Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to Grow a Church

The following is excerpted from Shepherds Balm, a devotional tool for pastors by Richard Earl available now at www.shepherdsbalm.com.

Anyone who has been involved with church
planting or revitalization on any level knows
what a gargantuan task it is to plant and grow a
young church or to renew an old one. The
handbooks for how to do it are as the sands of the
sea, but the multiplicity of contexts for this
missionary work makes them only marginally useful.

Likewise with church transformation. The task of
taking a church from stagnation to genuine life is
herculean at the least. A bit of simple and sound
advice and encouragement according to Biblical
patterns is welcome indeed.

I found such help in the timeworn and humble
pages of Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary and
it has helped clarify my vision. Here is what good
Brother Henry said in his commentary on Acts
Chapters 1:12-14:
“A little company united in love,
exemplary in their conduct, fervent in prayer, and
wisely zealous to promote the cause of Christ, are
likely to increase rapidly.”

It is a pattern to follow, forged out of decades of
fruitful ministry experience. There are exceptions to
this rule, it is not hard and fast. Love, holiness,
prayerful, zealous and united we must be or we fail
to imitate our Master Jesus, and have no right to
expect He will want to see our model duplicated or
our influence expanded.
— Richard Earl with thanks to Matthew Henry

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. Acts 1:12-14 (NKJV)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Toiling in Obscurity

The following is excerpted from Shepherds Balm, a devotional tool for pastors and Christian leaders published August 2010 and available at www.shepherdsbalm.com

Why does God test those he calls with a
time of obscurity before he entrusts them
with their missions? Could it be that he desires
relationship before service? If we were to get our
commission right from the start, we'd never have
time to get to know God as a person, would we?
We'd be busy working...

Relish the times of obscurity. You may wish for
them when you've been commissioned and the busy
days come.
Be flattered if God “puts you on the shelf” for
awhile. He just wants to get to know you as you
before he knows you as his worker. You the person,
with your fancies and foibles, with your delights and

God seems to love obscure pastors. After all,
there are so many of us! Like most pastors, we don’t
have “big names,” aren’t famous, and are in no
danger of becoming so. This is quite in keeping with
the way God loves to operate, employing ordinary
people, the weak, the foolish, the obscure—as
vessels and channels of His blessing to men. Finding
joy in our seeming obscurity is a secret storehouse
few enjoy.

Indeed, obscurity in ministry has its challenges.
There is generally a lack of resources- talent, money,
personnel. There are traditions we may neither
understand nor agree with. There is often a lack of
vision as the people see no point in dreaming as they
are content where they are.

The pastor in obscurity is also at risk of
depression as results and affirmation can be hard to
come by. Similarly, there are many temptations
which we must be on guard against. It is easy to take
on a dictatorial stance as there may be few whom we
can share the leadership load with. We can often fall
into the habit of laziness because of the lack of
accountability. Then there is the tendency to envy
larger churches with more influence and resources,
or to imagine they must be using methods filled with
compromise to fill their pews.

Finally, there are great benefits in ministry in an
obscure place. The sense of community is generally
stronger and more organic. It can be easy to observe
real visible change not only in the church, but in the
community in a small amount of time. We also enjoy
greater accessibility to public officials, local media,
the business community and school systems. There is
also freedom to experiment- lower cost and risk.
— Richard Earl

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering,
no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world
uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and
polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good
living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving
Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be
proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be
living proof that I didn't go to all this work for
nothing. Even if I am executed here and now, I'll
rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith
that you make on Christ's altar, a part of your
rejoicing. But turnabout's fair play—you must join
me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don't feel sorry
for me.
— Philippians 2:14-18 (The Message)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Religious Shopkeepers

The following is an excerpt from the recently published Shepherds Balm devotional for pastors. Copies may be acquired at www.shepherdsbalm.com

American pastors are abandoning their posts,
left and right, and at an alarming rate.
They’re not leaving the churches and getting other
jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their
names remain on the church stationery and they
continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they
are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have
gone whoring after other gods. What they do with
their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t
the remotest connection with what the church’s
pastors have done for most of 20 centuries.
The pastors of America have metamorphosed into
a company of shopkeepers, and the shops to keep are
churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeepers
concerns – how to keep customers happy, how to
lure customers away from competitors down the
street, how to package the goods so that the
customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They
attract a lot of customers, pulling great sums of
money, develop splendid reputations. It is still shop
keeping; religious shop keeping, to be sure, but shop
keeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the
fast food franchise occupy the weak minds of these
entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind
of success that will get the attention of journalists. “A
walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says
Martin Thornton, “but what most communities
really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that
they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be
discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be
emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”
The biblical fact is that there are no successful
churches. There are, instead, communities of
sinners, gathered before God week after week in
towns and villages all over the world. The Holy
Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In
these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is
called pastor and given a designated responsibility in
the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep
the community attuned to God. It is this
responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.

— Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, pp. 1-2

Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
— 2 Corinthians 2:8 (NKJV)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What the World Wants

The following is excerpted from Shepherds Balm by Rich Earl, a dynamic pastors 52 week devotional tool.
Copies may be obtained at ShepherdsBalm.com for $9.99 plus $2.75 shipping.

When the Good Shepherd appeared in
Galilee, the contrast between him and the
other shepherds was perceived at once. There was
sympathy in Jesus’ tone and gentleness in his touch
which proved at once that he was with the people in
their sorrows and upward strivings. The chief
trouble with the modern church is that in too many
localities it has lost contact with the life of the town.
It is out of touch with the souls of men in their present
perplexities and needs, and hence it cannot
influence them.
The impression is abroad that Christianity is a
pretty speech, a bit of idealism, a lovely dream, a
stanza of poetry, a piece of Sunday acting, something
that the preacher can say by rote, and to which the
saints can say, “Amen”; and not a sober, serious,
week-day life. What the world most wants today is
shepherding. The world has many comforts, luxuries
in abundance; what it lacks is love. Love cannot be
satisfactorily expressed to our generation in printer's
ink, in evangelistic appeals, in pulpit eloquence, or in
doctrinal statements. The expression which the
world now demands is the love of the shepherd who
takes the lambs in his bosom, who gently leads those
who have their young, and who day by day lays down
his life for the sheep.
A genuine Christian is the only epistle which the world now
cares to read. Multitudes care little for worship, less
for church polity, still less for creeds, nothing for
traditions and ceremonies. Character is everything.
Shepherding work is the work for which humanity is
— Charles Jefferson, The Minister as Shepherd, pp.

“ I'll set shepherd-leaders over them who will take good
care of them. They won't live in fear or panic anymore.
All the lost sheep rounded up!” God's Decree.
— Jeremiah 23:4 (The Message)

Praise for Shepherds Balm

There is early praise for the new Shepherds Balm pastors devotional tool.

"Richard Earl has crafted an eloquent collage of prose and poetry, images and journaling space, to soothe a pastor's soul and heal emotional wounds—in short, a first-aid kit filled with psychological and spiritual supplies that help pastors stay fit while tending the Lord's flock." Dan Montgomery, Ph.D., Psychologist, author of Pastoral Counseling & Coaching

"In 'Shepherd's Balm,' Rich Earl is serving up for pastors some wise and soothing words for Monday mornings. Combining devotional thoughts from some of the greatest Christian minds and hearts in the past few centuries with some original insights of his own, Rich is offering just what the doctor ordered. I believe every pastor will benefit from all 52 doses." Paul E. Grabill Lead Pastor State College Assembly of God

“It will bless and challenge every pastor who reads it. It will help them face and solve many of the problems pastors face today. I recommend it highly.” Stanley M. Horton, Th.D. author

"Some volumes tell stories that make you laugh or entertain, some provide information or increase awareness of the world, and some challenge the mind. Shepherd's Balm is a work for the pastor's soul. It will inform, challenge, and reveal the condition of the shepherd's heart, then invite reflection to apply what the heart has sensed the Spirit saying to the follower of Jesus who longs to be a faithful under-shepherd to the flock of God. With the assistance of many classic authors, Pastor Earl has captured so much of the truth essential to the life and ministry of one called to serve the Master." Stephen Tourville District Superintendent- PennDel District of the Assemblies of God

Place your order now at Shepherdsbalm.com or visit Ebay for a signed copy.

Shepherds Balm copies now available!

Of all the wonderful devotional books written over the years there are few that appeal specifically to the minister of the Gospel. Pastors are a unique group and need devotional food that is adapted to their position and calling.

In answer to that need, Richard Earl has developed an amazing collection of 52 profound thoughts for the “Shepherds of God’s Flock”, intended for use on Monday mornings, when the pastor’s spiritual fuel tank is sometimes low.

Sure to be a perennial favorite with readers, Shepherd’s Balm also contains many great and unusual quotes, some with sharp images to inspire and challenge. Space for journaling and interesting exercises make this a well-rounded tool for private devotions, or for church staff or Christian non-profit staff devotions.

Drawing from authors both old and new, this substantial collection of short devotions (it runs over 250 pp.) covers many areas of ministry and speaks in a voice that only the pastor or Christian leader can fully comprehend. Styles range from the traditional to the missional and everything in between.

Meet again or for the first time: Charles Spurgeon, DL Moody, Oswald Chambers, EM Bounds, John Bunyan, Eugene Peterson, John Piper, Margaret Feinberg, Richard Baxter, Reggie McNeal, Andrew Murray, J. Wilbur Chapman, Mark Buchanan, Bill Easum, Francis Schaeffer and many more. Some you have never heard of and you will quickly wonder why. Drawing from his 27 years of ministry experience, Earl has also written eight of his own entries that hit the mark squarely.

Earl seems to recognize the current hunger for material that addresses the new challenges being faced by emerging shepherds in a world where the Gospel is finding a renewed voice. The book, however, speaks in a way that also appeals strongly to more seasoned shepherds as well. Every Christian leader should have a copy.

The book is available now and can be purchased for just $9.99 plus shipping through Kalosbooks.com. Bulk prices available beginning at quantities of ten. Signed copies can be obtained by ordering through Ebay.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The following is entry #3 from the new devotional book for pastors called Shepherds Balm by Richard Earl available from kalosbooks.com in mid August 2010.

It has been said that a good teacher will make the
complex seem simple. This is the task of the pastor
when he is in teaching mode. Making the Word and ways of
God understandable is one of the joys of ministry. CW
Slemming describes that process here.

Having reached the mountaintop the sheep are
hot and thirsty. It may be that there is water in
abundance gushing from a rock, or bounding over
rocks and making its way swiftly down the side of a
mountain: but this would not meet the need of the
sheep, they could perish from thirst while water is
abundant because they cannot drink from fast
running water. It becomes necessary for the
Shepherd to find a hollowed rock or something that
will hold water and then he will bail it from the rich
running stream into the receptacle or, if it be gushing
from a rock with his staff he will scratch a channel in
the earth from the water for a little distance and,
following the earth the water will trickle along the
channel, fill up the hollow, and so he has made a pool
of still waters. From this, and others that he will
make, the sheep drink.

Christ’s love is like torrential waters. His grace is
like a swelling tide. Who can approach the height and
depth, length and breadth of the love of God? It
passes understanding; it is beyond our
comprehension, but from it comes that life-giving
stream from which you and I find refreshment.

God’s Word, too, is like a great torrent. The depths
of its mysteries will never be fathomed, the height of
its glory never attained, the vastness of its wonders
never discovered. It is a mine never to be exhausted,
a spring never to run dry. It is the unsearchable
riches of his grace but, while it remains beyond all
human comprehension, we thank God for the still
waters of that word to which we have been led and
of which we have partaken, and we shall anticipate
the day when we shall be able to eat of the hidden
manna and drink of the fountainhead.
— CW Slemming, Echoes from the Hills of Bethlehem,

God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. — Psalm 23:1-2 (The Message)

Friday, August 06, 2010

One Blind Eye, One Deaf Ear

The following quote from Charles H. Spurgeon is excerpted from Shepherd's Balm pastors devotional written by Richard Earl and available in early August from kalosbooks.com

Having often said that a minister ought to have one blind eye and one deaf ear, I have excited the curiosity of several brethren, who have requested an explanation; for it appears to them, as it does also to me, that the keener eyes and ears we have the better. Well, gentlemen, since the text is somewhat mysterious, you shall have the exegesis of it.

A part of my meaning is expressed in plain language by Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes (7:21): “Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee.” The margin says, “Give not thy heart to all words that are spoken”—do not take them to heart or let them weigh with you, do not notice them, or act as if you heard them. You cannot stop people's tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken.

There is a world of idle chit-chat abroad, and he who takes note of it will have enough to do. He will find that even those who live with him are not always singing his praises, and that when he has displeased his most faithful servants they have, in the heat of the moment, spoken fierce words which it would be better for him not to have heard. Who has not, under temporary irritation, said that of another which he has afterwards regretted? It is the part of the generous to treat passionate words as if they had never been uttered. When a man is in an angry mood it is wise to walk away from him, and leave off strife before it be meddled with; and if we are compelled to hear hasty language, we must endeavour to obliterate it from the memory, and say with David, “But I, as a deaf man, heard not. I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.” Tacitus describes a wise man as saying to one that railed at him, “You are lord of your tongue, but I am also master of my ears”—you may say what you please, but I will only hear what I choose.

We cannot shut our ears as we do our eyes, for we have no ear lids, and yet, it is, no doubt, possible to seal the portal of the ear so that nothing contraband shall enter. We would say of the general gossip of the village, and of the unadvised words of angry friends— do not hear them, or if you must hear them, do not lay them to heart, for you also have talked idly and angrily in your day, and would even now be in an awkward position if you were called to account for every word that you have spoken, even about your dearest friend.

…Know nothing of parties and cliques, but be the pastor of all the flock, and care for all alike. Blessed are the peacemakers, and one sure way of peacemaking is to let the fire of contention alone. Neither fan it, nor stir it, nor add fuel to it, but let it go out of itself. Begin your ministry with one blind eye and one deaf ear.

Charles H Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Volume II Lecture IX

The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger,and his glory is to overlook a transgression.

Proverbs 19:11 (NKJV)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

In Praise of Plodders

The following is entry #8 from the upcoming pastor's devotional tool Shepherd's Balm by Rich Earl. The book is available by pre-order now from Kalosbooks.com

The climax of God’s redeeming grace, according to Isaiah 40:31, is found in the strength which enables men to plod. To soar like an eagle is difficult, to run like a racehorse is more difficult still, but to walk and not faint – this is the greatest feat which the power of God can enable any man to do.

Shepherds neither fly nor run. A shepherd’s work is prosaic, tedious, slow and obscure. Feeding sheep is his daily task and for this he needs neither the mettle of the racer nor the buoyancy of the eagle. He must have a genius for plodding. The clergyman who is able to trudge bravely through the years, filling the months with quiet honest work, pressing himself close upon his people and holding his people and himself close to the heart of Christ may cause little stir in the world but will make an impression which will be felt in heaven.

The farmer and preacher have need of the same patience, fidelity and pluck. The laws of the soil and the soul are inexorable and processes of growth in matter and spirit are orderly and slow. It must be hard plowing, faithful sowing, patient waiting, and skillful harvesting if the Lord of the harvest is to give a reward. A man who only prances or flies is a failure both in pulpit and field.

But this gift of plodding has not been given to all men. It is a form of genius, almost as invaluable and rare as that of the artist and poet. If a man does not possess it let them keep out of the ministry. He will be unhappy all his days and at eventide it shall be dark. The parish will be a cage against whose bars he will beat and bruise his impatient wings…repining always over imaginary races which he might have run and won.

Most of the best work done in the world is done by unnoticed toilers in obscure fields. Most of the best preaching is done in pulpits which have no halo around them in the public eye. The best sermons do not as a rule get into the papers, nor is any mention made of them by the reporters.

The most influential preachers are not those most talked about but those whose words go deepest into the consciences and hearts of men. The church can afford a few eagles and racehorses of a nobler sort, but after all the solid and enduring work must be done largely by the plodders. My friend, if you’re capable of walking without fainting, thank God and take courage. You are a person of gifts, and have in yourself indubitable evidence of the presence and favor of the Almighty. Others may astonish the nation by flying over every celebration, but at the end of the day you, having some precious seed, will come home rejoicing bringing your sheaves with you.

Charles Edward Jefferson, Quiet Hints to Growing Preachers, pp. 199-206

Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.
1 Timothy 4:14-15 (NKJV)