81 million Americans went back to school this week. 17.5 million of them are in post-secondary education, and most of them are already feeling that the summer was last century. The first assignment is already due, the first demerits have already been handed out, the exercise program is already growing fat, and 6am already feels like 3am. Does it need to be like this? Am I managing myself and my time in the best way? Am I going to look back on this time with deep regret?
Maybe you need to read What do you wish you’d known when you were at college? in which Lifehacker compiles its top ten of reader responses to this question. In summary:
Focus on Academics
1. Go to class.
2. Go to office hours.
Work on Discovering Your Calling or Developing Career Skills
3. Do internships.
4. Learn job-relevant skills.
Mind Your Finances
5. Go for the free money.
6. Avoid debt.
7. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Make the Most of This Unique Time
8. Don’t be in a rush to get out early.
9. Get involved with a club or association.
10. Study abroad.
Although there are some helpful tips for everyone here, it’s obviously not a distinctively Christian list. For example, I doubt #10 would be a good choice for most young Christians. So, what would a Christian list look like? As a Christian, what do you wish you’d known in college?
I’ll compile your answers, add some of my own, and post the result tomorrow.
PS: And while we’re on the subject of avoiding regrets in school or college, here’s 10 Privacy Tips for the Connected Student.
Sep 7, 2011 • By David Murray • 9 Comments
OK, I’m really tired of all the Grand Rapids-bashing that keeps rearing it’s ugly head in the Reformed blogosphere.
Anyone visiting from Moscow, would think that the city is simply the biggest drag on the Reformed resurgence.
What, you mean that’s just happened?
Yes, the latest salvo of contempt is from Doug Wilson:
And by Calvinist, I do not mean someone who grew up in the environs of Grand Rapids, and whose thought processes are tinctured with some elements of a by-gone Reformed tradition. I mean somebody who actually thinks that God is God, all the way up, all the way down, and all the way across.
I mean, what a crime, to have been raised in or near Grand Rapids, and to actually have some sense of theological connection to God’s work in past ages. You couldn’t possibly be that and ”think that God is God, all the way up, all the way down, and all the way across” could you?
But, thankfully, according to Mr Wilson, deliverance is near. Yes, apparently a striking new “Kuyperian aesthetic” is the answer. “Get out of the way, Historical Theology; make way, Confessional Standards; we’re coming through with our novels, movies, music and paintings. Vive la revolution!”
Now, I admit, Grand Rapids is far from perfect. It’s seen better days – economically and spiritually. The triple viruses of academic liberalism, dead orthodoxy, and cold nominalism have done their deadly work – as they have in every other American city. But much good remains. God’s work goes on – even in Grand Rapids. There are a number of excellent preachers here, and many wonderful Christians. It’s a fantastic place to live, work, and raise a family. I’ve preached in numerous churches here, representing various denominations, and found so much to thank God for.
But even if we’re as bad as we’re made out to be, how should you go about trying to help us? Well, when Jesus saw another “Reformed Jerusalem” in a poor spiritual condition, he didn’t spit out scornful spiritual and cultural superiority, but after forceful critique He wept tears of compassion and pled for her to return to Him.
I see something similar to this concerned pity in the sentiments Tweeted by Shai Linne when he visited Grand Rapids last week:
- In Grand Rapids, MI for the weekend. Lots of old churches. Seems like revival came and went.
- Few things more sad than seeing evidence of a once-thriving-but-now-dead Christianity. A warning for us.
- Seems like it happened early last century would be my guess. I want to research to see what happened here.
- Most of the seemingly dead churches here in GR have “reformed” in the title. Shows that right doctrine alone isn’t enough.
- Can anyone point me to a resource that deals with the dutch reformed movement in the Grand Rapids, MI area?
Shai and I have disagreed in the past, but I certainly agree with the spirit and content of these remarks: first-hand knowledge, recognition of God’s past work, sadness over present decay, appeal to learn lessons, a desire to know more, a concerned warning, and a serious commitment to understand an important and beautiful branch of Christ’s church.
What an example to others who have a genuine desire for the good of the city, the strengthening of the church, and the salvation of lost souls.
Sep 7, 2011 • By David Murray • 5 Comments
Yesterday, I proposed that pastoral training begins in the womb. Today, I’d like to suggest that one of the best seminary classes a pastor or trainee pastor could attend is to spend time with a nursing mother.
“Oh, no! Here’s another extreme and unbiblical idea from Murray.”
No, actually, I got it from the Apostle Paul.
Paul says to the Thessalonians that he was “gentle among [them], just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7).
So, visit the nursery, men; bring a notepad, open your eyes, and listen to how a nursing mother taught Paul how to pastor:
“First of all, Paul, this is how to gently nurse your congregation (v. 7). Watch me as I wake my children, how I clean them, clothe them, feed them, protect them, hug them, welcome them, etc. All very loving and gentle, isn’t it!”
“And, Paul, make sure your congregation knows that you long to be with them and enjoy being with them (v. 8). Cherish them like I cherish my baby. I’m sure you know that ‘to cherish’ means ‘to warm and be warmed.’ You can’t do that without being with them, and being close to them.”
“And remember that although I take care of my children’s physical needs, I put their spiritual needs first and look for every opportunity to share the Gospel with them (v. 8).”
“Paul, I love my children so much that I’m actually willing to sacrifice more than my time, talents, and health for them. I’m willing to sacrifice my life for them (v. 8). Do your congregations get a sense of that from you? I’m sure they do.”
“And as for working hours, I labor night and day (v. 9). Remember your own mother’s example, Paul, and let that memory mentor you through the long and often thankless hours of pastoral labor.”
“You’ll learn a lot about about mothering from pastoring. But you’ll also learn more about pastoring from watching mothering than from any Seminary Class.”
“In fact if you ever start a Seminary, Paul, maybe you should build a nursery at its center.”
Sep 6, 2011 • By David Murray • 3 Comments
Looking back on my life I’ve been increasingly struck by how God was preparing me for Gospel ministry long before I was even converted. And in such reflection I’ve found plenty material for worship – worship of God’s sovereignty, God’s wisdom, and God’s love. Like the Apostle Paul I can increasingly see that, in God’s good pleasure, He “separated me from my mother’s womb” (Gal. 1:15). Yes, seminary begins in the womb.
And such pre-conversion preparation can also be seen in the lives of many Gospel ministers as we read their biographies and autobiographies. Consider the following preparatory influences in their lives…and yours.
In his biography of John Stott, Timothy Dudley-Smith wrote: “Every man is to a great extent the product of his inheritance. The most formative influence on each of us has been our parentage and our home. Hence good biographies never begin with their subject but with his parents and probably his grandparents as well.”
John G Paton, pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides, narrates how his father’s prayers at family worship prepared him for ministry: “As we rose from our knees, I used to look at the light on my father’s face, and wish I were like him in spirit, hoping that, in answer to his prayers, I might be privileged and prepared to carry the blessed Gospel to some portion of the Heathen World.”
In some ways, God prepares Gospel ministers even in the characters and experiences of their grandparents and great-grandparents.
Long before we are converted, God shapes our personalities through genes, environment, and events; and these will not only prepare us for ministry but also impact our ministries – for good or ill. For example, David Brainerd says, “I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme.” These natural characteristics were carried into Brainerd’s ministry; sometimes for good; oftentimes, when carried to extreme, for ill.
J I Packer’s school friend Brain Bone tried to convert him to Unitarianism. Alister McGrath comments: “Packer found Bone’s arguments unconvincing, not least on account of the Unitarian understanding of Jesus purely as a religious or ethical teacher; nevertheless, their debates raised in his mind the whole question of truth in Christianity.” Not only did this schoolboy friendship initiate spiritual thoughts, but one of Packer’s English teachers also introduced him to C S Lewis, through the book Screwtape letters. Dr Lloyd-Jones attributes his love of history and of oratory to two of his early teachers, neither of whom were converted.
Listen to John G Paton describe how unknown and unheralded people in his own community were used of God to prepare him for ministry: “The Villagers of my early days – the agricultural servants, or occasional labourers, the tradesmen, the small farmers – were, generally speaking, a very industrious and thoroughly independent race of people. Hard workers they had to be, else they would starve; yet they were keen debaters on all affairs both in Church and State, and sometimes in the smiddy or the kiln, sometimes in a happy knot on the village green or on the road to the kirk or the market, the questions that were tearing the mighty world beyond were fought over again by secluded peasants with amazing passion and bright intelligence.”
God uses our early careers and callings to shape us for Gospel ministry. Though only 11 years of age, John G Paton worked from six in the morning till ten at night in his father’s trade. Short breaks for breakfast, dinner, and supper were used to study Latin and Greek. Yet, he says, “I gladly testify that what I learned of the stocking frame was not thrown away; the facility of using tools, and of watching and keeping the machinery in order, came to be of great value to me in the Foreign Mission field.”
I’m sure many of us can look back and see how God preserved us for ministry by delivering us from near-fatal accidents. As a boy, Lloyd-Jones and his brother were sleeping when they smelled smoke, “but sensing no danger, they merely pulled the blankets higher over their heads.” Eventually the family’s maid managed to awaken the heavy sleeping boys by banging on their father’s door, who reached their bedroom, and threw Martyn out of the window into the arms of three men who were standing in their nightshirts in the road. “Then they got hold of a ladder so that my father and brother could climb down. They were scarcely out when the floor collapsed behind them and everything went up in flames.” What a deliverance from the Evil One! And what an impact it had on Lloyd-Jones’s view of human frailty and vulnerability, as his family were also plunged into poverty as a result.
A bully chased J I Packer out of his school and on to the road where a van knocked him down. He suffered a major head injury that required immediate surgery. Mercifully a highly-trained specialist surgeon was able to save Packer’s life. But, says his biographer, “looking back, this near-fatal accident can be seen to have had a major impact on the life of Packer…It is directly linked to his love of reading and his remarkable ability to write.”
“From then until he went to university, Packer had to wear a protective aluminum plate over his injury, making it impossible for him to join in normal schoolboy games. This reinforced his natural tendency to be a loner…He would find solace in solitary things, particularly reading.”
When he was eleven, Packer asked his parents for a bike on his birthday. Aware of the great danger this would pose to his fragile skull, they instead gave him an old heavy typewriter! Though initially disappointed, “it proved to be what he needed. Surprise gave way to delight, as he realized what he could do with this unexpected gift. It was not more than a minute before he had put paper into the machine, and started to type. It proved to be his best present and the most treasured possession of his boyhood.”
When Packer found out that George Whitefield attended the same school and had been converted in the same city and university, he determined to find out more about him. “The narrative of Whitefield’s conversion and ministry excited and challenged him. It was like an ‘unction from God’, a ‘milestone’ in his spiritual journey.”
Later, when Packer could not figure out how he was a Christian yet stilling sinning, “he came across a pile of old books that a now-blind pastor had dumped in an Oxford Christian Union basement room: As Packer sorted through the dusty piles of old books in the basement of the North Gate Hall, he came across an uncut set of the edition of the writings of the Puritan divine John Owen… Intrigued, Packer began to cut the pages of Owen’s writings, and to read what he found. Immediately, he found himself challenged by the realism of Owen’s analysis both of the problems arising from ‘indwelling sin’ and of the means of dealing with it.” In this soul-relieving study, began Packer’s love-affair with the Puritans.
Pastoral model preparation
Many Gospel ministers have been prepared by growing up under poor models of pastoral ministry. Neither Richard Baxter nor Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s heard the Gospel from the legalistic and moralistic preachers of their childhood. But motivated by that terrible experience, they were passionate about getting the ministry right.
Of course, good pastoral models can also be a powerful motivation. When Lloyd-Jones went to London, he was heavily influenced by the highly-individualistic Peter Griffiths, then by the power of God that was present in John Hutton’s preaching. Lloyd-Jones remembers: ‘He impressed me with the power of God to change men’s lives; He believed in rebirth and regeneration.”
How often the Lord uses the particular way we are converted to prepare us for ministry to particular kinds of people with special spiritual needs. For example, maybe the Lord will take you through the painful experience of lacking assurance so that you will be able to minister to similar people.
For many of us, our wives are the best professors and our homes the best seminaries. What a blessing to be prepared for the ministry by being married to a godly wife.
Really? Yes, really. John Stott’s father was an enthusiastic naturalist and when he took his son into the country he would say: “Shut your mouth and open your eyes and ears” as “he taught him where and how to look, the names of plants and butterflies and birds and the interdependence of the natural order.” How many of John Stott’s insights into Scripture came from transferring the same “Shut your mouth and open your eyes and ears” approach to Bible Study!
In The Effective Pastor, Peter White sums up this amazing, sovereign, providential preparation with these worship-inducing words: “Imagine! God from all eternity picturing you and me, with our particular upbringing and background, all our varied experience of life and work, our unique strengths; and, punctual to the second, he has us where he wants to use us.”
Sep 5, 2011 • By David Murray • 8 Comments
When reviewing Paul’s description of the Christian pastor in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, I was struck again by how much emphasis he places on exceptional character rather than exceptional gifts, and by his focus on what a pastor is to be rather than what a pastor is to do.
And yet, when seminaries are training pastors, when churches are seeking pastors, and when pastors are pursuing training, we often turn the Bible’s priorities upside down.
In The Effective Pastor, Robert Anderson comments:
During the course of each school year dozens of inquiries come across my desk regarding men who are being considered by churches and mission boards. I am supposed to rate those individuals according to qualifications that are specified in the reference form. Without exception, each inquires as to the abilities of the person being considered, his personality traits and the talents of his wife. Rarely does a questionnaire deal with character traits (3).
Seminaries, churches, potential pastors, and even experienced pastors, need to re-prioritize (re-biblicize) and get re-focused on character rather than function or gifts.
How can seminaries play a role in this character-building?