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Tips for Seminarians Seeking a Pastoral Call

1. Don’t procrastinate. Become a candidate for ministry in your denomination as early as possible. Follow your candidates committee’s instructions to a tee.

Don’t  put off candidacy and its requirements until the end of your seminary career. If you do, you will complete your seminary requirements, but be unready to accept a call because you’ve failed to submit to your denomination’s ordination requirements. That may mean you are many months away from accepting a call. Show respect for your denomination and love for your family by staying on track.

PCA students need to keep in mind the following:

  • You must be a member for at least six months of a church in the presbytery where you want to come under care.
  • You must also be endorsed by the session of that church before it is possible to become a candidate and intern.
  • Prior to ordination, you must complete a presbytery internship, which must last at least 12 months.
  • The process to be ready to be ordained requires a minimum of 18 months to complete, and, for most candidates, is closer to 30 months.

    RTS Jackson students: Presbytery Credentials Committee will host an informational lunch at Patterson’s Porch on Thursday, September 21, at noon. If you are even remotely interested in ordination in the PCA, then you should make plans to attend.

2. Prepare your resume carefully. Proofread and get someone else to proofread. Expect your prospective employer to verify each detail. Be accurate. The care with which you prepare your resume is one indicator of the care you will take with the work your future church entrusts to you.

3. Circulate your resume widely. Ask minister friends if they know of openings. Not every position is listed on your denomination’s website, and some positions may be coming open and not yet announced.

4. Compose a cover letter (or email). Attach to each resume a cover letter addressed to the person or committee responsible for receiving your resume. Tailor each cover letter to the position. Proofread and get someone else to proofread. Ask a friend in business to critique your cover letter before you send it. Your cover letter creates your first impression.

5. Include references. Include their names in your resume. Don’t make the pulpit committee ask for them.  Make sure you have obtained permission to use their names, and that their contact information is correct.

6. Keep your resume current.  Double-check all contact information for you and your references.

7. Be thoughtful. Acknowledge all inquiries with a handwritten thank you note.

8.  Be prepared. At interviews, either preliminary or when formally candidating

  • Wear a suit.
  • Take two handkerchiefs, one for yourself and one for someone else, if needed. A gentleman is always thinking of others.
  • Answer questions as briefly as possible. Don’t ramble.
  • Answer all questions directly and honestly.
  • Ask the pulpit search committee questions and listen intently to their answers. A good pastor is a good listener.
  • Sit up straight. Look at people when they speak to you. Manners matter.
  • Stand up when ladies enter the room. You are a gentleman.
  • Write thank-you notes to the entire pulpit committee. It’s an honor to be granted an interview.
  • Write thank-you notes to anyone who helps you during your visit. For example, if you’re meeting with a committee at someone’s office and his assistant gets you a drink while you wait, send the assistant a thank you note. Acknowledge the kind service to you.
  • In emails, use formal elements of style, like “Dear Mr. Adams” and “Yours in Christ, Charlie.” Use good grammar. Punctuate properly. Use upper case letters at the beginning of a sentence and wherever appropriate. Avoid slang. Check your spelling.

9. Disclose. If you have been under church discipline or have ever had any problems with the law, you need to tell the pulpit search committee. If you fail to disclose and the committee obtains the information during their reference and background check, they will question your honesty and wonder what else you are withholding. Your candidacy will almost certainly come to an end.

10. Engage people. When you are candidating at a church, speak to everyone, and especially to the children. Learn names.

11. Be grateful. It is an honor to be asked to candidate. Be thankful – to God and the congregation.

12. Treat your wife as your partner. Discuss together, pray together, decide together. You are a team.

Dr. Guy Waters on Paedocommunion

My RTS Jackson  colleague Dr. Guy Waters responds to the question, “Is Paedocommunion Biblical?”

Home Visitation: A Pastor’s Duty

I want my ministry students at RTS Jackson to become skilled in pastoral visitation, which includes visiting people in their homes.

In the late 19th century, Bishop J.C. Ryle was troubled by “a growing disposition throughout the land, among the clergy, to devote an exaggerated amount of attention to what I must call the public work of ministry, and to give comparatively too little attention to pastoral visitation and personal dealing with individual souls.”

In his excellent biography of Ryle, Iain Murray comments:

“However eloquent or apparently knowledgeable a preacher may be, there will be something seriously  lacking in the man who is not to be found in the homes of his people. Sermons which come only from the study are not likely to be messages which bind speaker and hearers together in a common bond of affection and sympathy. A preacher must be a visitor and be ready to preach everywhere. Few circumstances can justify the omission. If the excuse be offered that there is too much public work to do, to give time to the private, then the priorities are wrong.”

Facebook, blogs, and other public forums, because of the number of people supposedly reached, may tempt a minister to abandon more traditional, boots-on-the-ground ministry. This is wrong. Social media may assist a minister in his work, but it is no substitute for the work of gathering with people in their homes to pray, instruct, counsel, evangelize, and encourage.

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Source: Iain H. Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016), 141.

 

Congratulations Brian Gault!

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Congratulations Brian Gault! For 21 years Brian has faithfully served Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson. On Tuesday he was licensed to preach by Mississippi Valley Presbytery.

Bebo Elkin administered the licensure vows at Northpointe Presbyterian Church in Meridian.

Teach for America

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With characteristic enthusiasm, conviction, and thoughtfulness, Stephanie Jones-Fosu spoke today to my Yazoo City Rotary Club on behalf of Teach for America.
 
For the past three years, Stephanie has served as Teacher Leadership Development Coach, training more than 40 teachers in our district.
 
Stephanie and Justin Jones-Fosu were my neighbors in Clinton, and among those who graciously welcomed Lynne and me to the Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson family two-and-a-half years ago. We are grateful for friends who work tirelessly to make our communities good places to live and work.

For a Long and Fruitful Ministry

(Adapted from remarks to my students at Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson on April 19, 2016.)

I want for each of you a long and fruitful ministry. For that to happen, many things must take place. This afternoon I’ll focus on two.

First, for a long and fruitful ministry you must intercede for your congregation in your secret prayers.

Secret prayer – the time you spend alone with the Lord pouring out your heart for the congregation he has called you to serve and seeking those graces you must have if you’re to serve them well.

Without secret prayer there can be no real Christian ministry. That’s why Bishop Moule sought to impress upon his ministerial students that the “the heart of the minister’s life is the man’s Secret Communion with God.”[1]

Nothing will build stronger bonds of affection with your congregations than praying earnestly for them.

In prayer we come before the throne of grace, pleading with God to grant grace to the sick, comfort to the mourner, strength to the weak, certainty to the doubting, clarity to the confused, and hope for the despairing.

In prayer we also seek God’s sanctifying grace for our people. They must be holy as he is holy, for without holiness, no man shall see the Lord (1 Peter 1:16, Hebrews 12:14). “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Our congregations face many urgent temporal concerns, and we must intercede for them. But critically important is each member’s personal holiness, his Christlikeness. The name of Lord honored in the godly behavior and godly doctrine of his flock must be your principal concern.

And in our prayers for our congregations, we pray also for the graces that we need to be faithful in our ministerial calling. And of all the virtues we need to minister well, none is more important than gentleness. We mustn’t be harsh, overbearing, or intimidating.

Instead, we must approach the flock with “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Gentleness is the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit that is present in every true believer, and must be especially evident in the pastor.

Here’s what you mustn’t forget. You can be angry with people, or you can effectively minister the gospel of God’s grace.  But you can’t do both. It’s one or the other.

You can be gentle with people, or you can harbor heart anger. It’s one or the other. Gentleness and sinful anger are mutually incompatible.

The frequency and intensity of our prayers for ourselves and for our congregations are known only to us and to God.  Yet I doubt there is any greater measure of ministerial godliness. If we attempt to carry on a ministry without earnestly praying for our congregations, then we will find ourselves on perilous ground.

Why is that? Why is a ministry without private prayer spiritually deadly? Because when we fail to pray, we reveal ourselves to be hypocrites. We minister in Christ’s name without personal communion with him.

Alexander Whyte raises this very point in Bunyan Characters. In his lecture on “Formalist and Hypocrisy.” He writes of the hypocritical minister

Sweating at his sermons and in his visiting, till you would almost think that he is the minister of whom Paul prophesied, who should spend and be spent for the salvation of men’s souls. But all the time, such is the hypocrisy that haunts the ministerial calling, he is really and at bottom animated with ambition for the praise of men only, and for the increase of his congregation.[2]

What exposes Hypocrite’s heart is the absence of secret prayer. That mustn’t be you!

Frequent and intense secret prayer for our flocks indicates a heart for God and a heart for the people of God. Without it, there is never long and fruitful ministry.

And that’s what I want for you – a long and fruitful ministry. For that to happen, you must intercede for your congregation in your secret prayers.

And, next, you must speak affectionately to your congregation and about your congregation.

Remember Paul’s experience in Thessalonica. After a ministry that lasted about a month, he was forced from the city, leaving behind a church full of new converts.

The pain of separation was real and the anguish of the troubled Thessalonians could not be ignored.

So, with moving words, Paul reassures them by letter of his abiding love and affection. He asks: “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming” (2:19)?

What a question! I can imagine the letter being read to the Thessalonians for the first time. The reader of the letter asks Paul’s question: “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming?” He pauses, and gives the congregation time to mull it over. Then comes Paul’s answer:  “Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (2:20).

Paul’s crown of boasting before the Lord is saved Thessalonian believers who he will present to the Lord at his coming. They are his glory and joy.

Paul spoke affectionately of believers he loved. So should we.

One of the finest elders I’ve ever known taught me a valuable lesson. He never did something that’s so common among Christian parents: we complain about our kids, even exaggerating their faults, in order to get sympathy or even a laugh. This elder never did that.

Without ever bragging, he talked about his children only with respect and pride and gratitude. And his children adored him. Affectionate words showed just how much he cared for them.

Listen to your speech. How do you talk to your congregation when you’re in the pulpit? How do your members feel while sharing conversation with you? Do they sense your deep affection for them?

And how do you talk about your congregation when they are absent? When your with your fellow ministers, or your wife, or alone with your own thoughts. Wherever you are speak of them with tenderness and warmth.

If you start to speak otherwise, then catch yourself, repent, and from the heart talk about them with deepest affection.

Then in your heart and speech they will be your glory and joy.  And you will be well down the road to a long and fruitful ministry.

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[1] H.C.G. Moule, To My Younger Brethren: Chapters on Pastoral Life and Work (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1902), 31.

[2] Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters, vol. 1. 1893 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 138.

Leading in Worship at RUF

Today Seth Starkey, Reformed University Campus Minister at Belhaven University, helped my RTS Worship class think through issues of worship in RUF large groups. He has proved a valuable resource and friend to our students.

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