Things I’ve Learned

I went to church sporadically growing up. I remember occasionally going to a small Southern Baptist Church about fifteen minutes from my childhood home when I was in elementary school. While I was in middle school, I remember intermittingly going to a larger Southern Baptist Church in West Mobile. And by the time I entered high school, I was rarely going to church at all . . . I only went to church when I was dating a girl that had a family that was going to church (how pathetic is that)!

Needless to say, I didn’t grow up with a relationship to pastors and deacons. Nor did I have any familiarity with AWANA, VBS, youth summer camps, mission trips, or anything along those lines. Really, regarding church life, I didn’t know much of anything.

Growing Familiarity with the Church

By the time I entered college, God began to graciously call me to Himself. Deep into the fall semester of my freshmen year, He mercifully saved me and freely gave me the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ. With a genuine work of God in my heart, I began to become more active in the local church.

This allowed me to get close to pastors and deacons, to become familiar with Vacation Bible Schools, youth summer camps, mission trips, and other church related things. And though I wasn’t knowledgeable of all that was going on in the church that I was attending, I started becoming more familiar with the church.

Much More Familiarity with the Church

After college, my wife and I moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina, in January of 2015. On August 16, 2016, I was hired on full time as the Director of College Ministry at First Baptist Church of Durham (a healthy local church in downtown Durham). This was my first ever ministry position, and I joyfully served in this capacity for three and a half years.

While I was doing college ministry, a friend of mine from Louisiana asked if I would be interested in being his associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Longville. This seemed like a good opportunity to serve the people of God, so in December of 2019, I moved to Longville, Louisiana, to begin serving full time as an associate pastor. I’m still serving in this capacity. This means that, as of August 16, 2021 (today), I’ve been doing full time ministry for five years. And at twenty-nine years old, I’m much more familiar with the church than I was in my childhood and teenage years.

Things I’ve Learned

Though five years isn’t a very long time, I thought it’d be neat to reflect on some things that I’ve learned while serving in full time ministry. Since ministry largely involves ministering to people, most of the things I’ve learned have to do with people. So, here we go:

People Need Christ

Christ is the incarnate Word, the image of the invisible God, the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and the light for the nations. He is the only mediator between God and man, and it’s only in Christ that one can find reconciliation and peace with God. Jesus is a never-ending source of other-worldly satisfaction and joy, and it’s Jesus that people need. 

After five years of ministry, I’m even more mindful that one of the most important things that I can do is place Christ before people’s eyes. And no, I’m not merely talking about placing Christ before unbelievers’ eyes. I’m also talking about placing Christ before believers’ eyes. I’ve learned that the children of God desperately need to behold and savor Christ afresh every day.

People Love Handwritten Cards

We live in a day and age where our emails are bombarded with advertisements, and where our cell phones are constantly receiving mostly insignificant messages from friends, family members, and acquaintances. And even though communication is remarkably easy, people are rarely receiving well thought out handwritten cards that are expressly written for the purpose of encouraging others.

This means that when people do receive a handwritten card, it is both encouraging and memorable! In all seriousness, I don’t believe I’ve ever had somebody thank me to my face for an encouraging text (though I’ve sent many). But almost everybody that I’ve written a card to goes out of their way to thank me. It’s evident that people love handwritten cards!

People Need to be Encouraged

There are people in the church that sacrifice their time, energy, and money for the cause of Christ. They give up their weeknights and Sundays for the purpose of sacrificially serving others. They diligently study so that they can properly teach the Word of God. They read books and listen to podcasts so that they can better counsel folks that are hurting and suffering. They open their homes to get to know other members of the church. And these people need to be encouraged. They need to know that I, as their pastor, see their ministry, am grateful for their ministry, and that our church is better off because of their ministry.

People are Hurting

Sure, people put on a socially acceptable smile on Sunday mornings, but deep down inside most people are hurting. And they are hurting because of their own sins, someone else’s sins, or because of all that comes with living on a cursed earth. There’s a family unit that has a rebellious child. There’s a marriage that is on the brink of disaster. There’s a youth that’s beginning to indulge in sexual sin that will have consequences for decades to come. Somebody has gone to the doctor and received a life altering diagnosis. A couple is doubting if they will ever be able to get pregnant. A widow is trying to figure out how to go to sleep by herself every night. All over the church, people are hurting, and they need other brothers and sisters in Christ to help them.

People Need Parlor Preachers

We don’t really hear the term “parlor” anymore, but most churches in the old days had them. It was a room in the church that was especially constructed for receiving guests. And a parlor preacher is a Christian that can speak about heavenly things in social settings (not just from the pulpit). Charles Bridges defines it as “the ability to introduce the subject of religion seasonably and acceptably into social discourse.”

It’s important to be able to do this as a pastor, and it’s important to have fellow church members that can do this as well. Reflecting on the importance of this Spurgeon says, “To be a holy talker for Jesus might be almost as fruitful an office as to be a faithful preacher.” In five years, I’ve learned that we vastly overestimate what people learn from their pastor in the pulpit, and that we vastly underestimate what people learn from a spiritual conversation in the parlor.

People Need Church History

The Catholic Church teaches that both Scripture and tradition are equally authoritative. While the Baptist Church has rightly rejected this, most Baptist Churches have made an equally deadly error by flat out rejecting church history and tradition. There are so many people that are ignorant of the early church and its creeds, the Reformation and its confessions, the historical development of Baptist ecclesiology and doctrine, the Great Awakening, and so much more. 

This means that, within many Baptist Churches, most people’s concept of church is built around the church that they grew up in rather than the historic church that has existed for thousands of years. This isn’t healthy at all, and it leads to a multitude of problems. People really need church history.

People Need Sound Doctrine

This should not surprise anyone because one cursory reading through the Bible reveals that sound doctrine is important. Nevertheless, when I ministered to college students in North Carolina, and as I’ve ministered to people in Louisiana, it has become clear that many people grow up in Baptist Churches that are indifferent to doctrine. And it seems like most churches promote doctrinal indifferentism for the sake of maintaining unity. It’s as though pastors think to themselves: “If I don’t preach meaty doctrine, then my people won’t divide over anything.” 

What these pastors are failing to realize is that keeping people ignorant of doctrine cultivates what J.I. Packer calls “a deceptive appearance of unity.” Just because a church seems to have inter-party peace doesn’t mean they’re unified. Instead, it means that division is right around the corner. . . .as soon as people start talking about doctrine! So, people need sound doctrine, and Baptists Churches would be better off if they made every effort to cultivate doctrinal unity within their congregations rather than a deceptive appearance of unity.

Church Family IS Family

Kahlie and I both have awesome families. As a matter of fact, almost every vacation we take involves going to see our families because we enjoy being around them so much! With that said, one of the things that God has really taught us since we have moved away from our families for the sake of the church is that church family IS family! We knew this mentally before we moved away from home. We understood that other Christians were our brothers and sisters in Christ. We knew that older Christians could become spiritual fathers and mothers to us. We could mentally assent to these truths.

But once we moved away from home, we quickly came to understand this experientially. While we were in North Carolina, Kahlie and I immediately had our hearts joined together with other Christians. We were eating at each other’s houses, celebrating holidays together, serving together, serving each other, praying for one another, learning from one another, taking vacations together, helping each other bear up under trials, and so on and so forth! Older Christians invested in us, discipled us, cooked for us, and counseled us. And sure enough, when we moved eighteen hours from North Carolina to Louisiana, we immediately had our hearts knitted together with other Christians here. As we have moved across the Southeast, it’s become clear that church family is family. Thank God for the church!

Church Friendly Families are Awesome

Most families are looking for family friendly churches. This is completely understandable. It’s good to look for a church that’s going to strategically strive to serve each member of your family in a manner that’s worthy of the Lord. But as a pastor, one of the greatest blessings to the church is a church friendly family—a family that prioritizes healthy involvement in the church over athletics, hobbies, and other extracurriculars. In both churches that I’ve served in, I’m always blessed and encouraged by healthy family units that make healthy involvement in the church a main priority.

Godly Deacons are a Blessing

I’ve had the pleasure of getting close to godly deacons at both churches that I’ve served at. The deacons I’m talking about account their lives of little value, have hearts that go out to the hurting, and see it as their God given role to glorify Christ by fulfilling both menial and significant tasks for the church and the community. About these men, I echo Spurgeon’s words: 

“The church owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those thousands of godly men who study her interests day and night, contribute largely of their substance, care for her poor, cheer her ministers, and in times of trouble as well as prosperity remain faithfully at their posts…Deprive the church of her deacons and she would be bereaved of her most valiant sons; their loss would be the shaking of the pillars of our spiritual house and would cause desolation on every side.”

Still Learning

I could keep going. I’ve learned a great deal about people and ministry over the past five years. But, like I said early, I’m not so naïve to think that five years is a long time. It’s very brief in the grand scheme of things. With this in mind, I’m still learning, and I’m greatly anticipating God to continue educating me.

The Outward Varnish of Religion

“I had to offer sacrifices, 

and today I have paid my vows.”

Proverbs 7:14

Ravi Zacharias is a well-known Christian apologist, speaker, and evangelist. His books have been widely read, his YouTube videos have been widely watched, and his conferences have been widely attended. As one listens to him, he seems to exude Christian humility and gentleness. However, ever since his death in 2020, there has been an extensive investigation into Ravi Zacharias’ sexual misconduct. And just last week, the twelve-page report that reveals the findings of the independent investigation into his sexual wrongdoing was released (you can also find the latest Christianity Today article here). Ravi’s sexual misconduct has been made manifest now, and it has become apparent that he was a sexual predator.

As I read through the evidence in the report my stomach churned, and my face cringed. Ravi’s sexual sin is deplorable and sickening. One of the worst parts is that he seems to have used his ministry as a cover for sin. He utilized his Christian faith to his advantage in manipulating and coercing young ladies into certain sexual acts. In light of these recent revelations, this week I wanted to write on Proverbs 7:14 to reveal that the Bible actually talks about this evil tactic of using religion to coerce and seduce someone.

Proverbs 7 – The Adulteress

Within the book of Proverbs, chapters 5-7 deal extensively with sexual sin. In each chapter, there are warnings against the sin of adultery (Proverbs 5:9-14, 21-23; 6:26-35; 7:22-27) and the enticing allure of the adulteress (Proverbs 5:3; 6:24-25; 7:5, 10-21). Though these chapters present a wealth of wisdom, I want to focus on the fact that the adulteress in Proverbs 7:14 presents herself in the garments of religion in hopes to entice the simple man to drink the poison of sexual sin with her.

When the adulteress launches her attack in Proverbs 7, she is “dressed as a prostitute” (7:10), “loud and wayward” (7:11), and waiting for a man whom she can satisfy her sinful lusts with (7:12). Once she discovers her next victim, she lays hold of him and “kisses him” (7:13). Though this is a bold sexual encounter in and of itself, she wants to go further. It is at this point that she uses religion as a means to coerce and entice the simple man to bring this initial sexual encounter to its full consummation. She says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows” (7:14).

Most translations translate “sacrifices” as peace offerings. The peace offering was a unique sacrifice because it was one of the only offerings where the offeror was given a large portion of the sacrifice so that they might return home and partake in it in a celebratory way with both friends and family (Leviticus 7:11-21). And in our passage, the adulteress has just offered up peace offerings at the temple, the dwelling place of God. She is now headed back home to feast on the remaining parts of the sacrifice.

While she’s headed home, she invites the simple man to come along with her. She wants him there so that he might partake in the rest of the sacrifice with her . . . . as well as some carnal love. It seems like she believes that, because of her sacrificial offering, God is rewarding her by satisfying her sinful passions (Proverbs 7:15-20). At the end of the day, it is apparent that the adulteress is covering up the sexual mischievousness of her heart with the outward varnish of religion.

Sadly, the simple man falls prey to her carnal passions that are robed in religious garments. He follows her “as an ox goes to the slaughter, as a stag is caught fast” (Proverbs 7:22), and “as a bird rushes into a snare” (Proverbs 7:23). The simple man of Proverbs 7 is seen as another casualty in the adulteress’ hunt to satisfy own her fleshly appetite (Proverbs 7:26).

Ravi – The Adulterer

Like the adulteress of Proverbs 7, Ravi Zacharias also used his religious garments to help him fulfill his sexual passions. Because Ravi had significant backpain, he would frequently go to receive a massage. While he was receiving these massages from young ladies, he would strike up casual conversations with them. 

One massage therapist said that these conversations led her to think of Ravi as a “father figure” to her. He would speak to her about spiritual things and would inquire about her financial situation. Upon hearing that she was struggling financially, he secured ministry funds to help her out. Shortly after this, he elicited sex from her. In recounting this time in her life, the lady said that Ravi would use “religious expressions to gain her compliance.” He would make her pray with him. He would call her his “reward” from God because of his faithful service to the Lord. Indeed, Ravi drove home the point that “the Lord understood what he had sacrificed” and implied that “their sexual exchanges were God’s way of rewarding him.” He then warned her not to speak out against him because that would “damage his reputation” and lead “millions of souls” to hell.

Another lady said that Ravi groomed her in a similar way. Throughout their conversations, Ravi “gained her trust as a spiritual guide, confidante, and notable Christian statemen.” As she began to see Ravi as a spiritual authority in her life, he started using his influence “to exploit her vulnerability to satisfy his own sexual desires.” Though Ravi and this lady were never physically intimate, intimate photos were shared. 

As you can see, Ravi was enslaved to sexual sin and he used his ministry platform to coerce young ladies. With his worldwide Christian ministry, he groomed women to respect him. This was all, of course, so that he might gratify his flesh with them. Then, with his worldwide Christian ministry platform, he warned the women to stay silent about it. At the end of the day, Ravi abused the Christian faith as a means to fulfill his godless passions. In doing so, he betrayed his wife, victimized many women, delegitimized his worldwide ministry, and dishonored the name of Christ.

Since seemingly godly people use the Christian faith as a means to satisfy their sinful lusts, may we all learn to “beware of any voice, though from the most revered quarter, that manifestly encourages forbidden indulgence.” And may we, those of us that have a ministry platform, learn to leverage our authority and influence for the edification of the church rather than the indulgence of the flesh. For we serve a God that will one day wipe away the outward varnish of religion and expose us for who we truly are.