Guest Posts, Ministry, Prayer

Guest Post: 7 Ways You Might Not Know You Need to Pray for Your Pastor ~ Part 2

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com,
and let’s chat about it.

7 Ways You Might Not Know
You Need to Pray for Your Pastor
Part 2

by Pastor John Chester

This is Part 2 of the article. You can read Part 1 here.

He is affected by counseling

It is a great privilege and joy to counsel God’s people. It is an absolute joy to point them to the cross and the sure hope we have in Christ. It is a wonderful privilege to see people change in response to God’s word and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I love counseling and I’m sure your pastor does too. I don’t want anyone to reach the wrong conclusion that your pastor would be served by your not coming to him or that you can serve him by keeping your trouble to yourself. We need to and should rejoice in bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Yet the fact is it can take a toll. A true shepherd loves the sheep, and he hates to see them hurting. Your pastor knows the pain in your church family in ways you do not. He knows who has trouble in their marriage, who is struggling with a rebellious teen, who is living with acute chronic physical pain, who has a besetting sin, who is on the verge of hopelessness and so much more. And his heart breaks over all of that. I don’t know a single pastor who hasn’t wept after a counseling session, and I don’t know a single pastor who hasn’t had some version of the conversation with their wife where their wife notices right away they are obviously down and sorrowful and asks why and they respond, “It’s a counseling thing, I shouldn’t talk about it.”.

And it can be even harder when he has to rapidly shift gears from weeping with those who weep to rejoicing with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Counseling is my absolute favorite thing to do in ministry, it brings me great joy, but one hour of counseling wears me out as much as ten hours of studying or four hours of administrative work.

How you can pray for your pastor: Pray for the empowering of the Holy Spirit during counseling sessions, pray that counseling would make him long more intensely for heaven, and pray that he would be able to sleep at night.

He lives on wartime footing

Once, when I was fly fishing at a small hike-in lake in the reassuringly-named Bear Tooth Mountains in Montana, I was having such good luck I fished the entire evening rise. As I packed up my gear in the gloaming for the 3½ mile hike down single track to the trail head and my car, I realized that I smiled like fish, and my wader, wading boots, net, and the rest of the gear I was about to strap to my back smelled like fish too.  So, to any bears that happened to live in the Bear Tooth Mountains, it would smell like a giant trout was walking through the woods.

As I hustled down the two foot hide trail that wound through dense woods, I was hyper-vigilant knowing that an attack could come from the right, left, front, or back, and that if it came it would be sudden and savage. Not only was I an the lookout for the attack to come, I was expecting it. So, as I made my way down the trail yelling, “Hey Bear!” I was thinking about how to respond to the various ways the attack could come.

Thankfully the attack never did come, but the memory of that dark jog through the woods is etched upon my mind. I’ll never forget that feeling. And it is the closest thing to the feeling of being faithfully vigilant in ministry I can think of. Paul told the Ephesian elders that ravenous wolves would rise up from among them and that they needed to be alert and to follow his example of persistent vigilance and purposeful teaching (Acts 20:29-31). Vicious, violent attacks against the church can come from anywhere and at anytime.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, let me tell you that every man I know in the ministry who has served for ten years or more has faced at least one serious existential attack against the church he serves. And truthfully it averages about once every 2.5 years. Let me tell you about the two serious existential threats we have fought off in our five years here at Piedmont Bible Church.

One that I saw coming was that we had a number of families (a large enough number to alter the complexion of our small church) who came with the intention to take directional control of the church and steer it toward the Family Integrated Church movement. I saw this coming because I am friends with a pastor in a neighboring town whose church had been attacked by this group of marauders. I was able to recognize them and drive them off before they could cause any mischief.

One attack took me entirely by surprise. A man who had been vetted for years, who had been examined by the church and appointed to the office of elder, within sixty days of becoming an elder demanded that the church functionally abandon sola scriptura in favor of making the traditions of men binding for the church. He sought to elevate the traditions of the church he grew up in – regarding music, dress, and the exercise of Christian freedom in a myriad of areas – to be on par with the authority of Scripture. He went so far as to say that there were no categories of preference or wisdom in the Christian life or the life of the church and that if you were truly sanctified, the Bible gave you a definitive (yes or no) answer to every question. Although he would angrily say his position was scriptural, he saw things as diverse as VBS, singing Amazing Grace accompanied by any instrument other than the piano, and people wearing the wrong colored shirt when teaching or leading in any capacity in a corporate setting as fitting into the phrase “and things like these” in Galatians 5:19-21.

And here is the remarkable thing, when I confided in a mentor that in the midst of this crisis I was so stressed and worn out that I hadn’t slept in weeks and that I had been vomiting blood, he didn’t say that was the worst thing he had ever heard (as I expected), he said, “Welcome to ministry. You need to learn to take care of yourself.” It’s not that he was unsympathetic or compassionate – without his advice, comfort, compassion, and actual practical help I don’t know if I would have made it through – it was that out of love he wanted me to know that this is what it is like. Ministry is a battle. It is no accident that Paul uses so much military language and imagery when he wrote to Timothy and Titus.

The kicker is that while this conflict was raging I worked hard to protect the church from it and from the knowledge of it. Although the battle raged for eight months, until the final week of the conflict (by which time other pastors and counselors were deeply involved), no one in the church outside of leadership knew that this battle for the life of the church was going on. A good shepherd doesn’t alarm the sheep, he protects them. If you have been at your church for five years and you have never heard of anything like this happening, it is more likely that you have a very good shepherd than a church that has never come under attack.

Additionally, pastors (and their wives) are often subjected to personal attacks. I’ve been told angrily that I am a liar who is disqualified from ministry because I turned over a cushion without telling anyone. I’ve been told I dress too nice/not nice enough for a pastor. And I’ve been led away from the church in handcuffs for removing political signs placed on church property without permission.

Every day when pastors go to work they are in a fight. It’s not hyperbole and there is no other way to put it. That in no way eliminates or even dampens the joy of pastoral ministry, but it is true. And living that way can take a toll. One of the risks is exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout. Find someone who boxed growing up and also played a sport in college and then ask them, “What took more out of you, three minutes of fighting or sixty minutes of lacrosse/football/hockey/basketball or whatever sport you played?”. They will all say the three minutes of fighting. Fighting and being ready to fight just takes a lot out of you.

And it can make you cynical. There is a fine line between learning to have a thick skin and building up callouses. After my battle with the false elder, my wife said to me, “Well, you learned a lot.”  I replied, “I learned that I’ll never again trust a man who didn’t play Little League.” I was only half kidding (probably down to 12% by now).

[Special note: It is always enormously sad when a pastor fails morally.  I am convinced that many more are casualties of war, than double agents who were exposed. A pastor who falls into sexual sin is permanently disqualified (Proverbs 6:32-33), but he should be treated according to Galatians 6:1.]

How to pray for your pastor: Pray that the Lord would protect him as he protects you. Pray that he would not become jaded and would love as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Pray that no matter what is going on that his time of study would be a refuge and a refreshment to him.

He gets discouraged

If there is one thing I can say with 100% certainty of all pastors it is that they are all human. And because they are human sometimes they get discouraged. Some are more prone to discouragement than others, and it is not a weakness or a flaw. God uses all kinds of men. Spurgeon famously called his depressive, discouraged mood “the black dog” and said sometime he was on the verge of tears for no apparent reason.

While some pastors are more prone to melancholy moods that others, every pastor I know has experienced this acutely, sharply and often enough to talk about it. In fact, there is a kind of gallows humor among pastors about how bad Mondays are and how you should never resign on a Monday.  

Most faithful pastors I know are estranged from at least some of their extended family because of ministry and fidelity to Scripture. My wife once overheard my older brother (who I looked up to and adored growing up) say he wouldn’t come to a family gathering if I was there because he couldn’t take my “Jesus ‘stuff’” (he didn’t say “stuff”). I know a man whose parents won’t speak to him because he left a lucrative, high prestige career to become a pastor. I know another who is told to just stay in the basement after dinner on holidays by his wife’s family.

Every faithful pastor has known the pain and disappointment of having someone he has poured into, discipled, and taught walk away from the faith (or at least the church), not to mention the pain that comes when people you love, have invested in, and count on as key contributors to the ministry of the church simply move away. The day after he was confirmed into the office of elder, our first elder as a new church plant was downsized and had to move away. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t find that discouraging.

Every faithful pastor has been deeply wounded by someone he thought of as a friend and ally. In fact, this is so common that a proverbial saying among seminary professors that all seminary students roll their eyes at is, “The man who brought you in will be the man who tries to take you out.” While that may not always be true, it is true often enough that no pastor five years in would roll his eyes.

Add to all of that how in pastoral ministry you can do everything “right” and not be “successful.” No other vocation that I have experienced is like that in any way. There is a popular preacher and conference speaker who often says to pastors (and those training for the ministry) that if you take care of the depth of your ministry, God will take care of he breadth. But what no one says is that sometimes the breadth is 40 people. The median size of an evangelical church in the U.S. is 184 but more than half have less than 75 regular attenders. The very best pastor I know has been faithfully preaching, teaching, and discipling for over thirty years at a Reformed Baptist church that has never cracked the 100 member mark. He has missed probably 500 weeks’ pay over that time as he always allowed his salary to be cut out of the budget when there wasn’t enough financial support to do the work of the ministry.

Oh, and everything that is common to believers and can drive them to discouragement, pastors also experience. They get sick and injured, they get flat tires, they experience the loss of loved ones, they have unexpected financial expenses, their dogs die. And they sin too. Even Paul was overcome at this, saying that he didn’t do the good he wanted to, that he did the wrong he despised, and called himself wretched (Romans 7:15-24).

You hear a lot about pastoral burnout, depression and how few ordained men actually retire from or die in pastoral ministry, but I don’t think it is really a matter of burnout or depression. More often than not I think it is profound, prolonged and unaddressed discouragement. Even in churches that are great at the “one anothers”, the pastor(s) are often viewed as “other”, not “another”. No one thinks to encourage them (other than in preaching), and their burdens are not borne (Galatians 6:2).

How to pray for your pastor: Pray that he would see enough of the Lord working that he would be encouraged that the Lord is at work through his ministry. Pray that the Lord’s grace would always be sufficient for him. Pray that the Lord would guard his heart from discouragement and pastoral jealousy. Pray that the Lord would strengthen him when he is weak and lift him up when he is down.

When Michelle asked me to write this post some months ago she said I could write it and she could publish it anonymously. I appreciated that. But the more I thought about it, the less attractive that option was. Here is why: I want everyone to know this isn’t a list of gripes written by someone who regrets being in ministry. I love pastoral ministry I love preaching, I love teaching, I love counseling, I love praying for the people of the church, and all of these things are absolutely true. Pastors are immensely blessed and privileged to do what we do, but we all (even your favorite radio preacher and your pastor) have feet of clay. And we are part of the body of Christ, just like you. But pastors have a unique role in the body, and by pulling back the curtain I hope I made it a little easier to understand and pray for your pastor.

And if you think of it say a prayer for me too. I need it.


John Chester is the pastor of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket, Virginia. Prior to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. He hails from The City of Champions: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra. Read John’s blog articles at ParkingSpace23, and read more of John’s excellent posts for Michelle Lesley here.


Pastors and pastor’s wives-
What would you add to this list of things that church members
may not know to pray for their pastors about?

Guest Posts, Ministry, Prayer

Guest Post: 7 Ways You Might Not Know You Need to Pray for Your Pastor ~ Part 1

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com,
and let’s chat about it.

7 Ways You Might Not Know
You Need to Pray for Your Pastor
Part 1

by Pastor John Chester

Being a pastor is odd. There is no other way to put it. It is entirely unique. No other profession or vocation or calling is like pastoral ministry. That is not to say it is better or more noble. It isn’t, it’s just different. Really different. (And it is certainly not to say that I am somehow superior, better, more valuable to the Kingdom, or holier. As one of my favorite seminary professors said to a class of future pastors, “You know why God calls men like you to pastoral ministry? Because you were the worst available.”)  

But pastoral ministry is unique, it is a unique job, it is a unique calling, and it is a unique lifestyle. And every pastor needs prayer, desperately. Most believers pray for their pastors (Thank you!). One of the questions I am often asked is, “How can I pray for you?” I am always happy to answer, but frankly I don’t think I have ever thought to ask for prayer related to the uniqueness of pastoral ministry. I know that you want to pray effectively and specifically for your pastor, so I am going to let you in on some inside baseball. Here are seven things you may not know about pastoral ministry and your pastor.

He is often under deep conviction

You know that sermon on that hard text that had you squirming in your seat about eight minutes in because the Word of God was so clear and strong in saying that you are in sin? Well your pastor has lived in that passage all week and has probably been thinking about it for weeks or even months. I remember after I had preached James 3:1-12 a dear saint coming up to me after the worship service and saying how hard it was to sit through that message because of how convicting it, and that text was. I said something along the lines of, “I know, we all fail to control our tongue as we should,” but what I was thinking was, “I know and if you think it was hard to listen to for 45 minutes, imagine studying for 45 hours for those 45 minutes.”

Don’t get me wrong, it is a great blessing to spend so much time and to be able to spend so much time studying God’s Word, even and especially the deeply convicting passage. Full stop. Yet is also true that it is emotionally draining to spend so much time in those passages. A few years ago I received an angry email from a visitor to the church (the time stamp on the email indicated that he must have written it on his phone in the parking lot), and his complaint was he didn’t feel uplifted by the sermon. Of course he didn’t feel uplifted by the sermon, no one did. Like everyone else, he was deeply convicted by it, the text was Mark 9:42-50, where Jesus says if your hand causes you to sin cut it off. I was preaching that sermon to myself when I was walking the dog on Thursday morning. Of the many things that I didn’t expect in pastoral ministry this is probably the most significant one.

How to pray for your pastor: Pray that when he is under powerful conviction of his own sinfulness the Lord would use it to conform him to the image of Christ, that he would feel the power and weight of forgiveness in Christ and that the Lord would bring passages like Colossians 2:13-15 and Psalm 103:10-13 to his mind.

He works a lot

I’ll not beat around the bush, I don’t know a single pastor that works less than 55 hours a week. Most of them work 60+ hours a week. Most church member know their pastor works a lot, but here is what you might not realize – the smaller the church, as a rule, the more hours the pastor works. It is very easy to think (or not to think about it at all) that your pastor doesn’t have the workload and responsibility of that famous pastor with a huge church, but he does, and probably much more to boot. It goes without saying that small church pastors spend as much time laboring in prayer and study as pastors with big churches (at least they should).

But small church pastors do something (often everything) else too; they are often the chief maintenance man, the church secretary, the webmaster, the youth pastor, the counseling pastor, the director of Christian education, etc., as well as the preaching pastor. Maybe you think, “Sure, but our church has three staff pastors and a secretary.”. To put that into perspective, the large church associated with my seminary has 14 staff pastors, staff elders who oversee non-pastoral areas of responsibility, and a veritable army of support staff and compensated interns. And that is in no way a criticism of that church. I rejoice that there are so many hands to make the work lighter, but the thing is that huge church has no more kinds of ministry going on that your small church. Your church probably doesn’t have a thousand kids in Sunday School, but it has Sunday School. Your church may not have hundreds of people in counseling at a time, but your pastors counsel people. You get the idea.

How to pray for your pastor: Pray that he would find refreshment in his work, that the Lord would move in the hearts of the saints to motivate them to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), that the Lord would provide him with the rest and respite he needs (remember everyone is different), and the Lord would protect him from the deleterious health effects of overwork.(Bonus tip: encourage him to take actual vacations and days off and respect them.)

He is a man apart

I don’t mean that pastors are somehow different or better than other Christians, what I mean is that other Christians as well as non-Christians act like it. One of the strangest things to me when I moved from seminary to ministry – a move that entailed a cross country move to a place where no one knew me – was that everyone acted as if my first name was “pastor.” And the first 7,367,489 times someone called me “pastor” in conversation, I said, “Call me John.” But as the years have gone by I’ve learned to stop saying that, not because I’ve come to think of my self as different, but because no one has listened. And I get it. I never thought of my pastor, especially before I went to seminary, as just “Ron,” and, truth be told, I still think of him more as “Pastor Ron” than “Ron.” I think it is good for people to love and esteem their pastor – after all they are worthy of double honor (1 Tim 5:17) – but it is strange to be that person.

And if it’s odd being treated that way in the church it is even stranger being treated as a man apart outside of the church. I’ve had a handyman (who I learned was Hindu) sent by my landlord to paint an outside railing tell me he was going to do an extra good job because I was a holy man. My neighbors all are very stiff and formal with me. When I went to a gym in the smaller town I drove through on the way to the church, a hush would fall over the locker-room whenever I walked in because word had gotten around the gym that I was a pastor. The pharmacy tech at the drug store (who is also Hindu) asks me for marital advice, and I could go on.

Putting it all together it adds up to, functionally, a man apart, and that can be tough. (And this applies to your pastor’s wife too. A dear saint in the church one introduced my wife to one of her friends as “the First Lady of the church.” Often pastor’s wives experience profound loneliness. Don’t forget to pray for them too.)

How to pray for your pastor: Pray that he would be satisfied in the Lord, that his marriage would be a sweet friendship (Proverbs 5:18), that the Lord would bless him with friendships with local likeminded pastors, and that he would maintain the friendships he forged before pastoral ministry.

He is not always hungry

This one may seem trivial, but trust me it is important, especially if you love your pastor. Ask yourself this, when was the last time your pastor visited that you didn’t offer him something (probably a baked good) to eat.  I can count on one finger the times I’ve been in someone’s house when someone hasn’t offered me something to eat. And every time it is offered I accept, because I know it has been prepared with love and the last thing I would want to do is make someone feel unloved or rejected because I refused what they had prepared for me. Yet, often, I eat it knowing I shouldn’t. I love desert – one look at me would confirm it – but I really don’t need it on Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. It can really be an act of love not to offer it.

A few weeks ago was the one time I was in someone’s home where they didn’t offer me something to eat. This family was relatively new to the church and wanted to talk about how they could serve, so we set a time for me to come over. And make no mistake, this is the kind of home visit every pastor loves and looks forward to. But I try to eat clean, and I was dreading the pastry I was sure was going to be offered. When I came over and it was suggested that we sit at the dining room table, I was sure that there was going to be a coffee cake on it, but there wasn’t.  I was grateful and greatly blessed when I was simply offered something to drink. I don’t think it is a coincidence that both the husband and wife had long personal histories of formal ministry in local churches.

And as a corollary let me say this (and I realize I am about to step on some toes), your pastor may not like Chik-Fil-A.  I would estimate that at least 75% of the time someone asks me to meet them for lunch they suggest CFA. I know that it is approaching heresy to say it, but CFA is just fast food, it is not an especially spiritual place to eat. If your pastor is not someone who eats at Taco Bell or Wendy’s regularly, he probably is not someone who wants to eat at CFA all the time.

How to pray for your pastor: Pray that he would eat a healthy diet and get adequate exercise.


John Chester is the pastor of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket, Virginia. Prior to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. He hails from The City of Champions: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra. Read John’s blog articles at ParkingSpace23, and read more of John’s excellent posts for Michelle Lesley here.


This concludes part 1 of John’s article.
Be sure to come back next Tuesday for Part 2.


Pastors and pastor’s wives-
What would you add to this list of things that church members
may not know to pray for their pastors about?

Christian women, Church, Discernment, Guest Posts

Guest Post: Building a Biblically Healthy Women’s Ministry (by a pastor, for pastors)

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com,
and let’s chat about it.

 

Building a Biblically Healthy Women’s Ministry
(by a pastor, for pastors)

by Pastor John Chester

It is no secret that I am not a fan of discernment ministries, and that I think the concept of Biblical discernment is grossly misunderstood by many. But that in no way means that I don’t think telling truth from error and sound theology from errant (or even heretical) theology is unimportant.

And nowhere is it more important than in women’s ministry. The reason I say that is simple, more than 50% of the people in our churches are either women or they are growing into women. According to The Pew Research Center 55% of those attending Evangelical churches are women. 

Yet women’s ministry is often not thought of much by us pastors, I think because we view “women’s ministry” as a thing or program, rather than ministry to women who make up more than half of the congregation we are charged to shepherd. And so we spin it off to someone else or put it on our benign neglect list so that we can concentrate on “more important” things. But nothing is more important than the souls of the women of the church. And practically speaking, any error introduced in a women’s Bible study will work its way through whole families and infect the whole church.

With that in mind, let me offer some tips to guard against error in your church’s women’s ministry.

Preach The Bible

The pulpit sets the tone for the church and everything that the church does, or at least it should. The good news is that even the smallest church with the least talented preacher can have a strong pulpit, because the strength of the pulpit depends on what is preached, not the preacher. What the church needs is a healthy dose of Bible. And by a healthy dose, I mean all that should be preached is the Bible.

It is the Scripture that is inspired and the Word of God that is living and active, and it is the word of God that makes your pulpit strong, not your ability. No one needs your ten tips on having a more productive quiet time or your five steps toward a healthy marriage even if you sprinkle them with a few verses. The people the Lord has entrusted to you need to hear from Him, not you. Your job as a preacher is to decrease while the whole counsel of God is declared. By all means, illustrate, explain, introduce, conclude and apply the text, just stick to the text!

Why this is so important for women’s ministry and guarding the women of your church from error is that it will trickle down in to the church’s Bible studies. If on Sunday (and whenever else you preach) the women of the church get a strong dose of God’s truth, they are going to be better able to spot error and less susceptible to it. And when they see that you have a high view of Scripture, they will develop a high view of Scripture too. When they see you are a Berean who evaluates everything in light of what Scripture says, they will be more likely too as well.

And as a corollary, when you’re preaching the Bible, use it as an opportunity to teach the church, women included, how to think about and interpret the Bible. I’m not saying that the pulpit is a place for a discourse on the grammatico-historic hermeneutic, but it is a place to (often) say things like “this would have meant to the original readers” or “context determines meaning” or “Whenever you see a ‘therefore,’ ask yourself, ‘What is the ‘therefore’ there for?’.” These may be throwaway phrases to you, but they teach the congregation, including the women, how to approach Scripture.

Pay Attention

This seems very basic but it needs to be said, you need to know what is going on, what is being taught and what materials are being used. And you need to read any material being used in any class or study. Read, not skim, not look up on the internet, not ask your seminary alumni group on Facebook, but actually read. Need I remind you that you will give an account for how you cared for the souls the Lord entrusts to you? When you stand before God to give an account, “Well, I Googled it,” is not going to be good enough.

You need to pay attention to what is popular in the world of women’s ministry too. The women in your church buy and read more books than the men. Pay attention to what is out there, and don’t be afraid to address any errors that are gaining traction in churchianity”.

Be The Bad Guy

What I mean by that is be willing to be the one to take the heat. Be willing to veto a book, a curriculum, or even a topic that the women’s Bible study wants to use, and be willing to have the leader lay the blame for the veto on you. I would much rather have someone say to me, “We wanted to use ________ book. Why did you say to use ________ instead?” than have a bad book used, or quash the joy of the women’s Bible study leader if she became an object of scorn. And quite frankly (and this actually happened to me) I would rather have the women’s Bible study leader mad at me, than to have the women be taught something that is wrong.

Invest In Your Leaders

I am genuinely baffled by the lack of investment in women’s leaders. We pastors will often go out of our way to invest both time and treasure in a young man we think might one day have a significant ministry in our church (or dare we hope and pray) or even go into pastoral ministry themselves.. But we often fail to invest our time and treasure in women who have a significant ministry in our churches right now. Might I suggest that the bare minimum you should do for every Bible study leader (man or woman) is to provide basic instruction in hermeneutics. A great resource is Grasping God’s Word by Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays, and there is an excellent companion workbook that makes teaching basic hermeneutics a snap. I promise you that if you teach the teachers of the women in your church how to approach Scripture, it will rub off.

Invest time and invest treasure too. Provide at your (or the church’s) expense good reliable resources for deeper study to leaders of your church’s women’s Bible study. If the women are going through a book of the Bible (with an approved curriculum as the guide) provide reliable (and accessible) commentaries on that book. If the women’s Bible study is topical or using a topical book as a guide, provide some other good books for deeper study and reading. 

Be Approachable

The women of your church need to feel comfortable sending you an email, shooting you a text or even Facebook messaging you with a question. They should even feel OK picking up the phone and calling you if need be. I get the wisdom in erecting hedges and being careful how you interact with women. But you can’t shepherd effectively if you treat over half of your congregation as walking third rails. Rest assured the women of the church will pick up on your reluctance to interact with them and they will be reluctant to approach you with any questions, doctrinal or otherwise.

If you are married, this is one area where your wife can really help you. Her saying “you should ask my husband” will go a long way. And as a corollary one of the worst things that can come out of your mouth when a woman from your church asks you a theological question is “you should ask my wife.”

If you are like me you will have to work at this. The one thing I can say that always gets a laugh from my wife is, “I’m a people person.” It’s not that I don’t love people, it’s that I tend toward shyness, and I’m not super outgoing. So I work at being an accessible resource for the women of the church, and you can too. And who knows, you may one day be rewarded with a call where a newer believer asks “Is it true that the Israelites ate the scapegoat?”. (That is a real question I got from a real woman in the church and why it is so important that women feel like they can pick up the phone and call you.)

Write

Your pulpit ministry and other teaching at the church is not enough. You need need to be regularly writing. As Al Mohler observed, “Leadership is about communication, and much of that communication is necessarily written…leaders must learn to write and to set time aside for writing.

But you say you don’t have time. Mohler, one of the busiest men on the planet offers this helpful bit of advice, “You do what you have to do.” I contribute to a group blog with other pastors and a couple of former seminary professors. We all write with an audience in mind – our own church. Why? For two reasons, it builds a resource library that they can access, and it allows us to address issues that we may not get to address in a systematic fashion from the pulpit. I’ve covered topics like the various approaches to apologetics, what goes into a worldview, basic pneumatology, basic anthropology, how to bring Scripture to bear on anxiety, the sanctifying power of suffering, and much more. And yes I have written some things that would fall into the broad category of discernment, like why our church isn’t charismatic, the danger of letting a prolife social gospel supplant the biblical gospel and the respect for life that flows from it, why assisted suicide is unbiblical and even why events like Together 2016 (which for the record took place in our proverbial back yard) should be avoided. I write because I want to educate the church, especially the women of the church, who as a rule read more, about these issues.

Be willing to Sacrifice

Whatever cherished activity or ministry is keeping you from being all in on your church’s ministry to the women of the church, give it up! Let me give you an example. I love our men’s Bible study, so much so that I had the next three topics for the study preplanned. But currently there is no overlap in our church between the women qualified to lead a women’s Bible study and the women with the desire and time to do so. So the Wednesday night Men’s Bible study I have taught since the church opened has been tabled and replaced with a coed midweek Bible study. Sure, I had planned on going through the topics covered in Men Counseling Men edited by John Street, but instead I am teaching an Old Testament survey course geared to Christians of both genders. Truth be told I’d rather be with the guys, but that is not the best thing for the church, and as pastors we should lead in counting others (including the women of the church) as more significant than ourselves.

I could go on and on, but I’ll close with this; it breaks my heart that Michelle asked me to write this guest post. When she asked me to write this post she said that multiple women had contacted her and asked if there was anything about how important it is to help church ladies tell truth from error that they could print out and give to their pastors. For shame! No one should be more concerned with the spiritual well being and growth of the women in the church than their pastors. That in some places and in some cases that is not true is a blight on our brotherhood. This is a profound failure to fulfill the charge of 1 Peter 5:1-4, and there is no excuse for it. As the Apostle said:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.


John Chester is the pastor of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket, Virginia. Prior to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. He hails from The City of Champions: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra. Read John’s blog articles at ParkingSpace23.


Note from Michelle: I first had the pleasure of “meeting” John when I read and responded to this excellent article of his on ParkingSpace23. While he and I have a couple of differences on discernment ministry, I think the world of him as a brother in Christ, pastor, and fellow blogger. I literally teared up when I first read this guest post, because I wish every church could have a pastor like John.


ALTHOUGH I DO MY BEST TO THOROUGHLY VET THE THEOLOGY OF THE BLOGGERS WHO SUBMIT GUEST POSTS, IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE FOR THINGS TO SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS. PLEASE MAKE SURE ANY BLOGGER YOU FOLLOW, INCLUDING ME, RIGHTLY AND FAITHFULLY HANDLES GOD’S WORD AND HOLDS TO SOUND BIBLICAL DOCTRINE.
Discernment

Throwback Thursday ~ Still Be Discerning about Discerners Discerning Discernment Ministries

discerners discerning discernment

Recently, one of my favorite blogs, ParkingSpace23 (a fantastic, doctrinally sound blog I’d encourage everyone to subscribe to), published an excellent article by John Chester called Still Be Discerning about Discernment Ministries. It’s all about John’s thoughts on discernment blogs and podcasts and why he has chosen to swear off of them.

John seems like a thoughtful guy and he handled what can be a touchy subject evenly, calmly, scripturally, and with grace. As someone who frequently writes on discernment topics, it gave me some good food for thought and an opportunity to biblically examine both my writing and reading/listening habits. It’s a great article, I was thankful for it, and I agree with a lot of his points.

But while John has decided not to partake of discernment blogs and podcasts, I still find discernment ministry to be an important aspect of this blog as well as my personal spiritual “diet”. Does that mean I think John, or any other Christian, is wrong for not wanting to regularly read or listen to discernment material? Absolutely not! But I’d like to present a bit of a different perspective regarding the value of discernment ministry.

In the first few paragraphs of his article, John draws a distinction between two different types of discernment ministries- a disctinction which I think is both astute and important. John differentiates between what I would call “propositional” discernment sites like CARM, and, if I’m understanding him correctly, mine – which generally post single, position paper-type articles on a given false teacher or false doctrine – and what I would call “daily news” discernment ministries such as Berean Research and Fighting for the Faith – which report on the shenanigans du jour of false teachers and apostate churches.

John’s position is that the propositional discernment ministries [PDM] can be helpful when needed, but he is not fond of the daily news discernment ministries [DNDM]. I think both can be beneficial, assuming they’re done biblically. Take a look at John’s points and my counterpoints, and then you can prayerfully decide whether or not it would be profitable for your sanctification to include discernment media as part of your spiritual fare.

John’s point: “[DNDMs] often spend much time dissecting sermons or blog posts that someone with even a rudimentary sense of discernment would have stopped listening to or reading within the first few phrases.”

Michelle’s counterpoint: “Someone with even a rudimentary sense of discernment” is the crucial phrase here. Perhaps John is blessed to pastor a body of believers who are good bereans and most of the Christians he knows are discerning. I hope that’s the case. It should be the case that every believer has “a rudimentary sense of discernment” and immediately rejects false doctrine when she hears it. Nothing would bring me more joy.

But, sadly, that’s not the case. In fact, in my experience, the exact opposite is true, especially among Christian women. The vast majority of Christians are very undiscerning when it comes to false teachers and false doctrine. Often, people lack discernment because they’re false converts. But because most churches don’t proactively teach discernment, there are also plenty of genuninely born again believers who take at face value that anything which wears the label of “Christian,” is sold at a Christian retailer, or is proclaimed by a Christian celebrity is biblical and trustworthy.

I know, because I used to be one of those undiscerning Christians who hadn’t been taught any better by my church. Sure, I could pick out charlatans like Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley, and I probably would have described people like Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis as “wrong” or “that’s not what Baptists believe” without really knowing why. But the Beth Moore Bible studies that every church I’ve ever been a member of has pushed on its female membership? I had no idea she was teaching false doctrine, especially since my own church was endorsing her books.

It wasn’t until I Providentially “stumbled across” Todd Friel’s TV program, Wretched, one night several years ago that I began to understand what false doctrine was, why it was wrong, biblically, and how it could hurt me and the church. And it wasn’t until I discovered Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith that I learned how to compare everything to Scripture – to listen to sermons with a discerning ear and read Christian books with a discerning mind. Todd and Chris taught me the discernment no church ever bothered to mention to me. And from the myriad of discerning Christians I’ve known, heard from, and read about, people like me are the rule, not the exception.

It’s not right that the church isn’t teaching Christians how to be discerning. I think every biblically responsible discernment ministry would agree that it is the church’s job, not a discernment ministry’s, to teach Christians to be bereans. But that’s not happening. And I thank God for those ministries who are standing in the gap- who have helped thousands of Christians like me.

John’s point: “[DNDMs] are unbiblical. What I mean is that there seems to me to be no biblical model or mandate for this kind of ‘ministry’.”

Michelle’s counterpoint: John may hold more closely to the regulative principle than I do, which would, understandably, account for my difference in perspective from this point. We do a lot of things, both in church and in parachurch ministry, that there’s no specific biblical model or mandate for. There’s no biblical model or mandate for vacation Bible school or crisis pregnancy ministry or handing out gospel tracts or even writing for a Christian blog. Yet these, and many other ministries, can carry the gospel to the lost (I’ve heard of many people who have read/listened to DNDMs, realized they were false converts, and have become believers.) and edify the saved – just like discernment ministries can. And there’s certainly a biblical mandate for that.

John’s point: “Did Jesus ever engage in a point by point take down of a particular Pharisee’s teaching that is recorded in Scripture? How much do we know about the Nicolaitans…in Revelation 2:15?… Or… the Colossian heresy…in Colossians 2:8?”

Michelle’s counterpoint: Jesus didn’t do sermon reviews (that we know of) the same way Chris Rosebrough does. But He did publicly enumerate and correct many of the Pharisees’ false teachings in Matthew 23. He publicly clarified Scripture and corrected unbiblical beliefs and false teachings – “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” – in the Sermon on the Mount. He publicly warned people against the false teaching of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. And every time those scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees confronted Him with questions or after a miracle, He set them straight for the whole crowd to hear.

As to the Nicolaitan and Colossian heresies, Colossians and Revelation 2 were addressed to particular churches. Just because we may not know much about these heresies doesn’t mean the Ephesian and Colossian churches weren’t thoroughly familiar with them. Perhaps that’s why John and Paul didn’t elaborate- because their intended audiences were already knowledgeable about those heresies. And perhaps the reason they might have been familiar with those heresies is that they were constantly being warned about them. Every book in the New Testament (except Philemon) warns against false teaching or false teachers.

Not so with the church today. Christians are not only not being warned about the heresies and false teachers running rampant in evangelicalism, undiscerning pastors are actually embracing false teachers, inviting them to speak at their churches, simulcasting their conferences, sharing their social media posts, and ordering their materials for the church’s small groups. And the church at large is so biblically illiterate that Christians have no idea they’re being fed false doctrine.

John’s point: “Curiously many discernment mavens will quote 1 Peter 3:15 as a text that supports what they do. But to be blunt, it doesn’t, not by a long shot…. This is about being ready to proclaim Christ to those who would persecute you.”

Michelle’s agreement: I could not agree with this point more. This verse isn’t about discernment. (I usually hear this verse more frequently in support of apologetics ministries, and it isn’t about apologetics, either.) It’s about evangelism.

One of the main features of today’s false doctrine is the twisting of Scripture and ripping it out of context. How can we who do discernment work rebuke false teachers for taking Scripture out of context and then turn right around and do the same to justify our own ministries? We know better. Specks and logs, anyone?

There are plenty of other passages of Scripture (such as the ones I’ve cited above and others) that speak of the importance of warning against false teachers and removing false doctrine from the church. We should not be using a verse that has nothing to do with discernment to justify discernment ministry.

John’s point: “Don’t get me started on the lack of gentleness and respect [from 1 Peter 3:15] that permeates many of these blogs and podcasts.”

Michelle’s agreement/counterpoint: John is right, here. Some of the discernment ministries that (incorrectly) claim the first part of 1 Peter 3:15 as justification for their ministry are not following the second part of the verse which says to “do so with gentleness and respect”. There are discernment ministries whose articles I absolutely will not share or link to because their snideness and name calling are so over the top it overshadows the valid point they’re trying to make, sometimes even damaging their own credibility.

At the same time, we do see instances of Jesus using harsh language and calling false teachers names, and Paul, Elijah, and others couldn’t always be characterized as gentle or respectful.

The thing is, their cultural context was a little different from ours, and these are descriptive passages, not prescriptive. Sometimes different cultures call for different approaches. Additionally, one woman’s “gentle and respectful” is another woman’s “harsh and unkind.” I’ve written discernment articles that were characterized as hateful by some Christians and too nice toward the false teacher by others- both about the same article!

Although I fail miserably at it – often – I try to use 2 Timothy 2:24-26 as my guideline when I write:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

It not only reminds me of how to contend for the faith (not quarrelsome, kind, patient, gentle), it reminds me who I’m contending for (those being held captive by Satan’s snare of false doctrine), and why I’m contending (that they might repent, know the truth, come to their senses, and escape captivity).

John’s point: “[DNDMs] are unhealthy…’you are what you eat’…A diet of constant critical speech and reading is naturally going to produce a critical spirit.”

Michelle’s agreement: This is absolutely true. I don’t know whether it makes me over-critical or not, but when I OD on discernment media it certainly makes me feel angry, frustrated, depressed, and that there’s no hope for the church. It takes my eyes off Christ and the very real salvific and sanctifying work He is still doing in churches across across the globe, and causes me to focus on the monster of false doctrine instead.

It’s exceedingly important that we not go overboard on discernment or any other single aspect of theology or or spiritual life. In order to be spiritually healthy, we must have a balance of all the good things: discernment, Bible study, prayer, evangelism, fellowship, worship, service, etc. When I find myself spending too much time in Discernment Land, I know it’s time to step back and readjust my focus.

John’s point: “They are not very helpful…I don’t think very many Christians, especially the kind who read theological blogs, are going to be taken in by [blatantly obvious false teachers].”

Michelle’s agreement/counterpoint: I’ve already shared my thoughts on the helpfulness of discernment ministries for Christians who are not discerning, but, if I’m understanding him correctly, I think what John is saying here is that Christians who are already discerning aren’t going to be taken in by false teachers, and, therefore, have little need for regular consumption of discernment media. I generally agree with that. I still subscribe to a few DNDMs and peruse their daily headlines, not because I need to learn discernment, but because I like to know what’s going on in the church, just like people skim section A of the newspaper because they like to know what’s going on in the world.

I might add, though, that just because someone is the type of person who reads theological blogs doesn’t mean he’s on top of things, discernment-wise. Thom Rainer writes a theological blog (and books, and has a seminary Ph.D), yet persists in allowing false doctrine onto the shelves of LifeWay despite the many rebukes he has received from pastors, seminarians, lay people, and, yes, discernment media. Not long ago, I took a class via video from a conservative Southern Baptist seminary president who positively (albeit in passing) cited Beth Moore and Rick Warren in one of the sessions. And these are just two isolated examples. There are many more.

John’s point: “[DNDMs] often have significant blindspots…In their rush to expose the errors of others, often discernment bloggers/podcasters can overlook real problems with themselves or with their theological allies, especially in the areas of tone and conduct.”

Michelle’s agreement: This is so true. There’s no way I could disagree with this, because I have been guilty of it myself far too often. I would only add that this is not a problem specific to discernment ministry. Every ministry has blind spots because every Christian has blind spots. We’re all guilty of hypocrisy, myopia, failure, and sin. And, because we’re believers, when a brother or sister points out our sin, we repent, we receive God’s wonderful, cleansing, restorative grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and we move forward in obedience to Him and His word.

John closes out his insightful article with this thought:

I am not saying that you must swear off “discernment” blogs and podcasts, but I am saying I did, for the reasons above along with others, and I think I am better off for it. I would challenge you to consider what I have written and to think deeply about your spiritual diet. I am exhorting you to be discerning about discernment ministries.

I am not saying you must partake of discernment blogs and podcasts. But I am saying I do, for the reasons above along with others, and I think I am better off for it. I would challenge you to consider what John and I have written and to think deeply about your spiritual diet. I am exhorting you to think about it, study about it, pray about it, and discern what God would have you do about consuming discernment media.

Discernment

Still Be Discerning about Discerners Discerning Discernment Ministries

discerners discerning discernment

Recently, one of my favorite blogs, ParkingSpace23 (a fantastic, doctrinally sound blog I’d encourage everyone to subscribe to), published an excellent article by John Chester called Still Be Discerning about Discernment Ministries. It’s all about John’s thoughts on discernment blogs and podcasts and why he has chosen to swear off of them.

John seems like a thoughtful guy and he handled what can be a touchy subject evenly, calmly, scripturally, and with grace. As someone who frequently writes on discernment topics, it gave me some good food for thought and an opportunity to biblically examine both my writing and reading/listening habits. It’s a great article, I was thankful for it, and I agree with a lot of his points.

But while John has decided not to partake of discernment blogs and podcasts, I still find discernment ministry to be an important aspect of this blog as well as my personal spiritual “diet”. Does that mean I think John, or any other Christian, is wrong for not wanting to regularly read or listen to discernment material? Absolutely not! But I’d like to present a bit of a different perspective regarding the value of discernment ministry.

In the first few paragraphs of his article, John draws a distinction between two different types of discernment ministries- a disctinction which I think is both astute and important. John differentiates between what I would call “propositional” discernment sites like CARM, and, if I’m understanding him correctly, mine – which generally post single, position paper-type articles on a given false teacher or false doctrine – and what I would call “daily news” discernment ministries such as Berean Research and Fighting for the Faith – which report on the shenanigans du jour of false teachers and apostate churches.

John’s position is that the propositional discernment ministries [PDM] can be helpful when needed, but he is not fond of the daily news discernment ministries [DNDM]. I think both can be beneficial, assuming they’re done biblically. Take a look at John’s points and my counterpoints, and then you can prayerfully decide whether or not it would be profitable for your sanctification to include discernment media as part of your spiritual fare.

John’s point: “[DNDMs] often spend much time dissecting sermons or blog posts that someone with even a rudimentary sense of discernment would have stopped listening to or reading within the first few phrases.”

Michelle’s counterpoint: “Someone with even a rudimentary sense of discernment” is the crucial phrase here. Perhaps John is blessed to pastor a body of believers who are good bereans and most of the Christians he knows are discerning. I hope that’s the case. It should be the case that every believer has “a rudimentary sense of discernment” and immediately rejects false doctrine when she hears it. Nothing would bring me more joy.

But, sadly, that’s not the case. In fact, in my experience, the exact opposite is true, especially among Christian women. The vast majority of Christians are very undiscerning when it comes to false teachers and false doctrine. Often, people lack discernment because they’re false converts. But because most churches don’t proactively teach discernment, there are also plenty of genuninely born again believers who take at face value that anything which wears the label of “Christian,” is sold at a Christian retailer, or is proclaimed by a Christian celebrity is biblical and trustworthy.

I know, because I used to be one of those undiscerning Christians who hadn’t been taught any better by my church. Sure, I could pick out charlatans like Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley, and I probably would have described people like Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis as “wrong” or “that’s not what Baptists believe” without really knowing why. But the Beth Moore Bible studies that every church I’ve ever been a member of has pushed on its female membership? I had no idea she was teaching false doctrine, especially since my own church was endorsing her books.

It wasn’t until I Providentially “stumbled across” Todd Friel’s TV program, Wretched, one night several years ago that I began to understand what false doctrine was, why it was wrong, biblically, and how it could hurt me and the church. And it wasn’t until I discovered Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith that I learned how to compare everything to Scripture – to listen to sermons with a discerning ear and read Christian books with a discerning mind. Todd and Chris taught me the discernment no church ever bothered to mention to me. And from the myriad of discerning Christians I’ve known, heard from, and read about, people like me are the rule, not the exception.

It’s not right that the church isn’t teaching Christians how to be discerning. I think every biblically responsible discernment ministry would agree that it is the church’s job, not a discernment ministry’s, to teach Christians to be bereans. But that’s not happening. And I thank God for those ministries who are standing in the gap- who have helped thousands of Christians like me.

John’s point: “[DNDMs] are unbiblical. What I mean is that there seems to me to be no biblical model or mandate for this kind of ‘ministry’.”

Michelle’s counterpoint: John may hold more closely to the regulative principle than I do, which would, understandably, account for my difference in perspective from this point. We do a lot of things, both in church and in parachurch ministry, that there’s no specific biblical model or mandate for. There’s no biblical model or mandate for vacation Bible school or crisis pregnancy ministry or handing out gospel tracts or even writing for a Christian blog. Yet these, and many other ministries, can carry the gospel to the lost (I’ve heard of many people who have read/listened to DNDMs, realized they were false converts, and have become believers.) and edify the saved – just like discernment ministries can. And there’s certainly a biblical mandate for that.

John’s point: “Did Jesus ever engage in a point by point take down of a particular Pharisee’s teaching that is recorded in Scripture? How much do we know about the Nicolaitans…in Revelation 2:15?… Or… the Colossian heresy…in Colossians 2:8?”

Michelle’s counterpoint: Jesus didn’t do sermon reviews (that we know of) the same way Chris Rosebrough does. But He did publicly enumerate and correct many of the Pharisees’ false teachings in Matthew 23. He publicly clarified Scripture and corrected unbiblical beliefs and false teachings – “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” – in the Sermon on the Mount. He publicly warned people against the false teaching of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. And every time those scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees confronted Him with questions or after a miracle, He set them straight for the whole crowd to hear.

As to the Nicolaitan and Colossian heresies, Colossians and Revelation 2 were addressed to particular churches. Just because we may not know much about these heresies doesn’t mean the Ephesian and Colossian churches weren’t thoroughly familiar with them. Perhaps that’s why John and Paul didn’t elaborate- because their intended audiences were already knowledgeable about those heresies. And perhaps the reason they might have been familiar with those heresies is that they were constantly being warned about them. Every book in the New Testament (except Philemon) warns against false teaching or false teachers.

Not so with the church today. Christians are not only not being warned about the heresies and false teachers running rampant in evangelicalism, undiscerning pastors are actually embracing false teachers, inviting them to speak at their churches, simulcasting their conferences, sharing their social media posts, and ordering their materials for the church’s small groups. And the church at large is so biblically illiterate that Christians have no idea they’re being fed false doctrine.

John’s point: “Curiously many discernment mavens will quote 1 Peter 3:15 as a text that supports what they do. But to be blunt, it doesn’t, not by a long shot…. This is about being ready to proclaim Christ to those who would persecute you.”

Michelle’s agreement: I could not agree with this point more. This verse isn’t about discernment. (I usually hear this verse more frequently in support of apologetics ministries, and it isn’t about apologetics, either.) It’s about evangelism.

One of the main features of today’s false doctrine is the twisting of Scripture and ripping it out of context. How can we who do discernment work rebuke false teachers for taking Scripture out of context and then turn right around and do the same to justify our own ministries? We know better. Specks and logs, anyone?

There are plenty of other passages of Scripture (such as the ones I’ve cited above and others) that speak of the importance of warning against false teachers and removing false doctrine from the church. We should not be using a verse that has nothing to do with discernment to justify discernment ministry.

John’s point: “Don’t get me started on the lack of gentleness and respect [from 1 Peter 3:15] that permeates many of these blogs and podcasts.”

Michelle’s agreement/counterpoint: John is right, here. Some of the discernment ministries that (incorrectly) claim the first part of 1 Peter 3:15 as justification for their ministry are not following the second part of the verse which says to “do so with gentleness and respect”. There are discernment ministries whose articles I absolutely will not share or link to because their snideness and name calling are so over the top it overshadows the valid point they’re trying to make, sometimes even damaging their own credibility.

At the same time, we do see instances of Jesus using harsh language and calling false teachers names, and Paul, Elijah, and others couldn’t always be characterized as gentle or respectful.

The thing is, their cultural context was a little different from ours, and these are descriptive passages, not prescriptive. Sometimes different cultures call for different approaches. Additionally, one woman’s “gentle and respectful” is another woman’s “harsh and unkind.” I’ve written discernment articles that were characterized as hateful by some Christians and too nice toward the false teacher by others- both about the same article!

Although I fail miserably at it – often – I try to use 2 Timothy 2:24-26 as my guideline when I write:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

It not only reminds me of how to contend for the faith (not quarrelsome, kind, patient, gentle), it reminds me who I’m contending for (those being held captive by Satan’s snare of false doctrine), and why I’m contending (that they might repent, know the truth, come to their senses, and escape captivity).

John’s point: “[DNDMs] are unhealthy…’you are what you eat’…A diet of constant critical speech and reading is naturally going to produce a critical spirit.”

Michelle’s agreement: This is absolutely true. I don’t know whether it makes me over-critical or not, but when I OD on discernment media it certainly makes me feel angry, frustrated, depressed, and that there’s no hope for the church. It takes my eyes off Christ and the very real salvific and sanctifying work He is still doing in churches across across the globe, and causes me to focus on the monster of false doctrine instead.

It’s exceedingly important that we not go overboard on discernment or any other single aspect of theology or or spiritual life. In order to be spiritually healthy, we must have a balance of all the good things: discernment, Bible study, prayer, evangelism, fellowship, worship, service, etc. When I find myself spending too much time in Discernment Land, I know it’s time to step back and readjust my focus.

John’s point: “They are not very helpful…I don’t think very many Christians, especially the kind who read theological blogs, are going to be taken in by [blatantly obvious false teachers].”

Michelle’s agreement/counterpoint: I’ve already shared my thoughts on the helpfulness of discernment ministries for Christians who are not discerning, but, if I’m understanding him correctly, I think what John is saying here is that Christians who are already discerning aren’t going to be taken in by false teachers, and, therefore, have little need for regular consumption of discernment media. I generally agree with that. I still subscribe to a few DNDMs and peruse their daily headlines, not because I need to learn discernment, but because I like to know what’s going on in the church, just like people skim section A of the newspaper because they like to know what’s going on in the world.

I might add, though, that just because someone is the type of person who reads theological blogs doesn’t mean he’s on top of things, discernment-wise. Thom Rainer writes a theological blog (and books, and has a seminary Ph.D), yet persists in allowing false doctrine onto the shelves of LifeWay despite the many rebukes he has received from pastors, seminarians, lay people, and, yes, discernment media. Not long ago, I took a class via video from a conservative Southern Baptist seminary president who positively (albeit in passing) cited Beth Moore and Rick Warren in one of the sessions. And these are just two isolated examples. There are many more.

John’s point: “[DNDMs] often have significant blindspots…In their rush to expose the errors of others, often discernment bloggers/podcasters can overlook real problems with themselves or with their theological allies, especially in the areas of tone and conduct.”

Michelle’s agreement: This is so true. There’s no way I could disagree with this, because I have been guilty of it myself far too often. I would only add that this is not a problem specific to discernment ministry. Every ministry has blind spots because every Christian has blind spots. We’re all guilty of hypocrisy, myopia, failure, and sin. And, because we’re believers, when a brother or sister points out our sin, we repent, we receive God’s wonderful, cleansing, restorative grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and we move forward in obedience to Him and His word.

John closes out his insightful article with this thought:

I am not saying that you must swear off “discernment” blogs and podcasts, but I am saying I did, for the reasons above along with others, and I think I am better off for it. I would challenge you to consider what I have written and to think deeply about your spiritual diet. I am exhorting you to be discerning about discernment ministries.

I am not saying you must partake of discernment blogs and podcasts. But I am saying I do, for the reasons above along with others, and I think I am better off for it. I would challenge you to consider what John and I have written and to think deeply about your spiritual diet. I am exhorting you to think about it, study about it, pray about it, and discern what God would have you do about consuming discernment media.