Doctrines, Changes, and Leaky Boats
My primary objective today is to write a post for my fellow young pastors and theologians. Men whom I am grateful for, praise God for, and look forward to working with over the course of my life. Those faithful few men embarking on the grand journey of a lifetime of ministry with all of its ups and downs, joyous as well as difficult seasons, and who are undertaking a work which will undoubtedly require much courage, bravery, and tenacity. It is not my goal in this post to discourage you from being bold by taking strong stands, God knows we need men who will not only hold their ground but even advance against the enemy with the Gospel of salvation. Yet, my humble encouragement is for each one of us to remember one critical element, a particular trait that we must not neglect, and it is patience.
Pastors often find themselves in the midst of congregations that need much growth and are oftentimes troubled in many ways. Coming into this situation, they see the need for doctrine to be clarified, changes to be made, and proverbial “nails” to be hammered into their proper place. I may agree with you on everything which needs to be solidified in the church you are at. Bring them to a sound confession of faith, change the by-laws to be more biblical, and yes, clean up the membership roll so that Sister Susie who hasn’t been there in 40 years is no longer on it. Amen, praise God, let’s sing the hallelujah chorus together at all of these things. But, my friends, especially those like myself who are younger, don’t forget patience.
If you neglect this point, well, to be frank, you are trying to launch a boat across the river in your urgency without first stopping to plug up the holes in the bottom. The result? You and the boat both sink because in your urgency to get to the shore of your intended goal you did not take the time to do the basic essential structural repairs. Yes, you are right, if someone else before your day would have done their job, then the holes should not have been there, but nonetheless your impetuous nature did nothing but amplify the problem. They should have done their job, but so should you have done yours by taking the time to fix each and every individual hole slowly before putting it into the water and thus arriving at the intended goal. I may agree with your end goal my friends, but failing to fix the boat, or the more foundational issues in a church is nothing but a major mistake. You may have a holey boat, but you most certainly do not have a holy approach to fixing the issues at hand!
Working From The Foundation
Now, to be clear I am not writing this article as someone saying I have always done all of this perfectly. Nor, am I saying that I shall always be a perfect example in the future. Rather, I am as much a target of my audience as you are dear reader. In other words, I need this reminder just like all of us do. But, it is easy for us to underestimate the amount of foundational work we are doing when we are involved in pastoral and theological ministry. What I mean is this, how do you expect someone to understand the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper when they do not first comprehend the Gospel? How shall they see the need to remove individuals off the church roll who have not attended for decades unless they do not first have a biblical understanding of church membership? Pray tell, how can they be a loving congregation unless they first see the biblical doctrine of love with clarity? Going to a church immediately and teaching them about the doctrine of last things without their having a solid grasp on more foundational truths is going to give them too much to digest without being prepared. You may preach a grand and glorious sermon about the precious truths of eschatology, but if you have not first laid more foundational doctrines in place, then you are essentially putting a grand and glorious rock in the middle of a boat with holes.
I already know the objection I am going to receive from some at this point in my article. “Should we not preach the full counsel of God’s Word?” Beyond the shadow of a doubt, we must! “You must believe the book of Revelation should be preached?” Again, I definitely believe that point is vital! However, that doesn’t mean your first series in a new church should be an exposition on the book of Revelation. Perhaps unpacking the doctrine of justification by faith is a foundation which should be laid before diving into the number 666. No doubt, both need to be covered, but there is a proper order. Do you believe your boat is ready to haul anything across the water until the holes are plugged? You may want to carry much cargo across the way, but it will all sink lest you do the foundational work first. So also, what makes us think someone is ready for the doctrine of the end times (just as one example) when they have not first learned about the atoning work of Christ? Brethren, we must be willing to patiently preach the full counsel of God’s Word one line at a time, one precept at a time, and one doctrine at a time for the full maturing of believers at all stages.
Teaching With Patience
Notice Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” -2 Timothy 4:1-2
Notice the portion about “patience” in this particular text. It is true, brothers, that we must take bold stands. Without a doubt, it is our duty to fight the good fight for the truth of the faith. But, we are called to be skilled warriors. We wield the sword of God’s Word with precision. I have yet to see an expert in any field who lacks control. Patience, is our antidote to keep us under control. We must be compelled by the love of God and others to be patient for the glory of Christ. He has been patient with us, let us be patient with those whom He has called us to serve. May we teach God’s Word, all of it, with full courage. Let us also exemplify biblical patience by laying a doctrinal foundation one step at a time. We do not need men who have great courage to carry massive boulders into a boat with holes. Rather, we need men who have the skill, courage, and patience necessary to do the hard work of taking care of the holes then moving each boulder into the boat to cross the shore. Brethren, patient love is the rudder which shall steer your courageous ministry in a fruitful direction guided by the compass of Scripture!