A Wooden Pastoral Reflection

Dear Church Family,

This week marks my five-year anniversary as the pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church. Please forgive my reminiscing. It all began when I submitted my packet of information to the pastoral search committee in May of 2012. Then, in June, I received a phone call from one of the elders of Providence Presbyterian Church in Midland, TX. Thus began a whirlwind of a candidating process. In July, my wife and I visited from New Jersey and I preached here at PPC; by the end of the month, I received and accepted the call to be the pastor. In August, Stacie and I returned to Midland to house-hunt and then to Dallas to transfer to the North Texas Presbytery. We moved from New Jersey to Midland in September, and I preached my first sermon as the new pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church on Sunday, October 7th.

A Pastoral Philosophy of Ministry

When I interviewed with the pastoral search committee, I submitted my ‘philosophy of ministry’ for the pastorate. It consisted (and continues to consist) of three main points:

(1) Be a suffering servant – The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Therefore, Paul boasts in his weakness, rather than in his own strength. Each of us, but especially the pastor, ought to be pursuing weakness so that the power of Christ is manifested. The see-saw ethics of the kingdom tell us that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16), the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), and that God has chosen the weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:20). Many in the church, by the mere nature of his job, put the pastor on a pedestal. Therefore, the pastor ought to do everything he can to show the power of Christ manifested in his weakness, rather than in his strength.

(2) Know the manuals – Section three of the preface to the Book of Church Order reads, “The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order, comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.” A pastor should know Scripture above all and rely upon it in all that he does (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In addition, he should know our confessional documents which contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. Finally, he must know and consult the Book of Church Order for guidance in the everyday affairs of the church.

(3) Love the church – Loving the Church is a way in which we love Christ. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, he then said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). When Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, he said, “Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus so identified with his people, the church, that persecuting them meant persecuting their Lord. The things which we ought to be concerned about are the things which Jesus is concerned about, namely His people (Philippians 2:20-21).

Finding a Pastoral Fit

This milestone has also caused me to reminisce a bit about what drew us here to this church in particular. You see, in the process of seeking a pastoral call, I considered over fifty churches, and interviewed, preached, and even candidated at several. So, in addition to this church’s biblical adherence, confessional commitment, and warm hospitality, there were three basic criteria that I was looking for in a church – three criteria that I used to help determine if I would be a good fit as the pastor.

Of course, I didn’t share these criteria with pulpit committees during the candidating process; however, since being ordained in 1999, through various ministerial experiences both in the church and in the army chaplaincy, these are three things that I’ve learned are important for a pastor to consider. And, these three criteria assume that the church is doctrinally sound in its theology and practice. Here they are:

(1) A biblical view of the pastor’s role and ‘job description’: In Scripture, a minister’s role has basically two emphases: preaching/teaching (proclamation and teaching the Word, 1 Timothy 4:11-16) and shepherding (spiritual care of the congregation, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12). Of course, there are a lot of other things that a pastor is called to do; however, pastors are primarily called to be ministers of the Word and shepherds of the flock.

(2) Wise, confessional, and shepherding elders: Elders are charged to guard themselves and the flock (Acts 20:28), and there are qualifications that are peculiar to the office (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Additionally, the pastor must be able to trust the elders of the church, both personally and ministerially. Personally, the elders are usually those in the church to whom the pastor first turns for spiritual care, to pastor him. Ministerially, the pastor works with the elders in shepherding to the church. So, it’s imperative that the pastor and the elders have a mutual respect and affection for one another.

(3) Reformed and reverent worship: As the one who is primarily responsible for planning and leading the church’s worship, it’s critical that the pastor and the church be in agreement as to what worship ought to be and how it ought to be conducted. Of course, there are going to be varied preferences, but there ought to at least be some semblance of a shared commitment to a particular form of worship.

For years, I have kept a daily personal journal of activities and significant events. Before even receiving the call to be the pastor – and in light of these three criteria – I wrote in my journal that Providence Presbyterian Church in Midland, TX “seems to be a perfect fit.”

Renewed Pastoral Promises

After receiving the call to come be the pastor of this church, I sent a letter of thanks and introduction to the congregation. In that letter, I made some promises which I renew today:

For my part, I promise to guard both myself and my teaching, to persevere in the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching, and in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, to show myself to be an example of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:11-16). I will endeavor to labor among you in gentleness, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children; I will endeavor to labor among you devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly, exhorting, encouraging, and imploring just as a father would his own children (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12). As I seek to be an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, I commit to praying for each one of you and your families. Please pray for me and my family.

 

Conclusion

So, this week marks my five-year anniversary as the pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church. Most people know the big anniversaries: twenty-five is silver and fifty is golden. Well, I looked it up; apparently, five is wooden. So, consider this my “wooden pastoral reflection.”

Since coming to Midland and Providence Presbyterian Church five years ago, our family has grown (not in numbers, but in maturity); here’s a picture of our family from May 2012, just so you can see how much.  In the past five years, there have been changes in our church, as well; some members have moved away and others have joined.

As I reflect on the past five years of life and ministry, I am grateful to the Lord for bringing us to this church. I am humbled by the privilege of being your pastor, and am grateful for the love, care, and friendship that my family and I have in this congregation.

Allow me to close with how I began my letter of introduction five years ago: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Providence Presbyterian Church in Midland, Texas. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Idea of Human Nature

Dear Church Family,

In our Men’s Discipleship Group that meets on Tuesday mornings, we have begun reading and discussing the book All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture by Ken Myers. In our discussion this week, we were discussing a particular passage from the book:

Despite perennial protests over sex and violence on television, lewd rock lyrics, and pornography sold at convenience stores, evangelical Christians remain relatively oblivious to the problems associated with popular culture. This is in part because American evangelicalism has its roots in populist culture…Evangelicals have always been partial to (in fact, they may even be defined by their sympathy to) great communicators, from John Wesley and George Whitefield, to Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday, to the greatest communicator of the twentieth century: television. (22)

 

This passage and our subsequent discussion in the men’s group about American evangelicalism’s affinity, and sometimes infatuation, with personalities and celebrities reminded me of something that I had previously come across in David F. Wells’ book, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. Wells writes:

In the late nineteenth century…several important shifts occurred, the end result of which was the loss in popular culture of the idea of human nature. This came about along an entirely different route than the one the Enlightenment had taken, but the conclusion reached nevertheless paralleled the ideas of the Enlightenment. This happened in several ways. (49)

 

The Loss of the Idea of Human Nature

Wells then goes on to describe the three ways in which the idea of human nature has been lost in popular culture:

(1) The first major shift was the replacement of Virtue by values. As Wells explains, Virtue was historically defined as those aspects of ‘the Good’ that are the same for all people, in all places, at all time. As Christians, we believe that this universal Virtue is the divinely revealed moral law which is “summarily comprehended in the ten commandments” (WSC 41). Yet, even unbelievers believed in the objective Virtue (the Good) that gave life its structure and meaning. Virtue, however, was slowly replaced in the wider culture by values (personal preferences).

(2) Second, in popular culture, there was a shift from focusing on character to focusing on personality. This shift is directly related to the former one: when virtues are replaced by values, self-realization and self-expression are the desired end, not good character. No longer was inner moral fabric a concern, only how one appeared to others.

(3) The third shift had to do with how speaking of human nature was replaced by speaking of the self. Whatever peoples’ differences with regard to gender, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, or personality, it was assumed that everyone shared in human nature. The emphasis shifted, though, to speaking of one’s self-consciousness and definition of how he or she was different from everyone else. “The moral axis in life has collapsed and has been replaced by the assumption that each person must be his or her own person, must pursue one’s own uniqueness, must realize oneself, must make of oneself what one can, and must buy whatever will bring her or him to these ends.” (51-52)

So, what’s the answer?

In light of these shifts, what should Christians do? Well, as these three shifts are contrary to the assumptions of Scripture, and Scripture itself, we should resist these shifts and how they influence us and our culture. But, how do we do that? Well, I believe that there are two things that would help us immensely to live faithfully in a culture that is marked by these shifts in thinking.

First, we need to be more aware and attuned to how pervasive these shifts were. Values over Virtue, personality over character, and individual self over a shared human nature are so ubiquitous that it’s practically impossible to notice any more. That’s one of the reasons that we’re reading the book on popular culture in our Men’s Discipleship Group: to make us more aware of the ways in which our own thinking has been influenced to such an extent by the priorities of popular culture.

Second, we need to think of – and present the gospel – in a way that doesn’t succumb to these false notions of popular culture. In order to not be thought of as arrogant, we’re tempted to say things like, “For me, Jesus’ death and resurrection was the answer.” True, but actually, for everyone, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the answer.” The gospel is the good news that the Son of God died and rose again in order to forgive our sins and give us new life. That’s not merely something that I value, it’s objectively true. As Paul writes, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And, because we all share in the same (fallen) human nature, the gospel is not just for one group or kind of people; the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Conclusion

When we become more aware of how influenced we have become by these shifts in thinking, we will be better able to resist them in our own minds and gain a renewed awareness of the objectivity of the gospel itself. In turn, we will grow in our own personal assurance of salvation because we will realize that the power of the gospel is not dependent upon myself, but upon the Lord who began a good work in us, and He will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Likewise, when we come to realize the objectivity of the gospel (in contrast to how most people today think of religious convictions as subjective beliefs), we will be a better witness to the world. Not only will we gain confidence in the gospel for our personal assurance, but we will also gain confidence in the outward proclamation of the gospel to the world.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

A Call for Deacons

Dear Church Family,

Beginning on Sunday evening, October 1st, I will be teaching an 11-week officer training class, specifically designed for deacons. The class will meet each week for two hours (5:00-7:00 pm) at the church. The necessity and purpose of this class arose out of discussions at our session meetings in which we determined that our church would benefit from more deacons.

In the class, we will study our church’s constitutional documents (the Westminster Standards and the PCA’s Book of Church Order), as well as an overview of the Scriptures. The class is open to all men in the church. So, if you’re interested in learning about the responsibilities and duties of the diaconate, this is a good opportunity to do so; attending the class does not necessitate becoming a deacon. At the same time, we have a need for more deacons in our church, so if you meet the biblical qualifications, believe that you have the gifts for the office, and have a sense of calling to serve the church in this capacity, please strongly consider pursuing the office.

At this point, you may have some questions. Let me attempt to anticipate those questions and try to answer them as best I can.

What are the qualifications for a deacon?

The most succinct explanation of the qualifications for a deacon in the Bible is found in Paul’s first epistle to Timothy:

8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. (1 Timothy 3:8-12)

 

After listing some of the qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7), the Apostle Paul gives this relatively short, but extremely important, list of qualifications for the deacon. He must be a man of dignity and exhibit self-control (v 8). He must be orthodox in his convictions (v 9). He must be tested (v 10) – typically, he must be a member of the church for at least a year and begun to show himself to be able and willing to serve. And, if he has a family, he must have a reputable and well-ordered home life (v 12).

There are several interpretations of verse 11 and the interjected mention of “women” in this passage. I believe that Paul is here speaking of the wives of both elders and deacons (if they are married), who must share in the similar characteristics of their husbands, and be able to support and help those ordained to the office in their ministry.

What are the gifts that are peculiar to the office of deacon?

There are basically two gifts that are peculiar to the office of deacon. The first is the gift of service. The word “deacon” actually means “one who serves.” In the New Testament, the word “deacon” is also often employed as a verb and translated “to serve.” In fact, in verse 10 of the passage above, we have a good example of this: “These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons [literally, ‘let them deacon’] if they are above reproach.”

In Acts 6:1-7, which seems to be the first ordination of deacons, we have a good example of the ‘deacon as servant’ idea. Some of the widows were being overlooked in the daily serving (deaconing) of food, so those who were devoted to ministering the word of God said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve (deacon) tables.”

The second gift that is peculiar to the office of deacon is leadership. While the deacon has many things that he must do himself, his office is best fulfilled through organizing the gifts of the other members of the church for ministry. Consider this statement from the PCA’s Book of Church Order:

It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation. (BCO 9.2)

 

The second sentence of this paragraph highlights how the deacon is to “develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church” through the collection and distribution of gifts (money); however, this also applies to their responsibility in devising methods for organizing the spiritual gifts of the people (hospitality, service, administration, etc.). So, leadership is a key part of office of deacon.

What do deacons do?

The paragraph from the BCO quoted above answers this question. But, to put it even more simply, in our church, the deacons have three areas of responsibility: mercy ministry, finances, and church property. If you want to know more about the specifics of each of these areas, I encourage you to speak to one of the deacons in our church. In so doing, you may also find out if the deacons have need of any assistance in a particular area of their responsibilities. One doesn’t have to be ordained as a deacon in order to assist the deacons in their duties.

How do I know if I am called to this office?

In addition to being qualified and gifted for the office, there are two additional factors in determining if one is called to the office of deacon (both of which apply to the office of elder, as well). First, one must aspire to the office. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul speaks to this: “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1). Since this statement precedes, and leads into Paul’s listing of the qualifications for both elder and deacon, it seems reasonable that we may apply it to both offices. Leaders in the church (elders and deacons) ought not to serve under compulsion, but desire the office.

Second, as we mentioned above, one of the qualifications is ‘testing.’ Therefore, it is a good idea to see if one is already doing some of the things that a deacon is called to do. And, it is also a very good idea to seek the counsel of the elders of the church to get a more objective assessment of one’s qualifications, gifts, and abilities.

Conclusion

Deacons serve a crucial role in the life of the church. Both of the offices of elder and deacon are important for the ministry of the church. Elders are ordained for the oversight of the church in the ministry of the Word and of prayer. Deacons are ordained for the service of the church in the practical aspects of mercy ministry, administration of the finances, and care of the church property.

It is not as though every act of kindness must be centrally controlled by the deacons. Yet there are times when careful organization and faithful leadership are needed to enable the whole church to respond. It is also important that supervision be given to the whole body to insure that no one in distress is being neglected. It is in such ways that the deacons find their primary work. This is a work so important that it must not be neglected. Without it the preaching and teaching of the word of God will be much less effective, for then we will lack the concrete demonstrations that make the message credible before an unbelieving, but watching world. (Mark E. Ross, “The Role of the Deacons in the Overall Mission of the Church”)

 

If you are interested in attending the upcoming officer training class for deacons, please contact me right away so that I can order and prepare the necessary materials.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Book Recommendation: All God's Children in Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture

Dear Church Family,

This week, the Men’s Discipleship Group has begun reading the book All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture by Ken Myers. This week we’re just reading the introduction to the book, so it’s not too late to join us on Tuesdays at 6:30-7:30 am for breakfast and our book-discussion.

All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes was first published in 1989, but has since been republished in 2012 with a new introduction by the author. In the original 1989 introduction, Myers gives his main premise of the book:

In this study, I have tried to make the case that popular culture’s greatest influence is in the way it shapes how we think and feel (more than what we think and feel) and how we think and feel about thinking and feeling.

 

In this statement – and in much of the book – Myers is emphasizing the truth of Marshall McLuhan’s insight that “the medium is the message.” That is to say, the offensive content of popular culture (e.g., language, violence, illicit sexuality) have blinded many people – including Christians – to the often more subtle, but equally dangerous, forms of popular culture.

We are often unaware of how the medium of television, movies, and the internet (including all sorts of social media) changes what we believe about truth, reality, and the inherent “givenness of human nature.” As Marshall McLuhan noted:

One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in. (Marshall McLuhan, War and Peace in the Global Village (1968))

 

Myers’ book is not a discussion about all those things that Christians might find morally offensive in popular culture. Rather, his book is an attempt to inform and instruct believers about the subtle forces of popular culture with regard to the forms that it takes. And, he tries to help us realize how those forms shape and mold us, often in ways that are contrary to the Christian faith.

For instance, in the 2012 introduction to the book, Myers cites the 2009 study by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell, Souls in Transition: The Religious Lives of Emerging Adults. According to that study, as quoted by Myers, “what emerging adults take to be reality ultimately seems to consist of a multitude of subjective but ultimately autonomous experiences.” And so, Myers observes, “According to the playbook of popular culture, all value judgments are expressions of preference.” Popular culture often subtly (and sometimes, explicitly) trains us to believe that truth is relative, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, God is just an idea, and the individual’s only authority is himself.

Conclusion

Myers’ book is not simply an examination and critique of popular culture; he also seeks to pave a way forward. Christians believe in the objective nature of truth, reality, and the divine givenness of human nature (that God is the one who made us and gives human beings inherent value). Thus, individual believers and the church as a body, must do all that they can to be shaped and formed by God’s Word, not by the sensibilities of popular culture. We must find a way to oppose this way of thinking by offering to the world an alternative, truthful, and better way.

In an online article, “Is Popular Culture Either?” Myers summarizes some of the key points of his book. I commend both the article and Myers’ book to you. Here is his concluding exhortation from that article, which might also serve as a summary of his exhortation in the book:

Instead of adopting the ways of popular culture, the Church should show the world a more excellent way. Instead of retooling Sunday to render it in synch with Monday through Saturday, the Church, in its proclamation and in its making of disciples, should offer a counter-cultural model of living obedience, seeking to transform what believers and unbelievers experience during the week by what happens to them and around them on Sunday.

 

Postscript: By the way, since 1993, Ken Myers has been the host of an “audio magazine” called Mars Hill Audio Journal, in which he seeks to develop a Christian way of thinking about the world through interviews of various authors, theologians, philosophers, thinkers, composers, and artists. One of his mottos in this endeavor is: “cultural engagement without cultural wisdom leads to cultural captivity.” I’ve been a subscriber and listener of the Mars Hill Audio Journal for about twenty years now, which is probably how I learned about this book. In addition to the book, I highly recommend the audio journal, as well.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch