Getting Real About Ministry

I’m seeing a new trend at services of ordination and induction for pastors:  reality checks.

Tonight, I attended the ordination of a minister in the Presbytery (regional judicatory body) in which I serve, at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church ( in Scarborough.  Both the sermon and the charge were exemplary in both their theological soundness and what I called their “embarrassing frankness”.  By that I meant that both the minister preaching and the one giving the charge were not afraid to say to both congregation and ordinand that ministry nowadays is not always pretty.

I’m not sure ministry ever was pretty – not even in Green Gables.  But I can say, from a measure of experience, that it wasn’t always as challenging as it is today.  And clergy appear to be realizing this more and more frequently.

I’m sure there are some pastors for whom ministry remains relatively stress-free.  I’m fairly sure those pastors are superintending dying efforts.  Why?  Because growth does not come without change, and change does not happen without conflict.  And conflict of any sort is, by nature, a stressor.

So I’m strangely excited that pastors are willing to acknowledge the reality that ministry is tough, because that means they’re attempting to bring, and foster, positive (we hope) change.  The future of the church, by God’s grace, relies on its leaders being willing to Lay It All On The Line to draw people into a life of discipleship.  And that’s not always comfortable.


Earth Hour and Jesus

Last night, thousands of households across Canada participated in “Earth Hour” – a World Wildlife Fund-sponsored event encouraging businesses, governments, and ordinary citizens to promote conservation by darkening their homes and businesses between 8 and 9 p.m. local time.

There was a fair bit of hubbub about Earth Hour online – most of it, one assumes, before 8 and after 9, since their modems and routers, if not their computers, required electricity they were reluctant to use!

As I was preparing for worship this morning, I considered the enthusiasm that existed for Earth Hour.  Many Christ-followers participated.  Even the large, illuminated cross on Mount Royal – a Montreal landmark – was dimmed.  But it left me wondering:  do we have the same enthusiasm for sharing Jesus?

In the congregation where I spoke this morning, reflecting on Luke 24.33-35, I asked how many people had participated in Earth Hour last night.  Nearly every hand went up.  Then I asked:  how many of you shared Jesus with somebody yesterday?  Only a few hands were raised.

Christ-followers have a responsibility – indeed, I would argue, more of a responsibility than others – to take care of the earth, because the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24.1).  However, when Christians put all their effort into that which will fade instead of investing in the eternal destinies of others, we miss the mark.

If only sharing our faith would somehow become trendy!  Yet it is of such a substantive nature that it ought never to be reduced to trendiness:  sharing our faith can and should be a lifestyle choice.  Nobody else is going to do it for us.

Book Reviews

The Crucifixion of Ministry

At the suggestion of a trusted friend and respected colleague (the same person, I might add), I recently picked up The Crucifixion of Ministry(IVP, 2007).  It was a relatively quick and powerful read – and is worthwhile reading for all Christ-followers, not just pastors.

 The author:  Andrew Purves is a Scottish-born and trained professor of pastoral theology at Pittsburgh (Presbyterian) Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  His pastoral experience is somewhat limited, but his experience as a teacher of pastors, both graduate and post-graduate, is extensive.  He spoke at the February 2008 continuing education week at The Presbyterian College, Montreal; I wasn’t there, but a few friends who were spoke of him in exemplary terms.

 The thesis:  Purves’ point to the reader is that it’s not we who do ministry, but Jesus Christ.  Our responsibility is to get out of the way and let him do ministry – through us.

The review:  Purves reveals his traditional approach to ministry throughout the book, and while this is somewhat unsettling to those who are attempting to engage in ministry in more relevant and biblical ways, his theological point is spot-on.  He makes it crystal-clear, as a theologian within the mainline church, that unless we embrace the orthodox, historically-held tenets of the Christian faith – particularly with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity and the role of the Lord Jesus in redemption and sanctification – the mainline church will continue its downward spiral.  If Jesus is not Lord of the church, then the church is not the church and its ministry will not be ministry, but social work.

For Purves, truth is not a ‘what’ question, but a ‘Who’ question.  It was no accident that Jesus said that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14.6).  And, to use his words, the Christological dog must wag the ministerial tail.  When God’s people engage in ministry, their responsibility is not to ask, “How can I minister most effectively?”, but “Where is Jesus in this situation and how can his grace be made most manifest?” (my paraphrase).  We come bearing God’s love first and foremost.

The church exists to bear witness to Jesus Christ, says Purves.  Anything less is not ministry.  Ministry is what Jesus does, and we are responsible to get with Jesus’ program.

Purves wrote this book with tired, embittered, burned out pastors in mind, but all of us can benefit from his work.  For those who are tired, embittered or burned out, however, his words are a soothing balm.

It’s about 150 pages including a few case studies.  I think it’s worth the read.  It may change your approach to ministry, at whatever level you minister.


Giving In For All The Right Reasons

Yesterday, I finally gave in.  I resisted for a long time, despite the goading of several friends, fearing the amount of time it could consume.  I wasn’t sure I saw the value in it.  But yesterday, I finally gave in.

 I joined Facebook.

It isn’t like I needed to; I am blessed to have a network of friends on whom I can call at any time.  (I live with the best one of all.)  And as an introvert, gobs and gobs of social interaction just take energy from me anyway. 

 So why did I do it?

Simple:  influence

Somebody smarter than me once said that it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and in our culture today, squeaky wheels are often characterized by their willingness to ‘make some noise’, either verbally or by some other demonstration of opinion.  That most frequently happens today via the media – radio, television, newspapers, and now, the Internet. 

Many followers of Christ are reluctant to stand up and be heard (to be “witnesses”, to use a biblical term), by whatever means possible.  And, sadly, that has hurt his cause – especially in the past 50-plus years with the advent of television and high-tech communications.  There is an insufficient number of Christian leaders of integrity using media to point to Jesus Christ.  When I began this blog, and my website,, my goal was to enhance communication, but more importantly, to advance the cause of Christ.

But who reads your blog unless you talk it up?  That’s why I joined Facebook.

If you’re not acquainted with Facebook, it is a social networking tool that allows you to make ‘friends’ with people.  In my case, in the less than 24 hours since I subscribed, I have discovered people I knew twenty years ago as well as people I work with every day, whom I didn’t even know were involved in Facebook.  People can learn as much about you as you choose to disclose.  I suppose one could stretch the truth – or avoid it altogether – in the creation of one’s Facebook profile, so you do well to examine critically whatever you read on the site.  But the advantages, for my purposes, far outweigh the risks.

If even one person who sees my Facebook profile and clicks on my blog begins to consider the claims of Jesus, my foray into online social networking will have been worth every moment I invest in it.

My Facebook profile is available by clicking on the link to the right.

Encouragement From The Word

Easter’s Over?

            Easter’s over.  (Can you even look at another chocolate egg?)  In the life of the Christ-follower, we have weeks of build-up that lead to the last days of the life of the Lord Jesus.  It all seemed to happen so quickly this year, because Easter was closer to Christmas than any of us could possibly remember.  We’ve celebrated the Nativity, the Passion, the Resurrection.  Now it’s over.


            Or is it?


            One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the tradition of Christianity in which I fall is that every Sunday, no matter what time of year, is a celebration of the Resurrection.  Every Sunday is Easter Sunday.  True, we don’t sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” every week, but we could – each Lord’s Day is an opportunity to shout our Hallelujahs to God for the victory he has won for us in raising Jesus from the dead.  It’s our only hope, after all.  We do well to celebrate it as often as we can.  Heck, I celebrate the Resurrection every morning when I’m able, by God’s grace, to get out of bed.  Every morning when I wake up is as much a celebration of the Resurrection as the New Morning when I will wake up in heaven with God.


            I guess this is why I can do little more than shake my head when I hear of church leaders who dismiss the Resurrection of Jesus as mythical hogwash.  This is nothing new, of course – every once in a while, someone will write another book that will garner attention from the newspapers and naysayers, but it’s just repackaged “enlightenment” philosophy, filled with cockamamie notions like, “Human potential is all we need.”

             If you have an inkling toward believing that, let me offer you this word from Scripture:  …if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15.19, NLT).               I’m not following a Jesus Who Was Just A Guy.  I’m not following a Christ Of Faith.  I’m following the God who is made known to humanity in Jesus the Messiah, who was the final perfect sacrifice for the sins of everyone.  And I follow him in the power of the Holy Spirit.  If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we’re just going through the motions on Sunday, and we can stay home and watch Coronation Street, or something.  No, my Sunday celebrations are truly celebrations of Jesus the Resurrected Lord.               He’s my only hope.  He’s your only hope.             So Easter Day might not come around for another calendar year, but we can celebrate Easter every Sunday, even every day, in our own lives. 

            God’s best as you celebrate!

Passionately His,


Encouragement From The Word

Curling and grace

Grateful for a couple of days off after a crazy-busy Holy Week, I spent some time today watching the Women’s World Curling Championships.  TSN is showing all the games Team Canada is playing, so it’s a great week to get TSN!

If you’re not a curler or a curling fan, check out – the homepage of the Canadian Curling Association.  It’s a fun game, about throwing rocks at buttons in houses (really!).  See you on the ice!

In today’s game, Jennifer Jones, skip of Team Canada, had a real fight on her hands:  she was playing Team China which, curiously, was neck-and-neck with Team Canada at 5-0 leading up to the game.  It was a great game.  It looked ominous after the first two ends, in which China took 1 in the first and stole 2 in the second.  (My apologies for the lingo if you’re not a curling fan – I’m getting to the point in a minute.  Trust me.)  However, Canada kept up and played one of its best games so far.  But it doesn’t end there. 

Coming into the tenth end, the game was tied.  Canada had last rock, which is advantageous.  Jennifer Jones had to draw against 3 opposition stones, but it was a pretty standard draw – for Jones, at least.  This stuff is her bread-and-butter, at least in her curling life.  (In her other life she’s a corporate lawyer!)

Trouble was, that ‘pretty standard draw’ was a touch heavy.  That is, the stone went down the sheet a bit too fast.  And the Chinese third swept it far enough back in the house that it was China, and not Canada, that counted in the last end.  So Team Canada lost the game on the final stone.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad life’s not like that.  I’m glad that the whole of life doesn’t come down to the last thing I do.  I’m grateful that I’m able to bring worth and value to the lives of others through my work and my relationships.  In fact, I’m grateful that, in the final analysis of the game of life, it will not have come down to the stuff I’ve done.  The Bible says that “God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2.8-9, NLT).

Isn’t that good news?  It’s God’s grace acting in our lives that matters most in the final analysis of the game of life.  It’s not about how well we throw the shot, but in whom we have trusted.

I tried to mask my incredulity when I heard recently that a book had been written by a member of the clergy, advocating that what we do is more important than what we believe.  Of course, as with many errors, there is a grain of truth in this:  what we do matters very much.  One can claim to be a follower of Christ, yet never let that faith connect with what one does.  That is, I could claim to be a Christian and still go around killing people.  Or beating my children.  Or running around on my wife.  (You get the idea.)  What we do matters quite a lot.  But so does the motive by which we do those things!  That’s why I think it matters more what we believe, so that, first of all, our eternal destiny is secure; and second, what we do is founded in God’s will for us.

I’m glad there’s grace in life – all given by God.  See, I like to define ‘grace’ as an acroynm:  God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  It’s about Jesus, not us.

Curling is a courteous game, but it’s also brutal, in that you get to see all the players at their best and worst, and sometimes, the whole game comes down to one shot.  I’m glad life’s not like that. 

Well, actually, there is one exception – the whole of life does come down to the last thing I do, if that last thing I do is name Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.  I hope you have!

Passionately His,



Reflecting on all things new

In Revelation 21.5, the voice of Jesus echoes from the throne of God’s glory:  “Behold, I make all things new” (KJV).  What better day than Easter, the Day of Resurrection, to reflect on “all things new”.

For me, having a website, blogging, and expressing myself by this ever-more-popular means called The Web is very new indeed – all concocted in the past couple of weeks.  I’ve grown increasingly convinced of the value of this medium of communication, and hope to get better at it.

Working with words, and with the Word, comes easily.  Putting it in an appropriate form – forum? – for electronic expression does not.  So I appreciate your patience as this site develops and takes on a character of its own.

God began to make all things new right from the moment all things to that point were not new anymore.  That is, God began to prepare for the birth, teaching ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son from the beginning of time.  In the fullness of time, Jesus came – “full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1.14, NLT).  Yet people were not interested in God’s new mandate.  They nailed Unfailing Love And Faithfulness to the cross. 

But God got the last word in.

The resurrection of Jesus was God’s means of stamping out the power of death forever.  It was a new thing.

The return of Jesus will mean that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21.4, NLT).  This is a new thing to which every believer can look forward.

God’s love for his people was so strong that he was not afraid to try a new thing – even the sacrifice of his own Son.

My desire to help everyone understand God’s love, and his great sacrifice, is such that I shouldn’t be afraid to try a new thing, either.  So here we go.

May you know the joy of Easter – the joy that comes from being a child of the King by adoption!

Passionately His,


Upcoming Messages & Series

Upcoming Messages & Series

NOTE:  Despite the date of this posting, it is updated regularly.

The following messages will be preached at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m.

January 11 – The Value Of Sacrifice – Luke 12.22-34

January 18 – What Drives You? – Acts 2.14-47

January 25 – God Is Not God-Mart – Romans 11.33-36 (Guest preacher:  Shawn Kennedy)

February Series:  “Probing Our Purpose”

February 1 – To Worship God – Psalm 95

February 8 – To Be A Caring Church – 1 Corinthians 13, etc.

Feburary 15 – To Grow In Christ – John 17.6-23

February 22 – To Make God Known To Everyone – Acts 1.1-11