Four Reasons Success in Ministry is Hard to Hold Onto

I recently talked with a friend in ministry who had reached a significant career milestone, but he struggled with how to talk about it. Could he be proud of accomplishing something?

His comments stood out to me because I’ve been in that same place many times. Can I be proud of what has happened in our church? Or would that be sinful pride?

In ministry, “success” is a loaded term, one that many are quick to run from. And while I’ve certainly come across the cliched pastor who can’t wait to tell you how big his church is or how many followers her Instagram page has, most people in ministry truly aren’t like that. They want to serve God, help people, and live humble lives. But we also feel a desire to succeed in our vocation, and would like to know we’re doing a good job.

Here are four questions for you to process when thinking about success in ministry:

1. How does the gospel shape my experience of success? As Christians, we are completely loved by God before we do anything for Him. If we are driven to succeed out of fear that we are unloved otherwise, we need to re-order our understanding of the gospel.

That said, we sometimes go too far, acting as if the gospel invalidates our longing to participate in work that matters. I believe that it is a good thing to find joy and meaning in our work, as long as that joy and meaning is in right relationship to the Creator.

2. What do I want to see happen in people’s lives? Sometimes we’re the worst critics of our own ministry. “No one really liked my message.” “No one’s life is really changed.” “Ministry isn’t real work compared to manual labor, brain surgery, or corporate life.” Especially with experience, we can become skeptical of stories of life change, knowing that there are many factors that go into true transformation.

But don’t discourage yourself out of worship when God works in someone’s life. Cynicism isn’t maturity – it is faux-maturity, a sophomoric belief that we know how every story will end. Ministry work does matter, and your contributions can be significant to people.

3. What did I do to contribute? We may know that the ministry we’re a part of did something life-changing, but we dismiss our role in that process.  Especially as we grow up the ladder and take on more of a visionary role, we sometimes aren’t sure what we contributed besides being the leader.

This sounds humble until we consider how important “just the leader” can be. Don’t believe me? Find a successful ministry without strong leaders.  You may not be the one who gets to lead the child to Christ, feed the homeless person yourself, or mentor the troubled couple, but your leadership makes these contributions from others possible.

4. How does my success compare with others? Predecessors, neighboring leaders, heroes, and secular influencers all can make us feel like we aren’t keeping up with others. Our “wins” feel small compared to the deluge of success stories we hear at conferences, on social media, and in church history books.

Our successes aren’t invalidated because they are smaller than others, any more than a watermelon is invalidated because it is smaller than other watermelons.

Besides, if you aren’t sure if your success is truly from God (see #2), how can you be sure the successes of others are or aren’t? Make the words of Jesus to Peter his words to you: “What is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)

How have you found ways to hold on to the successes of ministry without being ruled by them? 

2018 “Thank You” List

Here are 18 people, books, media, and institutions I’m grateful for from 2018:

  1. The women who persistently, bravely, and selflessly forced the church to confront issues of abuse, especially Rachael Denhollander, Nancy Beach, Beth Moore, and Nancy Ortberg.
  2. Jemar Tisby – Grateful for his wisdom around issues of race and the church.
  3. Russell Moore – There’s no one I’d rather see representing evangelicals on the news than Dr. Moore.
  4. I don’t know that I’d have the courage to talk publicly about my experiences of attraction, sexuality, and Christian faith, even as a person with attractions that are very traditional. I’m grateful for the courage of Sam Allberry, Wesley Hill, Jackie Hill Perry, Chris Yuan, and Rosaria Butterfield for being willing to talk about themselves in such a vulnerable and powerful way.
  5. Dave Guiles and Encompass – As a pastor of a Charis Fellowship church, I’m grateful that our denomination’s mission organization is led by a man of such character, insight and wisdom as Dave.
  6. Fleming Rutledge – Her book, The Crucifixion, is the rare book worth 500+ pages. Her twitter account is shorter, but also helpful.
  7. Tim Keller – Rarely do I give a sermon that isn’t influenced by Keller. If you think I quote him in my sermons a lot, just think of all the times I hold back.
  8. Persecuted church leaders – The courage of Christians around the world continues to amaze me. Thank you, God, for people like Andrew Brunson (an American pastor jailed by Turkey for political reprisal), Wang Yi (a Chinese pastor recently jailed by authorities), and Leah Sharibu (a Nigerian teenager held hostage by Boko Haram).
  9. Dennis Mukwege won the Nobel Prize this year for his work in the Congo with rape victims. He also won my quote of the year prize for this: “It is up to us, the heirs of Martin Luther, through God’s Word, to exorcise all the macho demons possessing the world so that women who are victims of male barbarity can experience the reign of God in their lives.”
  10. Biola University, especially Talbot School of Theology – There are many great seminaries throughout the country, but Talbot holds a special place in my heart. When looking at prospective candidates for staff roles here at Grace, there is no school I am more confident in the graduates of than Talbot.
  11. Christianity Today – If you’ve clicked through many of the links in this post, you’ve probably noticed many are from Christianity Today. Grateful for the quality of the writing, editing, and reporting.
  12. Dale Allison, The Luminous Dusk – This was my favorite book I read this year (originally published in 2003). The central premise is, “What do miss out on spiritually by being modern people? What is different about our world than the ancients?” He’s not an evangelical, but the book is relentlessly thought provoking.
  13. The Gospel Coalition, especially the writing and blogging of Brett McCracken, Justin Taylor, and Collin Hansen. If you’re looking for a church in a new area, their church directory is helpful, too.
  14. Pete Scazzero and the Emotional Healthy Discipleship podcast
  15. David Crowder – In my mind, I’m still a college student listening to some of his early David Crowder Band albums. But in body, he and I are both reaching middle age. Grateful for his creative music, joy, and faithfulness. His new album this year (“I Know a Ghost”) is unlike anything you’d normally hear on Christian radio (and that’s a good thing).
  16. Ellen Burany and CRM – Besides the birth of our second child, I’ll remember 2018 most for the sabbatical I was given by our church. Ellen was my coach throughout that process and helped me walk through that process with God. Grateful for her. If you’re considering a sabbatical and looking for coaching, call Ellen!
  17. Center for Individual and Family Therapy (CIFT) – The place I recommend most often for people looking for a therapist is CIFT.
  18. Grace Community Church of Seal Beach – Grateful for our church!

Churches I visited during sabbatical

I’ve just completed a 12 week sabbatical.

I visited 19 churches during that time. I should say, I visited 19 worship services. I didn’t observe their mission activities, their elder meetings, or their care for one another. My observations were just superficial.

I thought some people might be interested in what churches I visited, so here’s the list. This isn’t an “endorsement” list, just a list of where I went. I don’t think it would be fair or helpful for me to review or grade the churches. For a couple of the churches, I made notes of things I found praise-worthy or notable about the services.

I tried to do two things: Be God-centered personally, and receive each worship service for what it was, rather than critique it for what it was not.

The churches are listed in the chronological order that I visited them.

The Garden Church (Long Beach) 

Anchor Community Church (Long Beach)  A church plant at our local elementary school. The most welcoming church we visited as a family. Probably half of the people in the room came up and started a conversation with us during or after the service.

Grace Long Beach Visited by myself on Pentecost. A wonderfully thoughtful liturgy specially designed around the Spirit’s coming.

Antioch Church (Long Beach) 

Los Altos Grace Brethren Church (Long Beach) 

CityLights Church (Long Beach) – Appreciated that they replaced the “turn and greet” time with an open time of praise and prayer requests. A great picture of what a multi-ethnic, multi-economic church can be for a community.

Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (Los Alamitos) 

Bellflower Grace Brethren Church

Eastside Church (Bellflower campus) 

Calvary Church of Santa Ana

Grace Church of Orange

Emmanuel Reformed Church (Paramount) – I was impressed by how committed to prayer this church seems to be. There were 4 thoughtfully prepared prayers by different leaders throughout the service. When I met the senior pastor after the service we talked for a few minutes, then he asked if he could pray for me and my sabbatical. You can tell that this church has a bias toward prayer, which was great to see.

Community of Faith Bible Church (South Gate) – Probably my favorite church to visit, and the one on this list I’d consider first to become a member of. A deep joy pervaded the people, and the service was God-centered and biblically driven in a way that was a delight.

Mammoth Community Church 

Cornerstone Church (Long Beach) 

Ambassador Church (Anaheim) 

First Southern Baptist Church of Anaheim 

Hillsong LA 

Union Church (Los Angeles) 




8 Christian Leaders I am learning from who are African-American

In the last year, I’ve come to realize how many of the people I learn from are white, like I am. So, I’ve tried to expand that circle a bit this year, and listen more to leaders of color.

My goal is sharing this list is to help others get exposed to voices of leaders and thinkers outside of white evangelicalism. These are pastors, professors, and other Christian leaders, because that is my primary field of study.  This is certainly not a ranking or evaluation of them as leaders; it is just my way of trying to point others to people I am learning from.

Thabiti Anyabwile – We use his book Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons with our elder board. He’s a wise, thoughtful and courageous pastor.

Eric Mason – The founder of Epiphany Fellowship, a network of churches around the country. Pastor Mase is a dynamic and brilliant leader. Worth listening to in a variety of topics, especially men’s ministry. His book, Manhood Restored is terrific.

Christena Cleveland – A professor at Duke Divinity School, she may have my personal record for most times “followed” and “unfollowed” on twitter. She provokes me to think about race on a deeper level than I am comfortable with, which I need. That said, her doctrinal commitments (as I understand them) are not consistent with mine.

Bryan Loritts – One of my favorite pastors to listen to speak. Sharp, funny, and brave.

Jackie Hill Perry – Her story of redemption is inspiring. Plus, she’s great on twitter.

Trillia Newbell – A strong Bible teacher and leader, who is a delight to listen to speak. I’m grateful to God for the wide variety of ways that Trillia has led, but it does make me wonder if I’ve accomplished anything in life, compared to her.

RJ Davis – A friend of mine from our seminary days, I’m often inspired by the way that RJ brings inspiration and application to his people through teaching and social media presence.

Jemar Tisby – Founder of the Reformed African American Network website. His article in the Washington Post on a racist photo from some professors at Southern Seminary was really helpful to me.

Who would you recommend adding to this list?

Helpful statements condemning white supremacy

Over the last few days, I’ve struggled with what to say about Charlottesville. I am only a beginner in understanding the issues of race in this country. So, rather than write something, I’m going to share some of the statements I’ve found helpful:
Menlo Church (John Ortberg) –

Racism and movements of white supremacy are evil and God-grieving because they violate God’s intent for salvation; they deny the image of God, they belittle the worth He has implanted in every human being, they sow seeds of anger and fear and confusion, they spit in the face of the One who was crucified for all human beings.

And so we pray; we mourn and grieve, we work and strive, we repent and learn and act. We follow Jesus. Salvation belongs to our God.

My concern about these statements is that they are all from the perspective of those who also white males. I’d love to hear from your articles that you’ve found helpful.

10 Practical Ways to Love Evangelistically

This past Sunday, I preached on 1 John 4:7-12 at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach.

The prompt was “How do I help people know God?” The answer: Love evangelizes. Love is the engine of evangelism (we love because God loved us), love is the model of evangelism (God loved us while we were far off),  and love is the means of evangelism (we show what God is like through our love).

At the end of the sermon, I shared a list of 10 practical ways to love evangelistically.

1. Love your enemies, even as God loved us while we were His enemies. (Sermon on the Mount)

Who are people you are “supposed” to hate?

2. Love people who are culturally different from you, even as Christ has made us one people. (Ephesians 4, Galatians 3)

Christ breaks down the walls of hostility between generations, races, classes, and other human divisions. How can I seek to build loving bridges in Christ with those culturally different from me?

3. Love people before they love you, even as God loved us first (1 John 4)

God didn’t wait for us to love him. How can I be pro-active in loving others?

4. Love your neighbors by meeting their needs, even as God has met our needs in Christ. (Good Samaritan)

What practical needs do my immediate physical neighbors have? How can I meet their needs, even as Christ met my needs?

5. Love people by praying for their healing, even as Christ has provided for our healing. (Sending out of the Seventy)

Who is sick in my life that I can pray with?

6. Love the widow and the orphan, because God loved us when we were fatherless and hopeless. (James 1:27)

Who in my sphere of influence is without a family or home? How can I invite them into an experience of family?

7. Love people enough to risk sharing your story of faith, because God has given us a story of salvation (Paul and Herod Agrippa)

How have you gone from “Far from God” to “Close to God”? How did the gospel bridge that gap?

8. Love people who have nothing to give you, because we had nothing to give God. (Luke 6:32-36)

Who are people you can love who have no status, finances, legacy, or renown to give you?

9. Love others by forgiving them, because we are forgiven (Parable of the Ungrateful Steward)

Who can you display God-like forgiveness toward?

10. Love others by keeping God’s commands, and showing them the goodness of God (2 John 6)

How do you need to refrain from coveting, slandering, hating, or ignoring your neighbor?

Why the empty tomb matters (Easter Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:3-23)

Below is the sermon that I’ll be giving tomorrow (4/20/14) at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach, at 9:30 and 11 am in the Surfside Room. We’ll also have services at 8, 9:30, and 11 in the Fellowship Hall. 

When you picture your body 5 years from now, what do you think you’ll look like? Maybe a little grayer, a few more wrinkles. Or maybe you’re an optimist, and you think your body will have lost a few pounds by then. What about 25 years from now, what will your body look like then? I’ll be 58 years old in 25 years, so I imagine my body will have a little more of a belly, my hairline will probably have receded some, my shoulders may have drooped a little. What about you? How about 50 years from now? What will your body look like then? 75 years? 

I think we’ve reached the upper limits of how long any of us expect to live at this point by hitting 75 years, but let me push a little farther: what do you think your body will be like in 150 years? 300 years from now? 1000 years from now?

You might answer strictly from a biological standpoint and say, “Well, I imagine 300 years from now my flesh will have decomposed and my body will have ceased to exist. That’s what always happens when people die.”

But what if there’s another possibility. What if death is not the end for you? What if there was someone whose body did not decay? And what if he promises to resurrect us in the same way?

That possibility of resurrection will be our topic today. First, we’re going to look at, “Did Jesus’ resurrection really happened?” Is it true, did Jesus actually come back from the dead? Question 2: “What if it didn’t?” What if it’s not true? What if Jesus died and stayed dead? And finally, question 3, “Since it did happen, so what does that have to do with me?” What difference does it make in my life, today, and what difference does it make in my future, if Jesus really did come back from death?

Let’s start by looking at why we can have confidence that Jesus’ resurrection really did happen, that he was actually raised from the dead. I know that today is Easter, and many of us are so accustomed to the language of Jesus being resurrected that we don’t hear how amazing that sounds. Think about it: What we are talking about and singing about today is nothing less than God breaking the rules of death and plucking Jesus out of the grave. Resurrection violates one of the most widely held experiences people have: once dead, always dead. Is it possible for someone to die and come back to life? Not just after a few minutes, but after 3 days of being dead?

Some of you hear this and think, “To be honest, I don’t think it is possible. I come to church on Easter with my wife to make her happy, but there’s no way that I could believe someone could die and come back to life. Maybe people in the ancient world believed that sort of thing, but aren’t we more advanced than that now?” 

It’s tempting to think that our modern minds are the only ones that would object to this idea, but Paul was facing doubts about the resurrection in the 1st century. They saw Jesus’ physical resurrection as intellectually embarrassing, like some do today. But Christians can’t give up on the physical resurrection of Jesus, then or now.

In 1 Corinthians 15, we will see why Paul was so adamant about the fact that the resurrection mattered and that it really happened in history. According to him, it’s a core fact of Christianity, the basis of everything else that our faith is built on.  Look at how Paul carefully describes the resurrection was so central to Christianity in 1 Corinthians 15.

******On the Screen:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV)

What Paul is saying is that the basic thesis of Christianity is that Jesus died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day. This happened in accordance with the promises of the Scriptures. God had been pointing forward to the resurrection of Jesus for thousands of years before Christ in the Old Testament.  And now that it happened, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus make-up the basis building blocks of the gospel of Jesus.

By putting so much weight on this specific event in history, Christianity boils down to the question: Is it true? Was the tomb really empty? I mean, if Christianity is proven or disproven by the resurrection, how can I know if it happened?

Paul’s answer to the question, “Did it really happen?” is to assemble all the witnesses who saw Jesus alive. The people in Corinth, just like us today, didn’t see the resurrected Jesus. They had to take the word of someone else. This is the same with all issues of history. We have to take the word of someone that George Washington was really the 1st president of the US, for example, since we weren’t there. But we trust the historical sources that vouch for it. So the question becomes, who are the witnesses that say they saw Jesus resurrected, and can they be trusted?

Who are these witnesses? First off, they were the people who knew Jesus best, the people who spent years walking the roads with him. The first group of witnesses to the resurrection were those who followed him during his life. Look at 1 Corinthians 15:5

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:5 ESV)

Cephas, which is the Aramaic way to say Peter’s name, and the twelve apostles were men changed by the resurrection. They immediately and permanently went from fear to courage. Before the resurrection they were scared to show up to the trial, but a week later were so bold that they withstood torture. Years later they would each suffer martyr’s deaths without breaking their conviction that Jesus was alive. What sort of event so completely and permanently changes men like that?

           But it’s not just the twelve apostles who saw him. It’s not just the already convinced. Look at verse 6

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6 ESV)

At the time Paul wrote this letter (about 20 years after Easter Sunday), most of these 500 witnesses could still be consulted and asked if this was really true. Can you imagine lining up 500 witnesses for a trial to find out if something is true beyond a reasonable doubt?

But it’s not just people who were “pro-Jesus” who claim they saw Jesus alive. Paul points out two people who were opposed to Jesus. The first is Jesus’ brother, James. Earlier in the gospels James is seen as someone who mocked Jesus as crazy. Also, there’s Paul, who himself thought Jesus’ followers were toxic to the nation. But both of these men have sudden and lifelong u-turns, and their explanation is that they saw Jesus resurrected.  

Paul’s argument to the Corinthians is: if you don’t believe me, ask the literally hundreds of other people who saw him, too. He knows the Corinthians are biased against resurrection. He knows that they assume something like resurrection was impossible. But he encourages them to look at the real evidence, not just their bias.

In that spirit, we want to help you think through the questions you might have about whether believing that the resurrection really happened. If that’s a question you’re wresting with today, we’re really glad you’re here. As you leave this morning, we have a gift for you, a small book titled The Case for Easter. If you are still thinking through whether this is reasonable, please grab a copy of that book as our gift to you.

I realize, though, that agreeing intellectually that the historical evidence is impressive and compelling doesn’t remove all our doubts. Even if hundreds of witnesses say the resurrection happened, some people will still object to the idea of a physical resurrection as scientifically impossible. Couldn’t we just have Christianity without the resurrection?  Why is it so important for Jesus to be raised from the dead? Couldn’t I still take the teachings of Christianity to heart without believing in this?

This brings us to the second question the text addresses: What if the resurrection didn’t really happen? What if it’s a hoax, a lie, or a myth? Does it really matter one way or the other?

            Paul gives three reasons why the resurrection had to happen for Christianity to be true. The first one is the matter of sin and forgiveness. The resurrection proves we are forgiven of our sins. Look at verse 17:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV)

Our faith only counts because it is based on the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If the resurrection didn’t really happen, then your sins are still on our shoulders and you and I are going to be judged for them. If Jesus didn’t really raise from the dead, there’s no forgiveness for us, and we’re eternally accountable for the wrong we’ve done. 

            Have you ever gone through the line at the store and asked, “Do I have enough in my account to pay for this”? Or maybe you’ve given your debit card to a cashier for a major purchase, and waited to see whether you had enough in your account to cover the new computer. A moment goes by while it’s processing. Then “Accepted” flashes across the pad, the receipt kicks up, and the cashier hands you the bag with your new purchase. Your payment was enough, it was accepted. That’s the resurrection. It was enough to pay our debt. Without the resurrection, though, we have no reason to believe that we did have enough to pay for our sins, that they would be forgiven. In fact, the very opposite is true without the resurrection – our sins would not be forgiven at all.

            The second reason it matters whether Jesus’ resurrection really happened is that if Jesus’ resurrection isn’t true, Christianity is lying about God. Paul has told the Corinthians that God raised Jesus from the dead. If they don’t believe that, why should they believe anything else Paul told them about God?

We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15:15 ESV)

If Jesus wasn’t really raised from the dead, Paul says, then I’m lying about God.

            Lastly, if the resurrection was a lie or a myth, then people should pity us because we are so delusional. That is, if we are putting our faith in the resurrection of Jesus foolishly, we shouldn’t be applauded but rather receive people’s sympathy. Sometimes a person will find out I’m a Christian pastor, and tell me, “I’m glad you have something that works for you and that religion makes you happy.”  What they mean is, “I don’t think Christianity is objectively true, but I’m glad it helps you sleep at night.” Their assumption in saying that is that Christianity can be a good thing whether it’s true or not. Paul doesn’t see it that way. Look at what he says in verse 19:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)

Why does Paul say we should be pitied if the resurrection isn’t true? Paul had given up a lot of comfort and access to become a Christian. He had endured physical, financial, and social costs, and did it with joy. He had hope. He didn’t think that this life was the end, that his body would just get eaten by worms. Why did he have such hope? Because Jesus’ body hadn’t been eaten by worms. If that’s just a “nice thought,” Paul is pitiable, because he’s delusional.

You might have this same moment of truth that Paul faced, between comfort on one side and truth on the other. When your son has signed up to be a missionary in Libya, and you don’t know whether he’ll come back safe or not, you’ll ask, “Is this really true?  Or am I just sending off my son into harm needlessly?” Or maybe it is when you turn down a date with a man you’d otherwise be interested in, because you know that he isn’t a Christian, and you pray, “God, am I holding this line for a reason, or am I just shooting myself in the foot?”

In those moments, we want to know how “true” the resurrection really is, because we can see the appeal of the comfort of compromise. In those moments, if we are only operating under a delusion of truth, rather than real truth, we should be pitied for missing out on comfort unnecessarily.

            So, if the resurrection didn’t really happen, if it’s all just a myth, we’re still stuck in our sin, we’ve lied about God, and we’re to be pitied. But what if it is true? What if Jesus really did come out of the tomb? What does Jesus’ resurrection tell us about our future? What does it matter for us if Jesus was raised from the dead?

Here’s the “so what” of why it matters for us that Jesus was resurrected: What Jesus’ body was like on Easter Sunday tells us about what our bodies will be like forever. Since Jesus wasn’t just locked away in the tomb forever to decay and disappear, we won’t be locked in a coffin forever to just decompose. If Christ has been raised from the dead, then we who are his followers can be raised from the dead, too.

            To be clear, Paul is not speaking of just our souls going to heaven. While this happen in the short-term, when Jesus returns, he will give us the sort of bodies he had at Easter.

How do we know that this will happen for us? How do we know that our bodies are not just going to be left in the coffins forever? Because Jesus is the start of the resurrection people.  The resurrected Jesus that we celebrate on Easter is the model of what all of his followers are going to be like. Look at verse 20:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV)

Firstfruits are the first of the crop, and it tells the farmers what kind of year it’s going to be, what the rest of this year’s apples or grapes are going to be like. Jesus’ resurrection is the first crop of grapes, and we’re the ones that are coming. His resurrected body shows what ours will be like.

            But this is not automatic. We don’t deserve resurrection, and it doesn’t happen on its own. As descendants of Adam, we inherited death. As people of Christ, we receive resurrection from death by becoming followers of Jesus.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22 ESV)

How do you go from people in Adam to people in Christ? By deciding to follow Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. If you’ve never made the choice to follow Jesus, you are still under the curse of Adam, waiting to die. Choose to follow Christ, and be alive. 

We would love to help you take your next step in that journey of following Jesus. After the service today we will have people up front here who would love to talk with you, or you can make a note on your attendance card in the bulletin and we’ll get in contact with you this week, to help you figure out what’s next.

Like the Corinthians, we are prone to question whether a bodily resurrection could be possible. We assume that because it’s not normal it couldn’t happen. But Jesus’ resurrection proves it is possible, and Paul goes to great lengths that Jesus was resurrected and the tomb was empty. Are you willing to be reasonable enough to consider the evidence around Jesus’ resurrection? Look at the evidence. Ask God for wisdom, and open up the logical possibility in your mind that miraculous intervention by God could happen in this way. I’m convinced that based on the historical testimony of the witnesses, and specifically the way the gospel made the witnesses brave until death, we can have confidence in the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Because of this confidence, we are not hopeless and pitiable. Instead, we look forward to our own resurrection as followers of Jesus.



What did I just vow to do? (Or, ordination in a “free church” tradition)



Last Sunday night was my ordination service at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach. In our tradition (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches), it is the local church alone that is the ordaining agent, rather than a diocese, presbytery of classis. This made the night more personal, since it was our church family doing the ordaining. But personal has its challenges: since I could design the service however I wanted (within reason), the question became: What do I really want to vow to do? Below are the ordination vows I chose. They borrow heavily from the Presbyterian Book of Order and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, with an eye toward our free church practice.  

Vows for the candidate: 

Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? If so, please answer I do.

Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word? If so, please answer I do.

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the statement of faith and teaching positions of Grace Community Church as reliable expositions of Scripture, and will you be instructed and led by them as you lead the people of God? If so, please answer I do and I will.

Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, proclaiming the Word of God in season and out of season? If so, please answer I will.

Will you shepherd the flock of God that is before you by equipping them for works of ministry, praying for them and seeking to serve them with energy, intelligence, imagination and love? If so, please answer I will.

Questions to the Congregation

Do we the members of Grace Community Church of Seal Beach ordain Bob Wriedt as our pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to guide us as disciples of Jesus Christ? Do we?

Do we agree to pray for him, to encourage him, to respect his decisions, and to follow as he guides us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is head of the church? Do we?

Do we promise to pay him fairly and provide for his welfare as he works among us, to stand by him in trouble and share his joys? Will we listen to the Word as he preaches, welcome his pastoral care, and honor his authority as he seeks to honor and obey Jesus Christ our Lord? Do we?

Why have an ordination service for someone who has been a pastor for 8 years?

To answer this question, it helps to understand what we mean by “ordained” here at Grace, because it is different from other denominations.

I became licensed as a minister in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (of which Grace Seal Beach is a part) during my first year here. This process involved two written exams, two oral exams (one with area pastors, another with our local elder board), and a ceremony of licensure in the Sunday morning worship services. In that service, Pastor Don explained licensure this way: “It’s like a driver’s permit. It’s temporary, but let’s you get out on the road and drive.”

Some denominations require completing ordination before one becomes a pastor. Our fellowship does it a little differently, believing that the best way for both the pastor and the congregation to learn whether someone should be ordained is to have them engage in real life ministry. So, once one is licensed, he has at least a three-year trial process before being eligible for ordination. After that waiting period, he can take two more written exams, two more oral exams, and have a Sunday evening service with carrot cake (okay, I may have added the carrot cake part).

What’s the difference between the two? Licensure is temporary, the tests are easier (though not easy), it is for the purpose of discernment, and is therefore best done under supervision of an ordained minister. Ordination is the final step of the process, and therefore requires a higher level of theological precision in the exams, more self-awareness of strengths, gifts, and calling, and is fitting for those in senior/supervisory leadership roles.

While I could have remained licensed indefinitely, I made the choice to be ordained as a way to express my commitment to serving Jesus in the pastoral ministry for as long as He will have me to do so. The testing period affirmed my commitment to Him, and to serving His church.

Let me end with this: Being licensed here at Grace has provided me a terrific experience of “testing out” pastoral ministry. You have let me figure out who I am and what pastoral ministry is during these first eight years of my time in Seal Beach. I know I have stuck my foot in my mouth plenty of times during these past eight years. Thank you for your patience; it has been a means of God’s grace in my life.

I am especially grateful to Pastor Steve and Pastor Don for their direction, encouragement, trust in me, and prayer. I hope I can encourage others in ministry the way you have encouraged me.