By Pastor Kelly Larson (Bishop Creek Community Church, CA)
In my office upon the wall, near the door hangs a picture; it is a gift I received from a friend shortly after entering the pastorate. It serves as a sober reminder of the privileged call which God has placed upon my life. It is a reminder as I leave for the day, and as I return from the battle in which I am engaged – a battle which is consuming, in time and energy, and at times, in casualties.
You see it is a simple picture, perhaps from the early 1920’s of a sheepdog, perched upon a rock formation intently monitoring a flock of sheep, perhaps thirty or so in number, in the dell below. The sheep are intently gazing to the north, the setting sun falling behind the outcropping of trees in the distance. It is a picture by R.A. Fox entitled “A Reliable Guardian.” So, why would a picture like this affect me so?
It is a reminder of the calling God has placed upon me to be an under-shepherd to the flock of Christ. It is a sober alert of the ever-present threat upon the body of Christ in our post-Christian culture, to protect the flock, from the outside, from the inside, and even from themselves.
When God called me to be a shepherd, I believe he was not looking simply for a “leader”; he was looking for a shepherd. He was not looking for a great communicator, speaker, or an orator, catalyst, strategist, CEO type who has been a part of Fortune 500, or facilitator; or even a teacher. He was looking for a pastor who could effectively handle the word of God in his communication, and walk alongside the sheep for the journey. He was not looking for a “strategist to conceptualize, implement and assign analytically synthesized congregational components conducive to systematic holiness paradigms” – once again, he was looking for a shepherd to foster a love of God and others. I am not saying those gifts aren’t useful, or that they may not eventually translate into effective shepherding, but they are not in themselves, shepherding. A shepherd shepherds.
Congregants are not simply components of a church equation, they are people whom God has placed under our care, custody and authority – to love, nurture, and grow into the image of Christ. I think of a Shepherd dog, Lydia, here in Bishop. As a shepherding dog with shepherding in her DNA, and being around livestock it was her routine to surround and motivate all able parties in her scope of influence to move toward the shepherd of the home, my friend Laura. As Laura would walk, or even when she sat Lydia herded chickens, pheasants, cattle, other dogs and yes, even toddlers closer and closer to her master. I remember she even tried to herd me closer to Laura. That was her task, and she took it seriously. Half of the time, I don’t think all those creatures even realized she was very intentional to bring everything around closer to the shepherd of the home, but she did. I have been reminded of that commission more than once, that it is my privilege as under-shepherd to move God’s sheep, a little closer to the Chief Shepherd.
“Tend my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep,” “Tend my sheep.” Taken to heart, these are some of the most sobering words of pastoral commission to fall upon any shepherd’s ears. These words of Christ to Peter in John 21:15-18 are still an unfathomable conundrum to me. The difficulty is not solely in understanding their content, but in understanding their desired conduct to affect that obedience; how I am to obey them – feeding and shepherding the sheep in God’s flock.
Somehow, I’m guessing that I am not alone; an understanding of our own great deficiencies hits us all too often. You don’t have to be in pastoral ministry too long before you become keenly sympathetic to those who have pioneered before you and decided that teaching is more the preferred calling. Or that writing is more in line with leading a serene and peaceful life. It comes as no surprise the discouraging statistics of pastoral “wreckage” strewn alongside the highway of ministry that cause some to find employment in a more secular vocation. If we were to rely on statistics alone, they are certainly against us. Suffice it to say that the career lifespan of a pastor is a challenge.
Coming out of Bible college, or the Academy, I felt that if I could just exposit the word with authority; if I could rightly divide God’s word, people would flock into the church and willfully surrender to the transformational truths of biblical teaching. Coming out of the Academy, we are naively ready to launch into virtually anything shepherding has for us.
I loved seminary, yet one thing it often fails to identify is that the sheep in the Kingdom are a very specialized hybrid-highly intelligent, at times carnivorous, and have an incredible desire to exercise their free wills. I have been lied to, lied about, maligned, ignored, gossiped about, slandered, and threatened, and that’s on a good day – what pastor hasn’t? Moses dealt with this. In Exodus, he is advocating for the sheep who God is desiring to terminate. Yet, only chapters later he is crying out to the Lord to deliver him from the stiff-neck people.
The truth is that, in our humanity, we sometimes minister to people daily who we may not particularly like so much, care for, or are drawn to. We are seeking to lead sheep who do not want to be led; to feed sheep who do not want to eat, and to tend those who by no means want to be tended to. I find it interesting how congregants want to hold pastors to some measure of biblical leadership, yet disallow themselves to be held to any measure of biblical discipleship or stewardship. So effectively, people who do not want to be taught or led, nor accountable. We are discouraged by the empty seats on Sunday rather than encouraged by the one which is filled. We have difficulty recognizing true transformational growth in the flock.
Like Moses, we ask, “Lord, why did you call me?” Sometimes we get to the point where we ask ourselves, “What am I doing?” “What am I doing here?” Or maybe, “What did I do wrong to get here?”
Like Peter we affirm our love for Christ, yet are ill-equipped to fulfill with complete integrity and faithfulness the mantle of service to the Lord and His flock.
Be that as it may, what an honor it is to be called to feed the sheep that come. Still, we know we have received a privileged call to shepherd his sheep, to walk alongside, to walk them home. But we can’t change the sheep – that is up to the Holy Spirit and the obedience of the sheep. We can’t change the culture of the church, at least overnight. So, we need to be content to change that which we can.
Maybe you are just beginning your sojourn of ministry. Maybe you’ve been on it a while, a little closer to the goal line. Maybe you’re in a time of blessing, or a time of challenge. Maybe you are in need of a little encouragement, well-intentioned souls to encourage you. Either way, The EFCA Network is intended to help you, even encourage you in your pastoral journey, and hopefully let you know that others have walked, and are walking the same terrain.
[Kelly Larson is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America. He completed his PhD in Systematic Theology at South African Theological Seminary in 2015, and he holds an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Kelly and his wife Suzanne live in Bishop, California where he is privileged to serve as the pastor to Bishop Creek Community Church. He blogs regularly at TheShepherdsPen.com.]
The Network Board is searching for stories! Who is your Free Church hero? We are mainly looking for stories of men and women who are retired from active ministry or who have gone home to the Lord.
Who inspired you? Who helped you become the leader you are? Who taught you and showed you what the EFCA was all about?
Please record a video of you telling your story, upload it to google drive or dropbox and and send the shareable link to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will compile these stories into collections and post them to our blog and a video page on the site.
Many thanks to the MA members who came to the presentation and business meeting last night. It was encouraging to sense the unity and excitement in the room as we remembered our history (check out the new 4 minute video!), focused on our values and looked ahead to our new approach.
Here is the presentation if you’d like to review what we discussed. This slide shows our desire to preserve the historic values of our association.
Here is the packet we handed out if you’d like to look over the details of the change.
These slides show the primary points we are changing:
Please welcome our two new board members:
Here’s what’s coming in 2019!
If you are a part of the EFCA, welcome to the Network! Whether you are a pastor, missionary, chaplain or ministry director, you are the Network. We are the Network. Every time we meet together; every time we encourage each other; every time we serve together – we live out the vision for the Network!
The Evangelical Free Church is known for its commitment to the authority of Scripture and the centrality of the Gospel. The Bible is our foundation and the cross of Jesus Christ is our center. This dual commitment gives us fierce clarity on the essential doctrines of the faith and broad freedom when it comes to secondary matters.
We are a centrist movement – committed to keeping the main thing the main thing. Pastor Brian Walker of Lake Morton Community Church (an EFC in Lakeland, FL) presented this beautifully in a recent message. He said, “If we downplay the importance of doctrine and don’t draw any lines on essential beliefs we can slide into liberalism. But if we make every single point of doctrine an essential teaching we can slide into fundamentalism.”
Unity in the essentials and “dialogue in our differences” (Greg Strand) protects us from either error. There are some hills that are worth dying on such as the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the Trinity, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone. But most other theological hills are simply not worth fighting over – the age of the earth, the timing and mode of baptism, the use of the supernatural gifts, the nature of Jesus’ return relative to the Millennium, etc.
It is good for us to have beliefs and convictions on issues like this – but they are not worth dividing over. There is so much for us to celebrate that we have in common with brothers and sisters from other traditions who share our central beliefs on the Bible, the Trinity and the Gospel. Let’s make room for people with different views on secondary matters and sharpen each other with our differences. And let’s partner together with everyone we can to bring the love and truth of Jesus to every part of our city and every people group on earth!
For more on “theological triage” check out this helpful article from the Gospel Coalition (a wonderfully unifying and evangelically centrist network).
Brian preached this sermon as part of a five way pulpit swap among EFCA pastors in central Florida. Ryan Schmitz (Trinity E Free in Eustis, FL) suggested the idea at a spring pastor gathering in order to promote more prayer for one another. The five pastors chose to speak on five core convictions in our movement, including Brian’s topic of unity in the essentials. We also addressed our ultimate purpose to glorify God, our focus on multiplying disciples, our commitment to proclaiming the Gospel and our foundation in the Word of God.
WE ARE the Network. If you are a leader in the EFCA, then you are a part of our Ministerial Association. We picture our movement as a cross-shaped tree for we are Christ-centered. The leaves represent the diversity and unity of our movement as we seek to multiply all kinds of churches among all people groups on earth, yet we are One EFCA.
We thank God for the faithful servant leaders who have built sturdy and efficient structures to support the growth of our movement. District offices, the National team, Reach Global and our chaplaincy program each provide a trellis on which the EFCA vine is growing.
The Network is the root system of our movement. Thousands of EFCA leaders, overlapping, intersecting and growing together in pursuit of our common mission to glorify God as we multiply transformational churches among all peoples.
The Ministerial Association has always been about connecting EFCA leaders with one another for three central purposes:
The first 37 EFCA pastors formed the Ministerial Association in 1894 to protect the character and integrity of our growing movement. Definition had to be given to who was a recognized Free Church Pastor and who was not. This was tightly bound to clarity in our theology – founded on the truth and authority of Scripture and centered on the essential doctrines of the faith. And those pastors knew they would be “better together” with joint commitment to collaborate on both national and international missions.
These remain our core values as a Network. We seek to promote the EFCA culture of Biblically-grounded, Gospel-centered partnership for the building of Jesus’ church and the unending glory of God. The main way we do this is simply by encouraging leaders in what makes us “Free Church” people. This is about our identity and our ethos. It is about deepening our roots in Scripture and the Gospel and about strengthening our ties with one another. The Network is the “one anothering” of the EFCA.
If the root system of the EFCA grows deeper and wider through a strong and diverse Network of interdependent leaders the vine will flourish! That is our prayer and our plan and we give thanks to our sovereign and creative God for each leader and what you bring to the family tree!
“And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:13
In light of the fact that preaching is our Lord’s method of maturing his Church, here are nine points to help us evaluate our own sermons and to learn from other’s sermons.
By Pastor Paulo Freire
Hope Church, Wantage, NJ
Download as a word doc.
Why is the Ministerial Association Board recommending that we re-purpose and re-energize this 134 year old institution? When we have godly leaders and helpful structures in place at both the District and National level, why should we preserve (much less invest in) a grassroots network of pastors and leaders?
The simple answer: because we need each other.
Pastors need other pastors. Missionaries need other missionaries. Chaplains need other chaplains. Ministry Directors need other Ministry Directors. Just as believers need one another to encourage and stir each other up, so leaders need each other. And with leaders, the stakes are that much higher.
We’ve all seen the carnage that comes from a high profile pastor or leader who falls into sin. That is the result of disconnection and lack of accountability. The same thing happens all over the country every day in smaller churches and ministry settings – it just doesn’t make the news.
I’ve only been in ministry twenty years but my number is at least that many who were once in ministry and now their marriage is over or their kids won’t talk to them or their ministry is ruined or all three (and more sometimes). The best case, sadly, is the ones who had the sense to drop out of ministry before those other outcomes resulted.
Praise God for our Recovery Church Ministry! Dozens of EFCA leaders have found hope and experienced healing through this proactive process. Two of many reasons we believe it is important to our movement to re-energize the MA is to support Recovery Church financially (it’s one of the primary items in our budget) and to mobilize peer-to-peer relationships among leaders that will reduce the need for this recovery ministry over time.
Why does the EFCA need a Network of leaders? Because we need each other. As leaders, we need to encourage, connect with, exhort, support, partner with and counsel one another. Yes, this happens in our Districts. Yes, the National office is intentional about caring for us. But the Ministerial Association is our network. It is our way of standing together – of committing to each other.
Because we need each other.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 suggests that people are the combination of Intelligence Quotient, personality and emotional intelligence (E.Q.). I.Q. and personality are established and unchangeable. E.Q. can grow and develop. Bradbury and Greaves argue, therefore, that we should focus on increasing our emotional intelligence to better our lives and become more successful.
Their book is insightful and helpful largely because it is so simple. By improving your self-awareness you can manage your strengths and weaknesses better. Similarly, by growing in social awareness you can manage your relationships better. It’s one of those books you read and then wonder why you didn’t read it long before, like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or Strengths Finder 2.0. Each chapter includes over a dozen practical, doable suggestions to grow in that quadrant of your E.Q.
As I read the book it struck me how perfectly this model of growth fits with Christian discipleship. If you place the Gospel at the center of the matrix, it changes from a self-help book into a handbook for total life transformation.
Accurate self-awareness should lead a person humbly to the cross of Jesus Christ to be forgiven. Experiencing the grace of God and becoming a new creation in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, provides the power for the believer to manage him or herself in line with God’s will. Similarly, clear social awareness – sensitivity to the needs of others – should lead us humbly to the cross of Jesus Christ to receive His power and direction for ministry.
So there it is: Gospel-centered Emotional Intelligence. Humble self-awareness that leads to conviction of sin and a life of confession and repentance connects the believer with the life-transforming power of the Gospel to live a holy life of wholehearted devotion to the Lord. Likewise, a heart filled with the love of God for hurting and broken people, when shaped by the cross of Christ produces a fruitful life of service and mission.
by Pastor Darin Anderson (Oakwood Community Church – Tampa, FL)
Thank you for serving the Lord Jesus Christ as a pastor in the Evangelical Free Church!
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6
On behalf of the Ministerial Association of the EFCA (your fellow pastors), we are pleased to present you with a complimentary copy of Evangelical Convictions. This insightful exposition of our statement of faith will stir your heart to worship the Lord while helping you better appreciate and more effectively proclaim the gospel, which is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
We have asked your District Leadership to deliver this gift to you, and are sincerely grateful for the missional partnership we have with our District and National staff as we labor together to “multiply transformational churches among all peoples,” for the glory of God.
This letter is an appeal from the five EFCA pastors currently serving as the Board of Directors for the Ministerial Association – the grassroots network of EFCA Leaders that exists to encourage pastor-to-pastor relationships. The primary strength of our movement comes from our personal connections with one another, both locally and nationally. Consider this an invitation to more fully engage in the movement of which you are already a valuable part.
We thank God for you and consider it a privilege to labor with you in His harvest field. May the Lord richly bless you and your loved ones and may your ministry bear much fruit as you preach the gospel and make disciples.
“Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:15-16
For the glory of God and the advance of the gospel,
Your MA Board
[This is a letter from the MA Board to encourage young or not-yet credentialed pastors to pursue a ministry license on their way toward ordination (if appropriate). It will be delivered by District Superintendents along with a complimentary copy of Evangelical Convictions to facilitate the process.]