By / Jan 13

Saturday marks the 182nd anniversary of the death of John Leland, the most influential Baptist preacher of America’s Founding era.

Here are five facts you should know about this champion of religious liberty.

1. Leland was an active and productive pastor. From the age of 18 until his death at 86, he preached approximately 8,000 sermons, wrote numerous hymns, published about 30 pamphlets, and baptized 1,524 people. He also personally knew 962 pastors, out of which 303 he heard preach and 207 who visited him at his home.

2. Leland had an outsized influence on the establishment of religious liberty in America through his relationship with James Madison, the primary author of the U.S. Constitution. Leland, who was considered the “leader of the Virginia Baptists,” helped Madison get elected both as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and to the first Congress. Madison repaid Leland and the other Baptists by keeping his campaign promise to support a Bill of Rights that included the Establishment Clause.

3. For much of his early career Leland rarely spoke publicly about one of the key issues of his day—slavery. However, on returning to his home state of Massachusetts in 1791, he began to forcefully champion the emancipation of slaves. Leland thought the cause of freedom for Black Americans would be an opportunity for Christian youth:

If any of the slave-holders will neither give nor sell their slaves, here will be a great door opened for missionary labors. The pious youth, who are waiting for a gap, will now have a loud call to go and preach to the hard-hearted masters, and flatter them to give, and threaten them if they will not.

Although he continued to oppose slavery, Leland later in life began to denounce abolitionists as troublemakers. Many slaveholders, he said, “in heart are opposed to slavery, and would gladly set their slaves free, if they could be provided for.”

4. Leland once used a 1,234-pound block of cheese to spread the gospel. After helping Thomas Jefferson win the presidency, Leland decided to give the new chief executive a gift of cheese. According to Elihu Burritt, Leland asked everyone in his Cheshire, Massachusetts, congregation who owned a cow to donate a quart of milk (unless it was from a “Federalist cow”—a cow owned by a Federalist farmer—since that would “leaven the whole lump with a distasteful savour”). The milk was curded and molded using a large cider press. This Cheshire Mammoth Cheese—which measured four feet wide, and 15 inches thick—was too heavy to transport by wagon, so it had to be delivered by sleigh during winter.

As Leland wrote, “In November, 1801 I journeyed to the south, as far as Washington, in charge of a cheese, sent to President Jefferson. Notwithstanding my trust, I preached all the way there and on my return. I had large congregations; let in part by curiosity to hear the Mammoth Priest, as I was called.”

When he arrived in the capitol, Leland was invited to preach a message of religious liberty before Congress.

5. According to L. H. Butterfield, Leland was “dubious about seminaries and campaigns for [missionary] funds.” Although Leland, who was self-educated, was not opposed to secular education, he purportedly stuck “to the primitive Baptist principle that the power to evangelize is bestowed by divine rather than human means.” 

“In these things, however, I may be wrong,” Leland told a friend, “for I claim neither infallibility nor the spirit of prophecy. — May I, may you, may every one pray and search for himself, and believe, and act, and follow the clearest light.”

By / Oct 31

Most pastors likely answer the call to ministry with great expectations of what the Lord will use them to do. And while pastoral ministry is rewarding, many pastors can often find themselves in seasons of burnout and discouragement. Pastor Mike Minter, author of Stay the Course: A Pastor’s Guide to Navigating the Restless Waters of Ministry, has had a long and faithful vocation in ministry and shares words of wisdom and encouragement to pastors walking through turbulent waters.

Elizabeth Bristow: In your experience, what happens to bring a pastor to the point of burnout?

Mike Minter: There are a number of contributing factors that conspire to bring down a pastor. Too much self reliance can be a major issue. The mentality of “I can do this by myself” or the belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness, when in fact, it is a sign of pride. It can be lonely when you’re at the top, and without strong accountability burnout occurs in a matter of time. Carrying internal secrets leads to heavy burdens, and if a pastor is struggling and has no one to turn to, he is on a path to emotional trauma.

EB: What role does accountability play in helpful discussions surrounding ministry burnout? 

MM: The Lord has made it clear that we are to bear one another’s burdens. (Gal. 6:2) We can’t do that unless we share in them. Forty-eight years ago, a pastor friend of mine came to me over lunch and said, “This ministry stuff is hard.” We had both planted churches at the same time. I thought little of his comment at the time until he had a nervous breakdown the next day and never returned to ministry. To this day, I wish I would’ve acted on his comment. Perhaps I could have helped prevent such a loss. I trust this illustration shows the need for pastoral accountability.

EB: In the book, you say the state of pastoral burnout can lead to the imploding in moral failure. What steps should be taken to prevent this from happening? At what point should pastors seek help?

MM: “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). A pastor needs to seek help every day through prayer and introspection to see if he is progressing in his sanctification. If he realizes he is slipping, it is time to get help. Most pastors see themselves as specialists in giving help but often struggle to receive help. It’s crucial for pastors to take a daily inventory of their hearts to help keep them refreshed in the Spirit and stay alert to signs of moral decay.

EB: After your long and faithful career in pastoral ministry, what advice would you give to someone just starting out? 

MM: My number one piece of advice is to put away all expectations. Dreaming of having thousands come to hear you preach is like believing you will win a gold medal at the Olympics. The difference between expectations and reality is disappointment. Give your expectations to the Lord since he is the One who said he would build his Church. Secondly, seek humility above personal ability.

EB: How does today’s cultural climate, with all its vitriol and expectations, contribute to ministry burnout? 

MM: I believe the internet [can be] the greatest tool of the enemy’s attack. Social media has put many pastors in depression by reading about others who started a church in their basement a month ago and are now renting a 2,000-seat auditorium. Vitriol is not at all pleasing to Christ. I have never been on social media, and suppose it can be used for good, but I know many who have suffered at its hands. 

By / Oct 13

At the point in ministry where I googled “burnout,” Kyle and I were not taking weekly time to rest. For years, we consistently rejected God’s invitation to put work and ministry aside, slow down, and receive refreshment. It’s no wonder we were falling apart. When I look back at this time, I’m mortified at our pride in believing we could color outside God’s lines without consequence.

And yet, so many pastors and pastors’ wives I speak with think they are the exception to the rule when it comes to Sabbath rest. They feel guilty for taking time off, doing something fun, not answering the phone, taking a nap, or going on vacation. Some don’t even entertain the idea of time off because they feel (or perhaps want to believe?) they’re essential or irreplaceable within their church. Some don’t want to face imagined criticism from their congregants. Some wives are waiting for their husbands to take the lead in this area, and some husbands are being pushed by their wives to work harder or to “fix” the problems she sees in the church.

But what does God say? He doesn’t simply invite us to rest; he commands it. He indicates that life and ministry will go better for us and be more fruitful if we stop work and rest at regular, consistent intervals. There must be no guilt in obeying what God has commanded; guilt only indicates a false belief or idol. And even if someone in the church doesn’t fully understand, the example of saying no and observing a Sabbath rest is in itself a powerful sermon about first allegiance and being a biblical and healthy disciple of Jesus.

How we choose rest 

I’ll share with you what we do to receive God’s gracious gift of Sabbath rest, but it is in no way prescriptive. The way we rest has shifted according to our season of life, our children’s ages, and our work. We’ve experimented with Kyle taking different days of the week off and with what we do on those days until we’ve found a rhythm that works for us. Currently, we have three boys in school, so Kyle takes Fridays off. Fridays are sacred days in our home. He and I don’t do household chores, check email, answer our phones (although Kyle does check his caller ID, in case it’s an emergency), or cook. Instead, we often go out for breakfast, take a long walk together, read, and nap. Sometimes we drive to a nearby town and window shop or play tennis in our neighborhood.

When our children were younger, we’d switch off doing activities to recharge as individuals. He would take the kids for a long walk, giving me time in the house by myself, or I’d keep the kids at home while he’d go to a coffee shop to read a book unrelated to work. We’d also save up our credit card points so that once a year or so we could send each other off to the nearest big city for a stay in a hotel and a personal retreat.

It’s far more important, however, for you to consider how you rest or Sabbath than it is to consider how we do it. Your husband may be reluctant to take a day off because of the pressure he feels. How can you encourage him and help him rest?

When we first started making rhythm adjustments in our marriage and family, adding in Sabbath rest was the most uncomfortable change, because it meant letting work and ministry sit unfinished. That’s hard to do when you’ve been running at full speed for years. Common sense pushes us to finish the work and then rest, but in ministry, the work is never finished. We have to purposefully set it aside.

In addition to discomfort, I personally felt guilty on our Sabbath day. When I considered why, I recognized that I tend to idolize productivity and performance. These things aren’t bad, but when I take them to the extreme, I am acting from a belief that I know what I need better than God does. I act outside God-designed limits and set myself up for consequences later.

As Sabbath rest has become normal in our life, Friday has become our favorite day of the week. The Lord renews us, and we can see how God’s provision of rest has enabled us to endure and persevere in ministry. I no longer wonder if we’re going to make it in marriage and ministry, because we’ve carved out space to connect with God and one another.

Friend, are you receiving the care of the Lord through Sabbath rest? It is absolutely one of the best gifts he gives.

This article is an excerpt from Hoover’s new book, “How to Thrive as a Pastor’s Wife,” from Baker Books. 

By / Oct 11

We live in an age experiencing the disastrous effects of the sexual revolution. Confusion over basic concepts such as man, woman, and marriage are but the latest divergence between a culture committed to radical individual autonomy and a church committed to Scripture’s teaching. Local congregations daily face questions of gender dysphoria, same-sex unions, and on basic concepts of what it means to be a man or woman. The ERLC seeks to come alongside and assist pastors and ministry leaders to answer those questions in light of Scripture’s clear teachings with resources like these and future projects.

Below, we have given a basic theological framework from God’s Word for approaching questions of gender and biological sex. Additionally, there are some practical guidelines for churches to consider in updating their bylaws to ensure that they are afforded as much protection as possible under the law. It is our hope that at both the theological and practical level this resource will be helpful to you as you serve your congregation. 

A theological framework of sex and gender

God created you. At its most basic level, the fact that we are created by God means that we are limited by the design that God has given us (Gen. 1). Recognizing that we are created by God means accepting that we do not have absolute control over our bodies and how they are to be used (Is. 29:16). They are to be used in accordance with God’s design and purpose. When we attempt to usurp God’s design, we repeat the sin of Adam and Eve who desired to be more than just “like God” but rather to become God (Gen. 3:5). Remembering that we are created and therefore finite grounds our theology of the body and gender (1 Pet. 1:24). 

God created you with a body. Contrary to popular understanding, our bodies are inseparable from who we are. We are not souls trapped in a body (1 Cor. 6:12-20). The Christian church has long understood and upheld the worth of the body, looking at both the creation account of Genesis where God declares the world good and the Incarnation of Christ where a perfect and holy God took on flesh and blood (John 1). As Christians, we must not fall for the lie of culture that our bodies are to be changed to meet our self-perception (2 Cor. 10:5).

God created humans male and female. In the opening pages of Genesis, the author tells us that humanity was created in God’s image and created male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). We often focus on the former, but the latter declaration is just as important. The author’s description is an acknowledgement of distinction and difference between the two. Men are not women, and women are not men. Yet, we should not overplay these differences in an unbiblical way because, as the next chapter reminds us, there is nothing more like man than woman (Gen. 2). Still, those differences are there and part of God’s design. Neither is more important or carries more of the image of God, and both are necessary to fulfill the command given to steward creation and multiply. As Christians, we recognize the ways that God has designed both men and women as distinct, yet equal expressions of humanity. 

God created male and female to complement one another. The opening pages of Scripture remind us that we are made in God’s image, and that men and women are to complement one another (Gen. 1:26-27). At its most basic level, this complementarity is revealed in biology: both man and woman are needed for sexual reproduction. It also reveals itself in a range of social and relational aspects (Eph. 5:21-33). At its core, complementarity glorifies God and is a reminder that we are created, finite beings who are unable to live in existence without others (Gen. 2:18). Though our current context seeks to blur the distinctions between men and women to the point that they are interchangeable, Christians recognize that each gender has something that is distinct and special. Neither can exist without the other (1 Cor. 11:11-12). 

The Fall affects how we perceive our bodies. The effects of sin have broken every part of creation. This includes our own self-perception and understanding (1 Pet. 1:14). The presence of disorders such as gender dysphoria (when a person’s perception of a mismatch between their gender and their body causes distress) is one example of the way sin has warped our understanding. Christians must recognize that sin is able to powerfully deceive, even to the point of thinking that bodily mutilation is the way toward happiness (Eph. 4:22). In contrast, Christians must offer a word of hope and a reminder that our bodies are good gifts given to us by God, not obstacles to be overcome. 

God meets those broken by the sexual revolution with compassion and grace. We are repeatedly reminded that God has compassion for those who have been broken by sin. The pages of Scripture are filled with the story of a God who cares for those who have been deceived, abused, and mistreated by society and culture (Jonn 4; John 11). Christians must recognize that the sexual revolution has been built upon empty promises. Many people have been (and will be) left hurt, confused, and at the end of their rope, looking for hope and answers: those who were deceived to think that casual sex was meaningless, our bodies could be changed as we saw fit, and that their gender was unimportant to who they were. The response of the church is to be the same as the response of Christ: “a bruised reed he will not break” (Matt. 12:20). We offer the same grace and compassion given to us and seek to restore those who have been broken by the lies of sin. 

COMING SOON: Downloadable, printable version of “A Theological Framework of Sex and Gender” for use in your church or ministry.

The importance of bylaws 

The ERLC worked with Alliance Defending Freedom to create a resource guide for churches to update their bylaws in light of challenges related to sexual orientation and gender identity lawsuits. Below are the five areas where churches can provide clear frameworks outlining their faith and religious convictions to protect themselves so that they can continue in ministry that is faithful to God’s Word and brings about gospel transformation. You can read the entire guide here.

Statement of Faith (p.5): The Statement of Faith should serve as an encapsulation of the foundational theology of the church or organization. In addition to the usual topic of salvation, doctrine of sin, or church polity, a statement of faith should include the position of the church related to matters of gender, sexuality, and marriage. Because these issues now regularly confront churches, it is imperative that churches and religious organizations clearly put forth their belief in marriage’s foundational role in society, that it is rightly restricted only to one man and one woman, and that gender identity flows from and is inextricably connected to biological sex. 

Religious Employment Criteria (p. 11): Churches and religious organizations should strongly consider creating a religious employment requirement for all employees so as to avail themselves of the full weight of First Amendment jurisprudence. Under the “ministerial exception” churches and religious institutions are able to take religious belief into consideration when hiring and firing without penalty under non-discrimination laws. By clearly defining roles according to their contribution to the organization’s religious mission, and having employees sign the statement of faith, they can protect themselves from legal challenges.  

Facility Use Policy (p. 14): A fear of many churches is that they may be required to grant use of their facilities to couples who may wish to use them for a wedding ceremony the church would not sanction or other events. In general, churches are free to grant access to their facilities as they wish because they are private property. However, they can further protect themselves by creating a clearly defined facility use policy that identifies the religious nature of the building and restricts use of the facility to those who act in accordance to your beliefs. 

Formal Membership Policy (p. 16): While many churches have an informal process of affirming or recognizing church membership, their legal protections are increased by formalizing the process. In ideal circumstances, their written process should cover the procedures for becoming a member, procedures for church discipline, and procedures for disfellowshipping or excommunicating a member. Each of these helps to provide a legal framework protecting the church and providing clarity to members of the expectations of membership and the processes that can be expected in times of discipline. This can be especially helpful if a member objects to the church’s implementation of disciplinary measures. 

Marriage Policy (p.18): In addition to the statement of faith which clearly outlines the church’s theology of marriage, churches should create a marriage policy which outlines the parameters under which pastors, ministers, or staff will solemnize a marriage. This marriage policy may include not only a statement on belief of marriage as between a biological man and woman, but also another statement on the use of the facility for marriage ceremonies. Additionally, churches may consider adding a provision that only members will be able to use the facilities to provide a further layer of protection if the church has a requirement that members affirm the church’s statement of faith. 

COMING SOON: Downloadable, printable version of “The Importance of Bylaws” for use in your church or ministry.




Podcasts and Videos

By / Jul 18

Social media is no longer “new.” Pastors and church leaders can no longer avoid social media as some have for the better part of a decade because they thought it was a fad that would go away. In fact, it has a greater influence in many churches today than the pastors and lay leaders themselves. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Data suggests people spend at least two hours a day on social media, but people in our churches may only spend that much time in an entire week engaging in church ministries. Of course, then, social media and the vanity fair of fancies it puts in front of our faces would be more influential to our people.

Before we explore how pastors can equip their congregations to use social media wisely, let’s admit up front pastors aren’t often very good at using it wisely themselves. So, how might pastors who have corralled their relationship with social media into some degree of maturity lead their congregations to do the same? We could explore dozens of ways, but let’s look at five.

1. Model a healthy relationship with social media

No one is expected to have a perfect relationship with social media. It’s pretty much impossible. While pastors shouldn’t feel like they have to handle social media perfectly before they can talk about it with their church members, it’s wise for pastors to evaluate their relationship with social media before they start initiating difficult conversations with church members who use social media in foolish, quarrelsome ways.

Ask fellow pastors or your spouse to evaluate your relationship with social media. Maybe you’re not starting fights and cursing people out on Facebook, but maybe you scroll Twitter too much or you’ve been quietly led astray by a YouTuber’s conspiracy theories. Ask people close to you to honestly evaluate your relationship with social media. Make improvements, and then encourage your church to do the same.

2. Study social media to better understand it yourself 

I correspond with many pastors who, by their own admission, simply don’t understand social media. They confess they have held onto the mentality that “social media is just a fad” for far too long. They now see the unmatched influence in their churches, and they don’t know what to do. Of course, the best time to start studying and learning about social media was over a decade ago, but the second-best time is now.

I recently published a book called Terms of Service that explains the evolution of the internet and how we got where we are today with social media. That may be helpful for you. But read other books, too, like The Shallows by Nicholas Carr or Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now by Jaron Lanier. Those books, written by non-Christians, are helpful for understanding the social internet and how it influences our lives. Start with one of these, or all of them, and you’ll have a great baseline knowledge of social media.

3. Encourage embodied, personal community over virtual community 

I am grateful to God that livestream technologies have made it easier for Christians to participate in their local churches through the various waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I fear there are unintentional consequences of this common grace—one being some of us may decide virtual participation in the church is preferable to embodied participation in the local church. We must not value virtual church participation as highly as embodied participation.

Seeing people face to face and in person is vastly richer than consuming sermon content on the internet. Virtual Bible studies are fine, but they’re not nearly as good as getting together with men or women in living rooms and coffee shops. As you lead your churches into an increasingly virtual future, encourage the embodied experience of the local church over the virtual consumption of Christian content. Both are valuable, but the latter cannot supplant the former. We must not let it.

4. Remind church members that social media is real life

Have you ever had a conversation with someone talking about the internet and they say something to the effect of, “Well that’s what happens on the internet, but in real life . . .” with “real life” meaning “what happens offline”?

A pastor told me a story about a woman in his church who posted on one of her social media accounts that she was having a rough week, explaining in some ambiguous details what was going on. Someone from the church saw the social media post, recognized it as a possible call for help, and suggested church leadership reach out to the woman to check in with her and see what the church could do to love her and come alongside her.

When a church leader who knew the woman reached out to her, the church member responded in a rather shocking way. She was offended a church leader reached out and tried to help, citing what she posted on social media. Why was the church member offended? In short, though her social media profile was public and available for the world to see, she told the church leaders, “I posted asking for encouragement from my online community, not my offline community.” The woman also expressed, “My online life is private,” and she said it shouldn’t be of concern to anyone at the church.

We forget, like the church member in distress, who we are and what we do on the internet is as much a part of our “real lives” as what we do when we’re at church or going to the grocery store. In fact, I would argue that it’s a better picture of who we reallyare than when we are at church or the grocery store because often, how we act on the internet is how we act when we think no one is looking—even though the entire world may be able to see us.

5. Establish a culture of accountability

Finally, I want to encourage pastors to establish a culture of accountability in their churches. A culture in which it’s normal, not taboo, to get together with fellow church members and talk about how we fail, sin, and need help to become more like Christ. Social media can blind us to the ways we misuse it, and we often need guides to help us navigate how to use social media in a Christlike way. A culture of accountability in the local church makes it easier to call one another out for foolish social media activity.

Social media is at the center of our culture right now. It touches everything, and it’s well past time that the church pays attention to it and how it’s affecting the church. Because of our sin, we will not stumble into a right relationship with social media. If we hope to use social media wisely and encourage church members to do the same, we need to be intentional.This article originally appeared at Lifeway research.

By / Jun 23

In what is expected to be the highest profile abortion-related case in decades, the Supreme Court is soon to release its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. For those desiring the details of the case, you can view the ERLC’s explainer and another summary from The Gospel Coalition. At the center of the dispute is Mississippi legislation that outlaws elective abortions at 15 weeks’ gestation, an overt challenge to the current abortion legal landscape informed by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This is the first major abortion-related case since the partisan balance of the court shifted to what conventional wisdom presumes is at least a 5-4 or even 6-3 majority aligned against Roe

The unprecedented leak of Justice Alito’s first draft opinion confirmed that the stage is likely set for a Dobbs decision to significantly change the legal landscape for abortion policy, though we won’t know for sure until the actual decision is released. The policy wonks among us watch the court drama and political fallout closely. But those questions are not the most important for pastors and local churches. What if a court decision does actually make a significant change? What will change, if anything, for a local church and its approach to the abortion issue in its community? How can pastors and ministry leaders lead their churches well in pro-life ministry? 

Here are a few suggestions to guide our intra-church chatter about Dobbs and this dramatic political moment:

1. Pray. “Sure, but how?” Corporate prayer in particular is an invaluable tool for discipling church members, even on civic issues. Regarding abortion, a church has a real opportunity to lift not only the governing activity in prayer but also to enunciate the redemptive message of the gospel for those who have participated in or are considering abortion. 

The understandable temptation for any church engaging the abortion issue is to steer into one of two opposite ditches, either by emphasizing only the political and legislative issue, or by emphasizing the message of grace. The former misses the opportunity to draw in attendees (even members) to the healing message of Christ’s forgiveness and grace. The latter misses the opportunity to advance justice and love of neighbor as citizens participating in governing.

But churches can affirm both redemption and justice together, and corporate prayer is a perfect venue for doing so. Why? It’s a frequent, if small, opportunity to disciple consciences, over time, in the life of a church. Corporate prayer benefits from our attention to the presence of God, the use of biblical language, and a pastoral tone. 

Praying about abortion includes opportunities to pray across a spectrum of church interests: 

  • The personal, within the church
  • The personal, for neighbors and community
  • The missional, for the community and the church’s role in it
  • The missional, for the local pregnancy care center
  • The government, for local and national policy, and our uniquely polarized moment

2. Foster a policy aptitude that fights apocalypticism and disenchantment. There are a few ways to do this. First, anticipate apocalyptic rhetoric from partisan actors, and ignore it. In the wake of any major court decision, endless media personalities and organizations will immediately engage in “messaging” intended to influence public perception of what just happened. There are numerous reasons for that, and not all are nefarious. But much is fundraising, and fear is helpful marketing for donations. 

Pastors can anticipate the “sky is falling” rhetoric and inoculate their congregation against it. The truth about public policy ramifications is often more complicated and, frankly, more boring and slow moving than the talking heads and Twitterati allow. 

If Roe’s legacy is significantly curbed, the abortion industry’s apocalyptic rhetoric will scream about the imposition of religion, the power of “the patriarchy,” and call for “court packing.” Following the Alito draft leak, we’ve already seen some commentators and government leaders extrapolate—from that draft—catastrophic implications for other civil rights established by court precedent. Field those claims lightly.

If the final court opinion either flips, or seems like the Alito rhetoric was in anyway “watered down” from its first draft, then handwringing among some pro-lifers is inevitable. Disenchantment is caused by overestimating or overpromising what the possibilities are in any given political moment. We risk that disenchantment again, having now seen a first draft of what would always have seen future revisions. 

American politics, instead, is a long game, wherein sustainable change in governing typically happens slowly and incrementally. Even when some events seem like watershed moments, those are most often the tipping point of cultural and political trends that had grown over time.

Will Dobbs be one of those watershed moments, overturning the Roe/Casey abortion regime? Will it be a setback to the pro-life movement? Or will it be another pebble, adding weight to the pro-life cause? Thoughtful pastors can prepare their members emotionally whatever the contingency.

3. Partner with a local pregnancy resource center (PRC), if your church hasn’t already. How? Start by asking the center what they need. PRCs have long been the front lines of the pro-life movement. Highly trained staff and volunteers meet mothers, fathers, and families where they are: in the midst of their fear, when they feel like they have no one to talk to. The myth about the pro-life movement (or “the church”) only caring about babies until birth (not after) is disproven—daily—at any PRC

While PRCs often view themselves as the first responders of the pro-life community (meeting mothers in the crisis moment), virtually all PRCs provide some mixture of material and education support for their clients, long after a baby is born. That support comes in the form of everything from diapers and formula to subsidized boutiques to education in parenting and personal finance. I can’t emphasize this enough: PRCs want more churches involved as partners. They recognize numerous family and social influences occuring upstream from an abortion decision, and they see churches as key to addressing them. 

4. If your church is already partnering with a PRC, ask them what their dream support would look like, and help them reach their goals, quickly. PRCs are indeed the specialists for meeting abortion-vulnerable mothers, but they can’t do everything. PRC leaders recognize that abortion is a temptation because other things in a mother’s (and, often, father’s) life aren’t going well. Namely, they need mentors and discipleship in areas as diverse as education, language, housing, finances, and navigating nonprofit and governmental resources, as well as learning Scripture and developing spiritual disciplines. A church must be positioned to provide practical and spiritual helps, all as ministry in the name of Christ. As one PRC leader told me, “We need creative, practical, and attractive ministry on-ramps to refer clients to the church.” 

5. Don’t rely on only the PRC director to inspire your congregation into partnership. That’s not a fair burden, and here’s why: Directors desire to partner with local churches and to facilitate that partnership with education and strategy. By all means, bring them in to tell of the challenges and fruits of their work. Your people will be moved. 

But if a partnership between a PRC and its surrounding churches is going to work, the missional inspiration and institutional commitment to a partnership must first come from a church’s leadership. The PRC can deliver the how of the mission, but the why and the resources must come from pastoral leadership.

Most churches have some expression of mission into their local community. Many have multiple expressions. Think soup kitchens and homeless ministries. Think addiction recovery groups and collegiate ministries. Each of those is a ministry of outreach into the local community. Partnership with a local PRC provides a local church with yet another mission field that is ready and waiting.

Challenges abound, of course. Keeping in mind that PRC work is highly specialized and nuanced, a local church must be patient and willing to learn from the PRC. Abortion-vulnerable mothers and fathers have many reasons to shy away from church life. Simply handing off client names to an unprepared small group frequently falls flat. 

Building any kind of sustainable discipleship program requires persistent and hard work. Doing so for the sake of PRC clientele is all the more nuanced and difficult. Such a commitment from a local church takes time, dedicated and trained personnel, and funding. It’s a lot to consider. But more churches have the resources to partner with PRCs in more robust ways than are currently doing so. Is your church ready to embark on a new or amplified partnership with a pregnancy resource center in your community? 

6. Discuss within your church how the political and cultural landscape is about to change. This can and should be informed by your closest PRC. Assuming Roe is overturned, the pro-life cause is not over. We merely cross a threshold into a new era. The legal landscape is likely to be a patchwork of different abortion policy from state to state. Is your church located in a state where abortion will be outlawed? Heavily regulated? No regulation? The participation and leadership of your church on the abortion issue is likely to be shaped by how the policies develop and play out in your particular state.

As with any dramatic legal change, there will be unintended consequences. That’s not a reason to withhold celebration of a positive change in abortion policy, or express concern about fallout. Nevertheless, as citizens with a mind toward good, sustainable governance, it is worthwhile to keep our eyes wide open about how individuals and communities will react and behave in light of such policy changes in the short and long term. Court decisions are a necessary part of our governing systems. But they are not legislation.

Legislation involves negotiation, accommodation, implementation, and enforcement. All that is long, difficult work and made all the more difficult by a political environment that is heavily polarized. Pastors can help inoculate us against disenchantment once again by affirming those facts and challenges as the reality of the road in front of us.

Navigating civic (or “political”) issues in the life of a local church has always been challenging. Our current era of toxic political polarization makes things all the more complex and heated, especially with the Dobbs ruling forthcoming. But pastors and other leadership in local churches have the tools with which to disciple their people regarding pro-life issues and make a difference in their communities. Instead of placing the weight of that discipleship into a single sermon or event, try implementing some of the above ideas into the regular, mundane life of your church. Implementing these ideas over the next year may lead, by God’s grace, to more communities with vibrant pro-life ministry in the coming years that see babies saved, mothers and fathers served, and the gospel proclaimed. 

By / Oct 22

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. The observance originally began in 1992 as Pastor Appreciation Day, (the second Sunday in October) led by Jerry Frear, Jr., founder of Under His Wing Ministries. The name of the unofficial observance was later changed to Clergy Appreciation Day and expanded to include all of October as Clergy Appreciation Month.

In honor of ​​this observance, here are five facts you should know about American pastors.

1. There are no reliable figures on the number of pastors in America. In 2012 the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported that there were 600,000 clergy serving in various denominations in the U.S. But that figure included retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries and did not include independent churches that are not connected with a denomination. The Bureau of Labor Statistics​​ underestimates the number of pastors, claiming that only 53,180 Americans are employed as clergy. (There are currently 47,000 Baptist churches in the United States and its territories.)

2. The median age of an American pastor is 57 years old, according to a 2020 survey by Faith Communities Today. Although most pastors surveyed by Barna first felt a calling to ministry in their teen or early adult years, more than half (55%) had another career before going into ministry. Roughly one-quarter (26%) remains bivocational, currently holding some other kind of (paid or unpaid) role in addition to pastoring, usually for non-financial motivations like personal fulfillment or having other outlets for their gifts.

3. Most pastors seem to value the education they received at seminary. More than three-fourths (76%) of pastors surveyed by Barna say that their seminary education was a good fit for their role. Seminaries in America are also continuing to grow. According to the Association of Theological Schools, seven seminaries—including two SBC seminaries—have generated enrollment growth consecutively over at least the past five years. The schools are Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri; Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois; Shepherds Theological Seminary in Cary, North Carolina; Sioux Falls Seminary in South Dakota; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; and Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Southern’s graduate enrollment in 2015 was 2,754 and increased to 3,390 by 2020. Midwestern’s 2015 enrollment was 1,196 and more than doubled to 2,397 by last year. In the 2018–2019 academic year, SBC seminaries trained 23,818 ministers and Christian workers. 

4. A 2018 study by Lifeway Research and Guidestone found that the average compensation for a full-time senior pastor was $65,793 and the average pay compensation (salary, housing allowance, retirement benefits, etc.) was $77,979. The average compensation for a part-time senior pastor was $19,790 and the average pay compensation was $22,084. The average compensation for a bivocational senior pastor was $14,482 and the average pay compensation was $15,200. Another study of church leaders from various denominations found that about 14% of all pastors work without pay. 

5. Relatively few pastors give up on pastoral ministry. A survey of pastors of evangelical and historically black churches found an estimated 13% of senior pastors in 2005 had left the pastorate ten years later for reasons other than death or retirement. Two percent shifted to non-ministry jobs, and 5% stayed in ministry 1% one percent a year.

By / Oct 21

One day a couple of years ago, I walked outside to my mailbox and found that a package had been delivered. It contained a copy of Every Moment Holy, a collection of liturgies for attending to the presence of God in everyday life, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey and Ned Bustard. The volume contains prayers for everything from washing windows to consuming media to saying goodbye. This book has now become like a little companion to me, offering words of solace, inspiration, and edification when I need them. It was sent to me by my pastor, Dean, who has a special knack for sourcing books for the people he knows well. I suppose it makes sense that a pastor would be well suited to offer life-giving words to the people he tends to, and I have been a happy recipient of this generous gesture more than once. 

How pastoring is like keeping bees

Presently, it is Pastor Appreciation Month, and this little leather-bound book is helping me reflect in gratitude for my own pastor (for reasons more than his gift-giving skills). Inside, there is an entry entitled, “A Liturgy for the Keeping of Bees.” Often we liken the pastor’s call to his church to the shepherd’s call to tend his flock, and the Bible gives us plenty of imagery throughout its pages to draw these comparisons. After all, pastors who shepherd well do so by imaging the Good Shepherd, Christ, whom we encounter in the Scriptures. And yet for some reason, this October, I have been thinking about how maybe in some ways, pastoring is also a little like keeping bees.

As church members we often function much like a beehive, moving as the liturgy says bees do, “full of buzz and bumbling about.” Our lives are busy and industrious, and in varying degrees of faithfulness, we are on a mission. Day in and day out we labor, ideally unto the Lord but sometimes for lesser glories, and we need someone to keep an eye on us. We are delicate. We need to be kept, and we flourish when we are being faithfully tended and directed toward that for which we were made. We too can be “a small comedy of creatures . . . with our bright and varied stripes.” And, like bees, we live within “a nature now fallen and hostile,” seeking defense from that which threatens to overtake us and subvert our purposes. 

A faithful beekeeper serves the bees by tending to them, nurturing them toward flourishing so that others might enjoy the fruits of their labors and so that God might be praised for his wonderful work in creation. A beekeeper exercises dominion in cruciform, working on behalf of those he has taken into his care. And while we are much more complex beings than bees, we who follow Jesus and love his Church find ourselves in the care of pastors who devote their time, energy, expertise, stewardship, and love to us. Like bees that “harvest in the blooms” of flowers planted for their benefit, we feast on rich nectar of gospel truth and learn to thrive in spaces cultivated for our good, to give us a taste of creation as God intended. You could say that we are all being raised to live well in the kingdom. All the while, it is the beekeeper’s joy to see that his hive grows and prospers and to share the abundance of what they make together with others.

What do I appreciate about my pastor?

Speaking of abundance, what first brought my attention to this particular prayer and eventually to this metaphor was a conversation with Dean, my pastor. He had read the liturgy for beekeeping and shared it with a local coffee shop barista whom he had befriended. The barista was not a follower of Jesus, but she was a beekeeper. Dean made the connection between a vocation she pursued and how walking in that very calling reflected her status as an image-bearer of God. He offered her something more, a glimpse into truth that transcends, and deeper meaning for her life. He pointed out to her that God cares about bees and beekeepers.

I would say that this example portrays the essence of who Dean is — one who takes the time to get to know someone well by listening, taking interest, and learning to speak his or her language. He does this out of love for the people God has placed in his path. He is not perfect, but he is a man changed by the gospel, and that is evident in the way he shares Jesus, along with liturgies and laughter, with beekeeping baristas. Because he is a good pastor, he calls all the members of his church to walk in this way with him. 

So what do I appreciate about my pastor? Many things, but almost none as much as his faithful presence and wholehearted commitment to the people he knows God has entrusted to him. He does not simply keep us organized around a common mission; he feeds us with truth and works tirelessly to ensure that we have a place to gather, grow, and prepare to go out from. Even when the work is tedious, even when we swarm and sometimes sting, when conditions aren’t ideal and when he’s too tired to tend to us, he suits up and serves for the good of what is being built. He too knows and receives his place in God’s kingdom. 

How should we respond in gratitude?

How should we respond in gratitude to such faithful pastors who keep us well? 

First, let us live well in their care. May we participate in the life of the church, busy ourselves with the right things, and follow the ones guiding us to do what we were meant to do. May we also show up faithfully and labor fervently to harvest and share the abundant goodness of the gospel with those around us. Let us not grow weary or get off task, but bless our leaders by joining in purposeful service with them. 

Second, let us remember that pastors are also God’s creatures. They need to be kept, tended to, and pastored themselves. Even if we do not fill the role of pastor to pastors, may we encourage ours by praying, speaking uplifting words, inquiring of their wellbeing, and serving them as we are able. Let us be the ones they thank God for in their prayers.  

Finally, may we trust our pastors when they have proven to be trustworthy. Rather than rejecting their care or demanding it on our terms, let us humbly entrust ourselves to their leadership. As many voices clamor for our attention, we would do well to listen to the ones that proclaim words of life and truth to us over and over again. When our pastors are people who love God’s Word and his Church, let us join them and participate with joy in the life of the kingdom as we enjoy God’s presence together. 

As the liturgy reads, “Together may our co-labors resound to [God’s] praise and glory.” To the pastors who keep their churches well, thank you and bless you.

By / Oct 18

I remember the first time I was the client in a counselor’s office. I was in college and visited the on-campus counseling center as a part of a class assignment. I was in the psychology program, and my professors gave bonus points for meeting with one of their graduate students. It was a win-win; the graduate student was able to practice, and I got bonus points (which I desperately needed after that last psychopharmacology test). 

I didn’t go easy on her. I was actually the type of client that all therapists dread. I stared at the poor graduate student with a “don’t even try it” kind of stare. I gave one-word answers. She had a smile pasted on her face and panic in her eyes. I was determined to get through the session with very little information shared, and I did. 

Despite my opposition, I really could have used counseling back then. Those around me knew it — a chaplain, a coach, roommates, and even a walk-in clinic doctor recognized the signs and approached me about them. Knowing what I know now, I met the criteria for a major depressive disorder. I needed help but was determined to figure it all out on my own. 

Recognizing my own need for counseling

After graduate school, I was fortunate enough to work for an organization where the leadership set an example of caring for their own mental health by talking openly about their personal counseling experiences. It was through this open environment that I finally gave myself permission to seek help. 

The leadership in my organization modeled for me how to be gentle and honest with myself. I didn’t have to be duplicitous, as I had assumed that I did. Through the vulnerability and humility of my supervisors and my therapist, I learned that I don’t have to be perfect or always have it together. And I don’t have to completely disconnect from myself by ignoring my emotional needs, throwing myself into my work at the cost of others and myself, or by distracting myself with mind-numbing activities like binge watching television shows or eating when I’m not hungry. I learned I can press forward in my life, bringing my struggles with me, instead of disconnecting, hiding, or leaving them behind. As I acknowledged the struggle, with the help of a compassionate third party, I was able to heal the parts of me that needed healing.  

Today, in my private practice as a marriage and family therapist and trauma specialist, I carry into my office every day the very important lessons that I once had to learn. The personal healing I have experienced allows me to bring all of me into whatever I am doing. When I sit with someone who is emotional, I can bear to sit in his or her presence because I have learned to be with my own emotional pain. When I hear a hard story, I can empathize and validate their experience, whereas, before, I would have had the strong urge to fix their problem and move on, the same urges I used on myself.  We see these same strong urges in Job when he is lamenting in his suffering and his friends, unable to bear it, suggest the reasons for his suffering and offer suggestions to fix it.  

It is my desire to share the lessons I had to learn with those who share a common interest in helping others through counseling, pastoring, or the like — and equip us all to serve and live in healthy ways within our communities.

Two years of trauma takes its toll on those in ministry

Over the course of my career, I have begun to see an increase in pastors, missionaries, and pastoral counselors reaching out for counseling. The past two years we, as a society, have experienced near relentless, collective, and complex trauma and grief. Ministers have reached breaking points as the weight of the demands by society, local community, and congregation have compounded into insurmountable weight. No one has come through these last two years unscathed. In my own home state of Tennessee, we have lost pastors to suicide. 

Pastors couldn’t catch their breath from one crisis before another was upon them. Church leaders have been forced to make urgent and unprecedented decisions with no road map and guaranteed backlash. They have had to adapt how they minister, learning new technologies and public health best practices. Pastors have had to learn how to disarm internet-fueled hostility among congregation members without the training to do so. Some have lost church members to suicide, drug overdoses, and other self-destructive decisions that pastors feel powerless to stop. 

At the same time, pastors have had their own emotional responses to what has been happening in our country and the world, while also leading people through collective grief. 

Somehow, in years past, many of us ascribed to the idea that to be a Christian meant to appear perfect. As this message grew, ministry leaders have had to work harder and harder to appear as if they have all the answers and have struggled with their own issues in the dark. In doing so, they have unintentionally led the way for the congregations to do the same. This false definition of faith, along with the compounded trauma we’ve all experienced, has led many ministers to lonely places where the choices include duplicitous living, cutting off from self, isolation from others, numbing behaviors, or despondency. 

You do not have to struggle alone. The loneliest place anyone can be is in the middle of their own personal struggles while in a leadership position. Authenticity could potentially either put you out of a job or possibly create a hostile working environment. It is important to understand that counseling is not just for individuals with a mental health diagnosis. Counseling can be a place to unburden, lament, grieve, share the internal struggle, work through conflict, work on relationships within the family, or sometimes, it can be a place of confession. At the very least, it’s a place you can go, where for at least an hour, you know you are not alone.

The hope of new beginnings 

Resurrection after death is a central tenant of the Christian faith. Endings are followed by new beginnings. We see evidence of this truth in the annual “death and resurrection” of the four seasons in nature, but this truth is demonstrated most clearly in the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

We have the opportunity to see endings and beginnings with deaths and resurrections in our own lives.  When I entered counseling all those years ago, I was in the midst of suffering. I had the opportunity to recognize and put to death several grievances, hurts, and traumas from my own life. Out of that experience came a new beginning for me, and I began seeing the world and people in my life in a new and loving way. It is this hope of new life and faith in the cycle of death and promised resurrection that allows Christians to be resilient in the face of trauma and suffering.

My invitation to pastors is to slow down long enough to process all the pain and sorrow of the last few years and lament with God. It is an invitation to acknowledge, at least to yourself and to God, that you need help. Then, look for a professional in your area who can be an objective third party with some expertise in the area of your struggle. I invite you to begin honest conversations with your congregation about how someone can be a Christian and struggle with emotional and mental health issues. And I invite you to schedule a meeting with local counseling agencies or individuals about how you can work together in your community. 

Extending the blessing of care to others

It is my prayer that pastors realize that caring for their own mental health has blessings that extend into the emotional, mental, and spiritual life of their congregation. It begins by leading with vulnerability and humility, “boasting in weaknesses” like the Apostle Paul. (2 Corin 12:9)  It looks like acknowledging there isn’t always an answer to what is right, and that we can sit in the discomfort of that together without making an impulsive decision or declaration. This emotional patience demonstrates a resiliency factor found in spiritually mature individuals. Spiritual maturity can acknowledge the uneasiness in the question of why our loving God allows evil, hard things, sit in the uncertainty, and still trust and believe in the goodness of God (Job 13:15).  

The call for pastors and ministry leaders is simple, yet often hard to follow. Recognize and acknowledge your own mental and emotional pain. Do your work. Reach out and start down a path of honesty, humility, and accountability with a local counselor. Offer some of your story to your congregation, and extend to them the invitation to be honest. Connect with mental health professionals in your area, and find ways to collaborate to bring spiritual, mental, and emotional healing to your communities.  

I learned an important life lesson all those years ago when the leaders in my agency shared their own stories, talking openly about accountability and the support they needed. Their testimony opened to me a pathway that wasn’t available before — one that showed me that strong and passionate Christians can also struggle with mental health issues and what to do with that reality. A pathway that involves individual work, community work, and community support. Pastors and ministry leaders have an opportunity to introduce their congregations to this pathway, maybe for the first time, that bridges the emotional, mental, and spiritual health together. 

By / Sep 7

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

I’ve heard it said that a new father has lots of opinions and no experience, and one with grown children has lots of experience and few opinions. My oldest child is 10, so I suppose I’m halfway there. Some days it seems the only sign of accumulating experience is that my confidence about how to parent steadily drains away.

For me, in being both a pastor and a father, an unnervingly common experience is having no idea what to do. To a married couple locked in years-long trench warfare, what can I say that will not trigger a landmine? At home, a property dispute breaks out over which small human may legitimately claim this Lego figure or that half of the couch. Each makes a seemingly airtight case. Your move, Dad.

Parenting and character training 

Scripture’s instructions to fathers are simple, but that does not make them easy. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6–7).

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The charge is clear: disciple your kids.

Parents and pastors have the same mission, though their starting points and contexts differ. The business of both is making disciples. And one of the best ways you can prepare to pastor and grow as a pastor is by pastoring your children.

If you are married, desire to be a pastor, do not yet have children, and are actively putting off having children, you might want to rethink the logic of that position. Especially if you are putting off children so that you can prepare for ministry. I am not laying this down as an ironclad rule. My “might” three sentences back is genuine; exceptions exist. If you move to seminary at 22 years old, newly married, with a wife who is willing to support you financially for a time, it might be good stewardship to seek to delay children for that season, or part of it. If you do, watch out for the burdens that will lay on your wife. Still, in general and all things being equal, a man who is a father is more ready to pastor than a man who is not. Of course, the equation differs for couples who struggle with infertility, which is its own test of a man’s ability to shepherd.

Parenting enrolls you in full-time training for your character and competence as a leader.

Before I became a father, I would not have said I have a problem with anger. Raising four children has disabused me of that illusion. I am not naturally a patient person, and I would not say that prior to having children I had made any great progress in the virtue. How patient am I now? Who knows. Not as patient as I should be. But if I now have at least a small flour-sack of patience in the pantry of my character, most of it has been ground, grain by grain, by the millstone of parenting. As for competence as a leader, being a father requires you to provide, protect, oversee, manage, mediate, reconcile, teach, train, model, explain, and correct — and that’s just in the hour before bed.

Like pastoring, parenting is a weight you can never fully shrug off. Like pastoring, parenting requires you to enter into experiences that differ drastically from yours, and to bear emotional burdens that would otherwise remain remote. Like pastoring, parenting plugs you into all the high highs and low lows of lives other than your own. Parenting at once shrinks your world and vastly expands it. Children change you in ways you did not know you needed to be changed.

Like church members, children have eagle eyes for inconsistency and hypocrisy. Like church members, children are far more likely to do what you do than do what you say. As James Baldwin wrote, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”1James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (orig. pub. 1961; repr., Vintage: New York, 1993), 61–62. 

Discipling your children 

How can you pastor your children? 

Continually teach them God’s Word. Lead them in family devotions. Short, frequent, and flexible is better than idealistic and inconsistent. Over the years, our family’s approach has steadily morphed. We started with story Bibles, memory verses, and children’s catechisms. We have memorized short psalms and longer chapters of Scripture. Over the past few years, we have focused on simply reading Scripture sequentially, followed sometimes by brief discussion, and more regularly by prayer based on the passage. Sometimes, the older children and Kristin and I take turns reading and praying aloud; often, I simply lead both. If we have time, we sing a verse or two of a hymn. 

We have found that breakfast offers the most regular window for our main time of family worship. Our kids tend to be fresher and calmer at breakfast than they are at bedtime. For at least a few minutes while they eat, they are a captive audience. And ministry obligations virtually never pressure our breakfast window, whereas they often compress our evenings. My point is not to say you should do what we do, but simply to get your wheels turning. When it comes to family devotions, just about anything is better than nothing.

Finally, attend to your children individually. Learn their temperaments, tendencies, and typical temptations. Convert your knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses into compassion. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13–14). Learn to adapt your counsel to their constitutions. As much as you can, as often as you can, give each of them your undivided, delighted attention. Learn to love what they love because you love them. 

One wise father of several grown children recently told me that, when his kids were growing up, he wanted his attitude toward each of them, and the quality of time he spent with them, to convince each of them that they were his favorite.

Content taken from The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring by Bobby Jamieson, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.

  • 1
    James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (orig. pub. 1961; repr., Vintage: New York, 1993), 61–62.