weekly rhythm that I absolutely love and it is vital to the life of the church. For those of you that attend Renovation Church who may sometimes get frustrated that I am not always available –  I just know that if I neglect to spend time in the Scriptures for both my personal prayer time and for message preparation, our church will die. Also, keep in mind that I do all of this in addition to working part-time at Southeast Tech, going to school full time for my Master’s Degree, and more importantly as a husband and a dad! I really DO love you and that is why I sometimes need to block out large chunks of time to be alone with God in preparation for Sunday! 

You Might be a False Teacher

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This is the fifth post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


Pastoral ministry is dangerous.

Being in front of a captive audience each week strokes the ego. Knowing that the majority of the people will believe what you say due to your authority as “pastor” can cause you to subtly build your own platform and diffuse your “majestic” ideas.

Combine this potential hazard with the unending pressure to increase attendance and giving numbers and it will create the perfect ministerial storm. Preaching will slowly drift from Gospel-centered proclamation to sharing helpful advice that is grounded in pop-psychology – this is where many churches find themselves today.

Jared Wilson makes this powerful observation about the role of Scripture in our preaching:
“Because the Bible is the only infallible authority over our lives, it is pastoral malpractice to treat it as a supporting document for our own good ideas. Our words ought to stand under Scripture, not vice-versa. When we come to the biblical text, it is meant to shape us; we are not to shape it. We are the ones to be malleable, not the Bible.”

I’m afraid that many pastors no longer tremble at the Word of God. Instead, we use it to proof-text our clever ideas in an attempt to generate an audience. Below is the main indicator that your preaching is driven by your creativity rather than Scripture.

You practice “Eisegesis” and call it relevance.

Now you are wondering how you practice something you have never heard of! When it comes to teaching the Bible, the proper way to preach is through exegesis. Exegesis literally means to “lead out of.” In other words, you allow the passage you are studying to determine the main point of your message. You seek to understand how the Spirit is speaking through His Word (this can be done in both topical preaching and verse-by-verse preaching).

Eisegesis is unbiblical, unhelpful, and ungodly. Eisegesis literally means to “lead into.” We practice eisegesis when we inject the poison of our opinions into the text and force the passage to bend to our meaning and will. We place ourselves in the position of God and twist Scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:14-18).

For example, many pastors utilize Eisegesis when studying the narrative of David and Goliath. Rather than beginning in the text, the pastor will try to think of a giant that faces us as Christians – for example striving to have a good marriage. The pastor will then think of some “advice” on how to have a better marriage and package it as “Five Stones to Defeat Divorce.”

The pastor will then inject his meaning into the narrative by explaining that Goliath stands for the giant of divorce. He will continue to inject his meaning into the stones by labeling them:
1. Have a date night.
2. Express your love to each other.
3. Buy each other gifts.
4. (Helpful advice)
5. (Helpful advice)

The original text has absolutely nothing to do with marriage or defeating the giant of “divorce.” In an effort to generate an audience and appear relevant, the pastor will twist the text to meet his own agenda.

“But Tyler! All those things are good advice that Christians should practice!”

Good advice doesn’t save people, only the Gospel does that. Paul does not tell Timothy to preach good advice… he tells him to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2)! In the last days, people will gather around them false teachers that will share all the “good advice” that their itching hears long to listen to (2 Timothy 4:3). Many pastors have fallen into this category without even realizing it!

It’s time for judgment to begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). It’s time for judgment to begin with the leaders in the church. Those of us that teach are judged with greater strictness and will gave an account for every empty word; especially our words which twist the Scriptures to support our own agenda (James 3:1).

I long for the day that Christians in the Western world exercise the noble character of the Bereans:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)

Don’t take my word for anything I say. Examine the Scriptures to see if it’s true. This goes for every pastor and teacher that shares from the Bible.


Why do you think so many pastors inject their opinions into the Bible when they preach? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know by leaving a comment! 

 

 

 

The #1 Key to Spiritual Growth

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This is the fourth post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


I remember the first megachurch I ever experienced. I was at a church conference in Texas and was speechless at the size of the church building as we approached it. It seemed as if multiple shopping malls joined together and somebody added “Christian” to the name!

Each night of the conference we had a church service that was open to the public. Thousands upon thousands of people flooded into this facility to sing songs and listen to people preach. At times it felt like I was in the midst of a rock concert with bright lights, smoke on the stage, and an incredible sound system.

Many people would write this church off as “worldly” due to its methodology. Truthfully, this is the same temptation that I fall into. I enjoy knowing the names, stories, and families of those around me in worship which is nearly impossible at a megachurch.

Does that mean they are wrong?

No.

Churches should strive for health, not size. There ARE unhealthy megachurches… but there’s also unhealthy small churches!

There is a movement within the church that began in the 1980s called the “Church Growth Movement.” This movement (usually) encourages churches to study their communities in order to ascertain who the “customers” are. Then each church should formulate non-threatening programs that meet a felt-need. The assumption behind this approach is the more programs & classes that a seeker is involved in, the more that person will grow spiritually.

Willow Creek Community Church, led by a pastor I highly admire (Bill Hybels), realized this assumption was deeply flawed. They decided to test the results of their programs through the REVEAL study.

With deep integrity, Willow Creek released the results of this study with an introduction by Bill Hybels honestly wrestling with the results:
You can imagine my reaction when three people whose counsel I value told me that the local church I’ve been the pastor of for more than three decades was not doing as well as we thought when it came to spiritual growth. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they said this wasn’t just their opinion. It was based on scientific research. Ouch.

Jarred Wilson, another pastor who was deeply influenced by the church growth movement, explains the results of the study, “Willow revealed what they discovered to be the number one catalyst for spiritual growth – Bible study.

Sometimes simple conclusions are the most challenging. Studying the Bible has taken secondary importance while brand management, building campaigns, and creative programs demand the attention of church leaders (in small and big churches!)

We can no longer neglect the Scriptures. One of the greatest ways we neglect the Bible is through the methods we use to preach. In my next post, I will share specifically what this looks like.


What are some ways our churches can prioritize the Bible over other demands? I’d love to hear from you – let me know by leaving a comment!

The Idol of “Success.”

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This is the third post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


I had the honor of helping launch the Garretson Campus of The Rescue Church in October of 2014. I immediately had dreams of outgrowing our building in a week and breaking ground on a new facility. I assumed that people would come to our services, give their lives to Jesus, and become powerful missionaries in the community and abroad.

In our opening service we had 75 people join us. This may not seem like a lot depending on your context but we were planting this campus in a town of 1,200 people. On our first Sunday, we ran out of room due to the high attendance! My dream of becoming an influential and successful minister was finally coming to fruition.

A few months later we moved from Sunday night services to Sunday morning services. Our goal is that we would see how many people were going to stay with us as a “real” church and how many others were simply visiting from other churches.

We decreased in attendance to an average of 14 people.

I remember one Sunday morning when the only people that came to the service were those that were scheduled to serve in different areas. I stood outside to greet all the people that were flocking to my “successful” ministry and I welcomed no one.

I was crushed.

Jared Wilson, in his book The Pastor’s Justification has this to say, “Whatever God gives you in your ministry, accept as his wise allotment to you, not as unjust or unbecoming your awesomeness. Will you accept good from God and not trouble?

Without realizing it I had elevated worldly forms of success and tied them to God’s view of my ministry. I forgot that God measured success not through attendance numbers, increased giving, or larger buildings. Rather, He demands faithfulness and obedience; we are called to leave the results in His hands. He is the one who gives the growth!

I’d love to say I no longer struggle with this… the truth is I do. Some days we have 80+ people in our service and I begin to stroke my ego; assuming that people are coming due to my awesomeness. Other Sundays we have 40 people and a horrible offering – it is extremely easy to find my identity in the roller-coaster of attendance numbers!

Friends, I say all of this to encourage you. Our evil nature longs for us to find our identity in something or someone other than Jesus. When our circumstances have the power to crush our joy, we are worshiping a false god.

Allow this passage to encourage you in your day of despair:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3

Fix your eyes on Jesus.