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By Steve Hamrick

Steve HamrickMany times in ministry, I have been called on to do something not because I wanted to, but because I knew I should or it was in my job description. Often these “acts of obedience” make me uncomfortable, but I’ve noticed when I am obedient in these hard things, I receive a blessing and satisfaction that is many times greater than the fear. Many times, I see God at work on the frontlines. I had such an experience recently in Hillsboro, Ill.

Rob Cleeton is pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Medora and a volunteer chaplain at Graham Prison in Hillsboro. One day, he told me about the prison praise team, which is made up of more than 20 prisoners who serve various ways. They set up gear and chairs, sing and play, lead worship, and run sound and video.

Rob told me that I might be able to help them. The invitation to join Rob at the prison intrigued me, but I was fearful too. With Rob’s permission, I asked several of my minister of music friends if they would be interested. Five of them, including one who is a guard at the prison, agreed to join me.

After getting security clearance, my team planned a clinic for the prison praise team. On the day of the training, we met at the prison. We were searched, left our cell phones behind, went through three or four barriers and guard stations, and found ourselves in the center of the prison. Even though I knew they were going to let us out when we were done, I had an eerie feeling about being locked in.

When we first met the prisoners they looked exactly like I had expected. Some had gang- or crime-related tattoos; others looked like they could lift 300 pounds. I knew that many of them were there for serious offences. But when they started playing and singing, I could tell that they were better musicians than I am. Many of them made a living playing in bands and clubs before their prison days. I was pretty unsure what we might be able to do to “help” them.

Pastor Rob told me that most of the guys in the prison ministry had a better relationship with Christ than most Christians on the outside. He also encouraged us not to worry, that the men would be grateful for our time with them. He was correct.

As I got to know the men and their stories, something started to change in the way I looked at them.

As I got to know the men and their stories, something started to change in the way I looked at them. No longer did they look like prisoners. They started to look like friends. One man looked like my father. Another one looked like me. God told me clearly that the only difference between them and me was that they broke our civil laws. But we both have broken God’s law. In God’s eyes, we are exactly the same kind of sinners, deserving of death and hell.

But we also share exactly the same good news. Jesus died to save us both from our sins, the prisoner and the pastor.

That evening, our ministers of music joined the praise band and to lead 121 prisoners in worship. In a room with only 80 chairs. The chaplain decided that because we didn’t have enough chairs, he would remove all of them. As the prisoners entered, led by the band, they started singing and praising the Lord. Through both familiar and unfamiliar songs, they sang with all their heart. When it came time for the message, they stayed engaged. They interacted with me while I spoke, affirming with “Amen,” “Blow it up, preach!” and “Come on!”

When the service was over, I found one of my new friends in the audience and asked him why no one had complained about standing up for an hour-and-a half. His answer has fundamentally changed the way I look at worship.

“When we come together to worship,” he said, “we are not concerned by prison bars, uniforms, rules, guards, bad food, or barbed wire; we are worshiping free before the King of Kings.”

Time was suspended while they were transported before the throne in worship. It was personal worship, yet it was fueled by the corporate singing and praise of believers. The presence of the Lord did not have to be called down, because he was already there. We stepped into his presence. Worship in our Illinois Baptist churches could be like that if we confessed our sins, left our un-prayed over opinions at the door, and set our hearts and minds on Jesus.

There in the prison, we were all blessed standing in the presence of God. The prison band was blessed as they prompted the prisoners in worship. Our ministers of music were blessed by the worship and the new relationships they made. I was blessed most of all as God showed me a new picture of what worship should really be like every time we come into his presence. Thanks, Pastor Rob, for inviting us to participate in such a blessed event.

Steve Hamrick is IBSA’s director of worship and church technology.

In the golden age of piracy, a pirate captain had power, authority, and a wide-brimmed hat that set him apart as commander of his ship. His crew agreed to follow their captain wherever the seas took them.

While the captain had legitimate power to move the ship onward, the ship’s quartermaster had a different kind of influence. Often placed second in command, the quartermaster’s primary job was to take care of both the needs and the discipline of the crew. He interacted with his fellow pirates on a daily basis and had the responsibility of keeping up morale and making sure the crew was effective in their daily duties.

His influence, though not official, also allowed him to have authority over the crew. And if the captain became despotic, the quartermaster could use his influence to assume power and lead a mutiny.

Pirates don’t pastor churches, but pastors and church leaders do wield different types of influence. Each can be used wisely for the edification of the church and the glory of God.

1. Legitimate influence. This is formal authority, like the captain, the President of the United States, a police officer, and yes, a pastor. A person with legitimate influence occupies an official position and because of that, has authority. Biblical examples of this kind of influence include King Saul and King David, both anointed king by God’s prophet Samuel.

2. Referent influence. Like the quartermaster who understands and cares about the needs of the crew, referent influence is based on affection, trust, integrity, and dependability. While the culture’s referent influence comes from Hollywood actors and star athletes, referent influence in ministry often comes from missionaries, ministry leaders, and again, the pastor. He may start with legitimate influence, but to be most effective long-term, a pastor must develop referent influence.

3. Reward influence. This type of influence is based on the ability to offer rewards or incentives to motivate. A general example of this is an employer/manager or a military superior. In ministry, a pastor can utilize reward influence.

Paul’s commendations at the end of his letter to the Romans showcase the value of reward influence. He extends warm greetings to several fellow believers by name, and then addresses the whole church. “The report of your obedience has reached everyone. Therefore I rejoice over you…” (Romans 16:19).

4. Coercive influence. Averse to reward influence, coercive influence is based on the ability to punish, discipline, or penalize. This kind of influence also comes from an employer or superior. The same authority that can promote you can also fire you.

Pastors also have this kind of influence, though it should only be used on rare occasions.

5. Expert influence. This influence is based on knowledge, special skills, or insight that others do not have. Examples of expert influence include doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scientists. Pastors and other full-time ministers and experienced Bible teachers can become experts in their ministries. They follow trends, know what works and what doesn’t, and have experience dealing with a variety of issues and challenges.

6. Informational influence. Though not an expert, someone with informational influence possesses the ability to attain and distribute information, and usually to effect change. This influence stems from personal connections. Political leaders and people in sales are prime examples. Similarly, pastors, elders, and denominational workers can use their connections as a way to influence people around them, for the glory of God.

God is the ultimate source of pastoral influence, and we as leaders are completely dependent upon him. However, we are called by God and affirmed by our congregations, and we should be moving our people toward God’s agenda.

In other words, we want people to do what God wants them to do. Most of us influence and lead with our own intuitive style, but understanding different kinds of influence—seen both now and in a biblical context—can help us be more intentional based on the challenges and needs of our specific ministries.

– Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville.

Grilled, not toasted

Lisa Misner —  June 6, 2019

By Eric Reed

toastTwo things surprised me about my ordination: the interview was not nearly as painful as I anticipated, and it was scheduled 90 minutes prior to the evening service where I was to be set apart for God’s use.

What if I fail the test? I thought. My mother drove 10 hours to attend the service. And there’s an ice cream social afterward. What will happen to all that ice cream if I give the wrong answers?

I passed.

A dozen of the church’s finest gathered in the church library and asked me to share my testimony and my calling. (As I had recently written at length about that for my seminary application, the telling of it was easy and lasted about 40 minutes of the hour they reserved for the meeting.) Had I read The Baptist Faith & Message? (I had. In fact, the previous pastor had required it as part of a church membership class.) Did I disagree with any basic Baptist doctrines? (I did not.)

Their vote was unanimous. Half an hour later the church body approved. It seemed right that my little local congregation was doing the ordaining; after all, they knew me. I had served as their youth minister for two years.

I still remember a few prayers of those men as they laid hands on my head and whispered over me. Then came their wives and other members of the church. The praying lasted longer than the quizzing as the line to affirm God’s call wound around the inside walls of the sanctuary and Norma Lassiter played hymn after hymn on the Hammond.

Those men were serious, and they took their responsibility seriously. I recall with appreciation those who signed my ordination certificate: Leslie Rooks and Stephen Young and Marion Oldham and Luther Barker and more.

Anyone ordained in a Southern Baptist church might tell a similar story. They might also tell this one, as a friend described his own ordaining council: “I expected to be grilled, and instead I was toasted”—as if they had raised a glass in his honor.

In retrospect, I respect those men and the process. But times have changed and the call for more stringent screening is appropriate. The questions I have asked in ordaining councils have gotten tougher across the years, and yes, even a bit embarrassing, but it’s necessary. And ordaining councils would be well advised to bring directors of missions and pastors, a theologian, and men who aren’t so close to the candidate into the process to beef it up.

For the safety and well-being of the church, the pastorate, and the faith, we need to do more grilling and less toasting.

– Eric Reed

gallery

The abortion debate has always been emotional, but in our culture today, emotion has overtaken fact. This was on display when the Illinois House debated SB 25, what its sponsors named the Reproductive Health Act, a bill which removes limits on late-term abortions, allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions, and requires insurance companies to cover the costs of abortions. I watched debate, and ultimately the vote, from the House gallery.

In the gallery one is told to remain silent, that photography is forbidden, and not to react after votes are taken. Across from me sat protestors dressed in scarlet costumes based on the book-turned-TV series “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. On the floor, one state representative who also boasted his title of pastor, spoke for the bill and the “rights” of women including his young daughters to “choose” what they will do with their bodies. Women in the gallery nodded their heads, and quietly said, “Yes.” An elderly lady sitting next to me whispered, “I’m so tired of those men telling us what to do with our bodies.”

Another representative shared a story about a woman who already had seven children and was so desperate that she resorted to a coat hanger abortion. That was in 1948. Did we want to return to those days? she asked rhetorically. “That’s right,” women in the gallery nodded quietly. No one would have considered my argument that birth control would prevent such extreme measures. Or abstinence. Or adoption.

Debate continued with more of the same. More “yes’s” and “that’s right’s” from the gallery until I heard myself quietly say, “No.” All heads in my little section quickly turned my way. The elderly lady sitting next to me got up and left. I could take it no more and had spoken. No one in the gallery near me commented on anything after that. Soon the vote was taken. Of course, the bill passed, and the gallery erupted into applause. The steward came rushing through telling everyone the gallery was not to express emotion at the result of the vote and it was over.

Read: Acts 6:4 (ESV)

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Time management

By Adron Robinson

There are 168 hours in a week, and most weeks they seem to go by way too fast. Each week has a variety of good things you can do to fill those hours: community meetings, phone calls, pastoral care, staff development, membership concerns, teaching, sermon preparation, and the list goes on. But how do you determine how much time to spend on each of them when there are so many options?

In Acts 6:1-4, the church was growing rapidly, and because of this, the disciples had to make some hard decisions about how to divide their time. There were people in need and ministry to be done, and they had the same 168 hours a week that you and I have. But they made a decision to prioritize their time by focusing on what God called them to do and to delegate to capable people that which was not their calling.

The apostles said: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” And pastor, it is not right for you to serve tables at the neglect of prayer and preaching the word.

Prayer and preaching are the pastor’s priority. You must discipline your time to allow for prayer and the ministry of the word. If you are not intentional about spending time with God and his word, you will find yourself giving God your leftovers instead of your first fruit.

It takes time to pray and it takes time to study and craft biblically sound sermons. So, set aside the hours to do what God called you to do and delegate the things that others can do. Every Christian can serve, but the pastor is called to preach the word.

Prayer Prompt: Lord, Sundays seem to come so fast and there is so much work to do. Grant us your wisdom and discernment to make prayer and preaching our first priority, so that we can commit our time to our calling.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

My annual reckoning

Lisa Misner —  May 16, 2019

By Milton Bost

birthday cake

Last month, I hoped my birthday would pass with little notice. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my birthdays. I used to anticipate them, but they just don’t hold the same level of excitement. They make me count and remind me that I am, to some people, an old person. I’m learning that too many birthdays can kill you.

Birthdays are milestones. They are mute reminders that more sand has passed through the hourglass. Birthdays give us a handle on the measurement of time, which, when broken into minutes, moves quickly. There are 60 minutes in an hour, 1,440 minutes in a day, 10,080 minutes in a week, and 525,600 minutes in a year. That means I experienced over 34,164,000 minutes by my birthday. My 65th birthday.

No wonder I need more naps.

The minutes often pass by so quietly, so consistently, that they can fool us. In C. S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” the senior demon advises his protégé of the strategy of monotony: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without any sudden turns, without milestones, without signposts….The gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair of ever overcoming chronic temptations…the drabness which we create in their lives…all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”

So, we mark our calendars and phones with deadlines, dates that set limits for the completion of objectives. If we ignore these deadlines, it brings unwanted consequences. Therefore, to live without deadlines is to live an inefficient, unorganized life, drifting with the breeze of impulse on the fickle way of our moods. We set deadlines because they discipline our use of time.

God is the one who brings about our birthdays, not as deadlines, but as lifelines. He builds them into our calendar once every year to enable us to make an annual appraisal, not merely of the length of life, but the depth of life. Birthdays are not observed simply to tell us we’re growing older, but to help us determine if we are also growing deeper.

Obviously if God has given you another year to live for him, then he has some things in mind. I have this strong suspicion that it includes much more than merely existing 1,440 minutes a day.

In a Psalm attributed to Moses, he prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (90:12). Is that not a perfect prayer for us to pray every year our lifeline rolls around?

There is, however, a warning: Don’t expect wisdom to come into your life wrapped up like a birthday present. It doesn’t come with song, candles, party favors, and fanfare. Wisdom comes privately from the Lord as a by-product of wise and right decisions, godly reactions, humble lessons, and application of his principles in daily circumstances. “Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).

Wisdom comes not from seeking after a ministry, but from anticipating the fruit of a disciplined life. It comes not from trying to do great things for God, but from being faithful to the small and often obscure tasks few people ever see.

James R. Sizoo said, “Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence. The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success.”

As we number our days, do we count the years as the grinding measurement of minutes, or can we find the marks of wisdom—character traits that were not there when we were younger?

As I look back over my life, I recall some of the things I did, that I said, that I believed. If I think long enough on them, I have regrets. But I thank the Lord that he was able to soften the hardness of my heart to help me become a better learner, a clearer thinker, and a corrected believer. If he should decide that April 18 was my last birthday, he has made my life full. He has forgiven me of my sin. He has blessed me beyond words. I pray that I have pleased him.

– Milton Bost is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church.

By Meredith Flynn

The announcement that LifeWay Christian Resources will close its brick-and-mortar stores by the end of the year dismayed many Southern Baptists who have long shopped the shelves for books, music, and Lord’s Supper wafers. The reaction was predictable—it’s sad to lose a trusted source of information and resources. What some seem to be missing even more, though, is a unique service LifeWay offered customers: vetting.

“I think one of the greatest competitive advantages LifeWay could have had, and had in some ways, was being trustworthy, where pastors could tell their congregations, ‘You can go into the store, and anything you buy is trustworthy,’” Indiana pastor Tim Overton told Baptist Press.

LifeWay, he said, “was unique [among bookstores] in holding very high standards and not simply allowing a profit to motivate all choices.”

In the weeks since LifeWay announced the closures, that quality has been celebrated by pastors like Overton, and lamented by some authors whose books weren’t sold in LifeWay stores. Others, though, praised the organization’s principled stand, even while not agreeing with its actual principles.

“I genuinely respect them (or any company) that is driven by principles other than profit alone,” tweeted Tish Harrison Warren, an author and Anglican priest whose book LifeWay declined to sell. “My book has sold well. LifeWay likely lost $ by not selling my book. Props for being willing to.”

When LifeWay stores close their doors this year, books and Bible studies and curriculum resources will still be available online. In fact, LifeWay plans to invest more in digital strategies to meet the needs of online customers. One aspect of the shopping experience they should consider is how to communicate to the buyer that the resources they’re scrolling through are held to the same standard as what was previously on LifeWay shelves.

In a world full of online bookstores, it may be hard to distinguish a sell-anything-that-sells mentality from a thoughtfully curated collection. The end of LifeWay stores puts more responsibility on readers to judge carefully what books are worthy of a place on their own shelves.

LifeWay stores weren’t controlled by profit, but as a Baptist Press article pointed out, finances were ultimately what brought the publisher to the decision to close. The stores lost money while LifeWay’s digital channels grew.

Faced with the numbers, the publisher made what they deemed to be the wisest choice. Now, smart phone in hand, it’s up to readers to do the same.

– Meredith Flynn