My Most Reliable Ministry Tool: Keeping My Mouth Shut

In a world of noise, people need us to listen with God’s ears.

My Most Reliable Ministry Tool: Keeping My Mouth Shut

I was only 21 years old when a family asked if they could meet with me to discuss how their marital difficulties were affecting their teenage daughter and son. At the time, I had “pastor” in my title, but I wasn’t yet married and certainly didn’t have any children.

As I read the email, I wondered why they contacted me. I was part of a large staff that included people with titles such as “care pastor.” Surely others were more suited for a job like this. Yet they had emailed me. What wisdom could I possibly bring to such a situation? What would I say? How could I help?

Lending an Ear

When I feel like I have nothing to bring to these moments, I remember my ears. They are, without question, the most valuable asset in pastoral ministry. I cannot tell you how many times I walk away from counseling sessions or visiting someone without having said much at all, yet feeling like I have given them the attention their problem deserves. So often what people need is to be heard with great effort.

This is what I decided to do when that couple finally came to the church to meet with me. As they explained their situation, all I had were my ears. I gave them my full attention, I asked them questions to clarify, and I sought to truly understand their situation.

A moment from the meeting sticks with me to this day. As the husband was sharing their situation, he said, “I guess now that I’m talking about it, I’m realizing how much I’m at fault.” He looked at his wife with tears in his eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he said. I hadn’t said a word.

When I meet with people, I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to give them my mind by providing a great, theological answer. Or I worry I won’t be able to give them my heart by articulating deep empathy. These can be difficult parts of me to bring to the table. But my ears are always available, even though I often forget how valuable they are.

Pastoral counseling is dynamic, and each meeting is unique. Many meetings require me to speak with great conviction. Some meetings require me to speak a lot. But I’ve never regretted listening and I often regret speaking.

Our world is crowded with attention-grabbers. Everything in your phone is working to monopolize your eyes and ears. Our work demands our attention. Our families seem to never get enough of it. In a world of noise, listening—true, active, humble listening—is the powerful ministry of the Father in which we get to participate.

God’s Focused Attention

We know that God hears our prayers—at least, we say we know this—but have you ever considered what it means that he listens? Think about your friends who you would describe as particularly good listeners. People hear you all day long, but there’s a kind of presence a good friend gives you that cannot be replicated easily.

They sit with their eyes focused on you, their posture is active, and they’re not checking their phone or darting their eyes across the room as you speak. To assure you they are picking up everything you say, they nod and sometimes repeat your phrasing or mimic your emotions. Their face changes, their head tilts, and they laugh before you can. They’re right there with you. As you think through these traits, you might be thinking about how rare it is to find a good listener.

In a world of noise, listening—true, active, humble listening—is the powerful ministry of the Father in which we get to participate.

God, the almighty creator, is a tremendous listener: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Ps. 116:1–2, ESV, emphases mine).

“We are surrounded by noise,” wrote Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder. “The world is a mob in which everyone is talking at once and no one is willing or able to listen. But God listens. He not only speaks to us, he listens to us. His listening to us is an even greater marvel than his speaking to us. … Our feelings are taken seriously. … We acquire dignity. We never know how well we think or speak until we find someone who listens to us.”

Unsure of what we want from God, our prayers are often more rambling than refined. We stumble to put together words. We murmur in the dark and try to thread together the scattered thoughts from our day. Meanwhile, God is listening. He is attentive. He reacts.

Upon the first sin in the garden, God did not blast heavenly rage at the human beings. Rather, as a good listener, he asked questions: “Where are you? … What have you done?” (Gen. 3:9, 13). God is the one who, when the people of Israel “groaned because of their slavery” and “cried out for help,” took the time to listen: “God heard their groaning” (Ex. 2:23–25). After God inquired in the garden, Adam and Eve were exiled; after hearing Israel’s groans in captivity, the Lord began his rescue. Both the acts of banishment and redemption started with God’s posture of listening.

How does it change your prayer life to know that God not only hears your prayer but listens to you? How might it change your ministry?

You might have the same response as the psalmist: “Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Ps. 116:2, ESV). This word inclined can also be translated “bent down.” It brings to mind a mother getting eye-to-eye with a child or a father bending on one knee. God is directing his gaze toward us, inclining his ear. He is not preoccupied nor is he busy. God has never found himself without time. He will never be distracted. God’s great power is often expressed in his rich attentiveness to the entirety of creation. When we know God is not simply tolerating our prayers but engaging with them and responding at his discretion, our attention will focus. We will, in turn, say with confidence, “The Lord has heard my plea” (Ps. 6:9, ESV).

Remarkably, pastors and spiritual leaders have the opportunity to image the listening God to people: We get to “incline” our ear to them and “hear their cry.” We get to show them the full attention God is already giving them, which just may bring them healing.

A Unique Kind of Ear

Sometimes it’s healthy for us pastors to think of ourselves as just like other people. But in other situations, it’s equally important to remember how people see us differently than they see everyone else. I loved the innocence of young students I would pastor when I worked in youth ministry: One student called me “the Jesus guy.” People often place us in a unique category.

Because of this, we have the potential for great good and great evil. Pastors can be dangerous; as a mentor told me a long ago, “In ministry, we are messing with peoples’ lives.”

Nevertheless, through our strange and unique position, we have a rare opportunity. If we listen before we speak and give people our undistracted attention, we give them something other listeners cannot. As much as I’d like to think, I’m just a friend listening, that’s not the way many people see me. When someone’s pastor listens to them, they feel God listening in too. When a pastor does not listen, talks over them, or over-explains their feelings, they sense God might do the same.

I’ve been a non-denominational pastor for over a decade. Because I do not wear vestments and people rarely call me “Pastor Chris,” I can forget the power I hold: the power for tremendous grace and tremendous harm. If pastors can use this power like God does by inclining our ears, we can participate in a radical ministry of healing.

Our dignity is often restored by a mere human listening to us; how much more so if we have God’s heavenly ear bent toward us? As a pastor, I get to see firsthand the healing work of listening, and moreover, I can join in that work with the Spirit’s help and power.

Chris Nye is a pastor, writer, and sometimes professor living in Silicon Valley with his wife, Allison. His latest book is Less of More: Pursuing Spiritual Abundance in a World of Never Enough.


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Died: Warren Wiersbe, Preachers’ Favorite Bible Commentator

The prolific author and pastor taught Christians how to “Be” in the Word.

May 3, 2019 by CALEB LINDGREN

Died: Warren Wiersbe, Preachers’ Favorite Bible Commentator

Bible teacher, pastor, and preacher Warren Wiersbe died Thursday at age 89, leaving an impressive legacy of teaching, preaching, and mentoring countless pastors. Through his lessons, broadcasted sermons, and over 150 books, he resourced the church to better read and explain the Bible.

In a tribute, grandson Dan Jacobsen recalled how pastors often tell him, “There’s not a passage in the Bible I haven’t first looked up what Wiersbe has said on the topic.”

Wiersbe described himself as a bridge builder, spanning the gap “from the world of the Bible to the world of today so that we could get to the other side of glory in Jesus,” according to Jacobsen.

Of all his many writings his “Be” commentary series is his most well known and well loved, including books like Be Loyal (Matthew), Be Diligent (Mark), Be Compassionate (Luke 1–13), Be Courageous (Luke 14–24), Be Alive (John 1–12), and Be Transformed (John 13–21). Wiersbe sawhis love of expounding the Scriptures as a gift that God had given him for the sake of others:

Writing to me is a ministry. I’m not an athlete, I’m not a mechanic. I can’t do so many of the things that successful men can do. But I can read and study and think and teach. This is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God. All I’m doing is using what He’s given to me to teach people, and to give glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

His wisdom and teaching has left an indelible mark on countless pastors and Christian leaders.

Jerry Vines, Baptist minister and two-time past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, remarked on Twitter that “so many things I did were birthed by Warren Wiersbe.” Remembering his “great mentor and friend,” Vines said Wiersbe “is the man who taught me how to expound the Word of God.”

Daniel Darling, vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also spoke of Wiersbe’s influence: “Wiersbe had a formative influence on me as a writer and pastor. A long full life of service to the church.”

“Giving thanks for the life of one of the great preachers of our century, Warren Wiersbe,” tweeted Barry McCarty, professor of preaching and rhetoric at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “So many close friends who have influenced me deeply were mentored by Wiersbe. We owe him much.”

In addition to a prolific writing career, Wiersbe—who came to faith after hearing Billy Graham preach at an early Youth for Christ rally—was also involved in parachurch and pastoral ministry for much of his life.

Wiersbe served as director of Youth for Christ’s literature division and editor of Campus Life magazine, in addition to his work with groups such as the Slavic Gospel Association, Child Evangelism Fellowship, National Religious Broadcasters, Christian Booksellers Association, and Back to the Bible.

He received ordination from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, in 1951 and held pastorships at Central Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana (1951–1957), Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky (1961–1971), where his Sunday sermons were broadcast over the radio as the “Calvary Hour,” and the historic Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, IL (1971–1980), where his sermons were broadcast on Moody Radio as part of Moody’s “Songs of the Night” national radio program.

While at Moody Memorial, Wiersbe was a regular contributor for Moody Monthly, writing the “Insight for the Pastor” column giving practical ministry advice as well as brief biographies of famous individuals from church history. He also taught classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School during his time in Chicago and developed curriculum for a DMin preaching course titled “Imagination and the Quest for Biblical Preaching.”

Another important aspect of his time in Chicago was mentoring young pastors, among them an up and coming preacher named Erwin Lutzer, who would succeed Wiersbe as the senior pastor at Moody Memorial after Wiersbe left in 1980. In a tribute to his mentor, Lutzer recalls that Wiersbe was always gracious with his time and cared deeply for the ministries of the pastors he was mentoring and the city where God had placed him:

He always had time for us; he always made us feel as if we were the important ones in the room; it was never about him but always about us. How I still remember him closing his books on his desk when we entered, sitting back, welcoming us, eager to discuss how our ministries were doing. We talked about the challenges of the city, the challenges of shepherding people, and the pressures of time for sermon preparation, etc. Then we would find some hidden room in the church and intercede for the needs of the city and the great need for a revival such as was experienced during the ministry of D.L. Moody.

In 1980, Wiersbe and his wife Betty and their family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Wiersbe took a teaching post at Back to the Bible Radio Ministries and from 1984 to 1990, he served as General Director of Back to the Bible. During this time, Wiersbe also wrote regularly for CT and its sister publication Leadership Journal (read an excerpt here).

Wiersbe amassed a prodigious library during his lifetime, so much so that when they were house-hunting in Lincoln in 1980, ahead of their move to Back to the Bible, Betty told the realtor, “We are looking for a library with a house attached.” Wiersbe chose to leave his collection of around 14,000 books to Cedarville University as a part of the Warren and Betty Wiersbe Library and Reading Room.

Wiersbe became writer in residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1995, where he also was appointed Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

Author and pastor Michael Catt said of his friend via Twitter: “My heart breaks but heaven rejoices in the homecoming of this great man of God.”


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Fundamentals for Pastoral Ministry

There needs to be a shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach.

by Matt Rogers

Fundamentals for Pastoral Ministry

Last week we discussed the necessity of certain missionary fundamentals for kingdom disciples. Much like the basic skills of any sport, those committed to living and loving like Jesus must return to the fundamentals of faith-fueled prayer, intentional relationships, and Jesus centrality. Repeated daily, these habits are the baseline for the work of church planters, missionaries, pastors, and everyday disciple-makers. Any hope of sustained movement in North America depends on the cultivation of these fundamentals among all of God’s people.

Much has been written about the role of pastors and church leaders in propelling the church outward into God’s great mission. Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian church help clarify a central leadership fundamental for pastors that must coincide with the missionary fundamentals of the church that we mentioned last week. Paul provides a job description of sorts when he says that these leaders exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

This equipping function is disorienting for many leaders who’ve been trained, or simply assumed, that the role of pastor amounted to being the resident expert on all things spiritual. In many cases these leaders have spent years thinking about refined theological ideas and engaging in intramural banter around these themes. Also, assuming the best about these leaders, many of them were elevated to a position of leadership because of deep convictions about God and His Word and consistent character derived from a vibrant intimacy with the Father.

There are expectations to this type of leader, of course. Some are unqualified, unprepared, or ungodly. Let’s leave this group to the side for the time being. The remaining leaders are the kind of people we want leading the church. They are zealous for God. They’ve thought deeply about the things of God. And their lives demonstrate a love for God and His people. Praise God for such leaders.

But there’s often still a problem. Even good leaders struggle to integrate their passionate pursuit of God with their calling to equip God’s people for ministry and mission. The parallel to sports is once again helpful: It’s one thing to know how to play the game yourself, it’s a vastly different thing to effectively coach others to do what you naturally do.

The model of a player-coach is what we’re after. We don’t simply want a coach who’s yelling at the players from the sidelines to do things that the coach isn’t also doing. No one wants to be exhorted to share the gospel by someone who clearly isn’t pursuing such a lifestyle personally. We want coaches in the church who are in the game alongside of their team—teaching and modeling for others the type of life patterns essential for kingdom-living. The shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach will require a number of competencies from current or future leaders.

Strive to Articulate Unconscious Competencies

Effective leaders have developed missional habits that come natural to them. They know how to develop a relationship with a non-believer. They understand how to turn a conversation to spiritual matters. They’ve organized their home to promote strategic hospitality. These practices are unconscious because of consistent use but they are not equally habitual for the average person sitting in church buildings each Sunday.

No number of compelling sermons is going to help the average church member move from their current reality to God’s preferred future unless they have a loving coach come alongside of them and help them take the tedious steps necessary to move in the right direction. Leaders must learn to take unconscious habits of kingdom-living and coach others to follow their pattern.

Fight for Simplicity

There’s a certain kind of simplicity that’s actually indicative of laziness, but there’s another that’s actually the mark of great wisdom and maturity. The latter group are able to scale the mountain of complexity that is theology, missiology, and ecclesiology and come down on the other side and make those great truths understandable and approachable to the broader church.

This act need not mean watered-down theological drivel. Leaders can, and must, fight to equip the saints in the great truths of Scripture in a way that their unique church context can grasp what God is saying and what they are to do with that truth. Supposedly “deep” teaching that leaves the hearer more confused than equipped might do more harm than good because it further entrenches the clergy-laity divide that posits the pastor as the necessary mediator between God and man. Simplicity counters this trend and helps the church see the commonality we all share in the work of kingdom living.

Discover or Develop Fundamental Tools

Leaders have a basis understanding of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We all need to know how to steward our relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading. We need help in pursuing unity with God’s people and working through conflict. We need tools to live on mission and share the gospel effectively. Yes, we can teach to these themes, but such work should be supplemented with the development of strategic tools that help God’s people establish the foundational marks of a disciple.

One such example in the Seven Arrows method for Bible reading that I’ve developed to equip the church. This approach provides the church with a simple, sticky, reproducible model for Bible reading and is a perfect supplement for a vibrant preaching ministry in the church. Leaders should either grab tools like this that already exist or work to develop their own simple and scalable methods of disciple-formation.

Teach in Action

Finally, pastors as player-coaches strive to teach in action whenever possible. They follow the pattern of Jesus who infused his daily missionary practices with sidebar conversations with his disciples. In these moments he was able to speak to critical theological matters and do so using real-life examples of success or failure. Pastors intent on equipping will strategically press themselves out of the study and take their teaching ministry on the road, inviting various members of the church into the rhythms of their missionary practices.

The return on investment of such teaching in action will likely far exceed that found in the average Sunday sermon. Even better, leaders can model the themes of their weekly teaching in the week’s that follow and practically say to the church, “Come with me and watch what it looks like to apply the ideas we considered on Sunday.” Not only would such practice hold the pastor accountable and combat hypocrisy, but it would also further instill truth in those leaders entrusted to equip.

The work of equipping is difficult, make no mistake. It’s far easier to lob truth from a distance rather than get embroiled in the messy lives of others. But such player-coaches are the types of leaders who will lead the future church in North America in whatever form that church might take.

Matt Rogers is a father of five living in Greenville, South Carolina. He pastors The Church at Cherrydale and serves as an assistant professor of Church Planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt writes and speaks throughout the United States on issues ranging from discipleship, church leadership, and missions.