[This post first appeared on the Gospel Coalition website early 2014]. 

A few years ago my wife and I left the comfort of our Midwestern life to partner in gospel ministry on Boston’s South Shore.  I remember the moment I pulled our U-Haul into our new driveway.  We were greeted by several members of our new congregation.  The nerves quickly wore off as we received warm smiles and hugs, then moving help and loads of gift cards to local bistros.

Those first few months were wonderful: my ministry initiatives were generally successful; lots of energetic congregants flocked to my planning and training meetings; and boy did my wife and I eat well.  I became excited to dig in and partner with this church.  Rocky soil?  Please.

Then the honeymoon wore off.  Volunteer numbers dropped.   Work hours increased.  I grew tired, lacked motivation, and picked up some grumpiness that I couldn’t shake.  My Senior Pastor took a sabbatical which meant piling on more preaching and leadership responsibilities.

ne-featureDuring this rough patch God taught me several lessons, but one piercing question really stuck out:  do I really trust the Word through the Spirit to do the work of ministry?  As I pondered this question I slowly recognized that my weariness and discouragement were partly due to trusting things outside God’s Word.  But the Bible is crystal clear:  the Word through the Spirit is enough (Mk 4:26-29; Rom 1:16-17; 2 Tim 3:14-17).  This is a glorious and freeing truth.  And it means something profound for the difficult work of making disciples in New England.

Here are 7 ways I’m attempting to prioritize the distinctive work of the Word.  I humbly commend them to you…

  1. Ruthlessly guard the work of the Word in your life.  I wonder how many of us truly experience regular communion with God.  Personal fellowship with our God is essential for our daily well-being and perseverance over the long haul in New England.  There is nothing more important that we can do for our spiritual health, our marriages, and our ministries than deep, daily fellowship with God.  Do we believe that?
  2. Cultivate the work of the Word in family life.  If we believe that God’s Word through His spirit transforms, and if our families are more important than our churches, then we will prioritize reading the Bible and praying with our wives and children.  I’m not always great at this.  Pastors, let’s make time to read and pray with our spouses and children.  Let’s get just as excited about their spiritual transformation as we do our flock’s.
  3. Affirm the work of the Word in your congregation.  In a region that is admittedly “rocky,” it’s tempting as pastors to complain, control, or bail.  Instead consider the many evidences of grace that are undoubtedly in your congregation.  Perhaps your church has recently witnessed a conversion.  Maybe a prodigal son came home, a marriage was healed, a young man found victory over pornography, or Sunday worship was especially meaningful.  God is surely working through His word in your congregation.  Look for these evidences of grace, and then share them with others!
  4. Make time for the work of the Word in individuals.  There was a season when I neglected my call as a Pastor to be regularly in the Word with individuals.  I dedicated too much time to administration and planning.  Not surprisingly my joy and motivation grew when I redirected some energy to Word-centered people ministry.
  5. Be tender and bold in the public work of the Word.  In a challenging spiritual climate it’s tempting to either force things from the pulpit or pull too many punches.  As a young preacher, I’m learning that God’s people need a shepherd and a prophet behind the pulpit.  Cultural and personal idols must be confronted.  But God’s Word should also uniquely comfort the sheep.
  6. Be patient with the work of the Word.  New Englanders don’t mind telling you what they really think so I wasn’t surprised when the pushback came.  When this happens, pastors typically walk one of three paths.  Some lead by conviction – meaning, get ready for the fireworks.  These are the purist pastors: the idealist, impatient ones who want their churches to exemplify biblical church right now.  Others lead by consensus.  These are the people-pleasing pastors, the men with little backbone and limited passion.  Thankfully there is a third option.  The wise and careful pastor responds to pushback by teaching towards a consensus. They trust that God’s Word will bring unity in time.
  7. Rest in and pray for the work of the Word.  One of my favorite passages is Mark 4:26-29, which reminds ministers of the gospel to sow and sleep.  After the long day of draining conversations, unexpected phone calls, a host of other interruptions, and almost no sermon prep, it’s tempting to go home and do more.  But the efficacy of God’s Word and Spirit implore us to unplug, unwind, and pray big prayers for our churches and towns.  We sow and sleep; He builds the crop.  So take a few nights off each week.  Forget about your work email until the morning.  Don’t overwork the sermon.  Invite a friend to preach for you.  Meanwhile, rest and pray!  Rest and prayer are expressions of trust in the power of God’s Word.  Rest and prayer are demonstrations of gospel-wrought humility.

Jesus is the Word.  We are mere John the Baptists – humble voices in the dessert that display the beauty and majesty of the Word.  We are like Paul – sometimes fearful, trembling, and ineloquent as we come to our people.  Yet God somehow makes dead people live when we open our mouths with His words.  The Word through the Spirit is sufficient for this extraordinary work of salvation in New England.  Let’s preach, disciple, pray, labor, and rest like that’s true.

“Who are the Elders of SSBC?”  I can’t say I’ve never heard that question before.  Our church is at the size where getting to know our Elders is not always easy.  Yet God has called these men to be our shepherds (1 Peter 5:2), teachers (Acts 6:4), and examples (1 Peter 5:3).  We should know them!  Being a Pastor at SSBC gives me the privilege of rubbing shoulders with these godly men on a regular basis.  They are wise leaders and enjoyable to be around.  More importantly, they love the Lord, love their families, and love our church.  To help us get to know them better, I plan on asking each eight questions and posting their answers here.  Enjoy.  And please pray for these men and their families.

Past interviews:        Eric Mello        Tim Ells        Jim Kleberg        Kent Forkner        Bill Haeck        Rick Coughlin

RickG Rick Goodenough was the first South Shore Baptist voice I ever heard.  He served on the search committee that brought me on board and conducted my first interview.  He spoke passionately about SSBC’s caring people, faithful gospel preaching, servant leadership, vibrant worship, and commitment to missions & outreach. He clearly loved this church family.  Since that first phone interaction, I’ve served alongside Rick on a number of ministry teams, including Connections, Membership, and the Elder board.  The more I get to know him, the more I encounter a man who deeply loves God and desires to serve His people.  Here’s a little more about Rick…

1. How long have you and your spouse attended SSBC? What drew you to SSBC?

My family has been attending SSBC for 18 years. We were relocating to the area and in looking for a home, and drove by SSBC several times and decided to visit. We were excited to observe true worship as people were clearly singing from the heart and the preaching was Biblical and gospel focused.

2.  What is your favorite part about serving as an Elder at SSBC?

So hard to pick a favorite part, but I really enjoy the privilege of praying for members needs and encouraging and building up the body of Christ in whatever ways I can.

3.  When was a time that God undoubtedly showed His faithfulness to you and/or your family?

God has shown His mercy and grace toward Sheila and I many, many times throughout our lives. The most blessed that we have been with God’s innumerable and generous provisions was when our son Grant, took on his own faith relationship with the Lord and committed his life to Christ.

4.  What are three Christian books that have significantly influenced your life?

The Bible is at the bedrock level of influence and I have benefitted by so many Christian books that it is hard to name the other two.

A biography on Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore, was a wonderful read on how the Spirit of God used Spurgeon’s faithfulness in gospel preaching to build up the church which in turn raised up faithful women and men to build and serve in a wide ranging set of ministries to the glory of God.

I also resonated with a little book Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People by Jonathan Leeman. The message is one of letting God’s word permeate one’s life more robustly through praying his word, singing his word, hearing his word, speaking his word, etc. Just a great set of insights on how we might be in much deeper communion with our Lord through integrating his word into our lives in ways we may not have contemplated.

And then there is The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Collin Marshall, and so many books that have left an impact.

5.  What is God currently teaching you?

God is teaching me greater patience, and a deeper love for mankind through a softened heart that strives to exhibit Christ’s mercy and grace toward others as he has shown toward me. He has also convicted me to stay the course and to continue following the path of John the Baptist when he says, “He must become greater; I must become less,” John referring to his ministry, and me referring to giving over my self-serving ways to his ways of giving grace and mercy to others.

6.  What is one thing about yourself that most people don’t know?

Lots of stories, but most do not know that I got to fly a Mig L-29 Soviet jet over Chesapeake Bay. I actually had command for about two minutes, a scary thought. And the pilot did his own air show as he executed barrel rolls , reverse flips and other ridiculous maneuvers that got me into his 7g club…nearly passed out on that.

7.  What do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy backpacking, gardening and long walks on the beach.

8.  How can the SSBC congregation encourage and serve the Elders?

I continue to be encouraged and built up when I see God’s people fellowshipping and building up and encouraging each other, the body of Christ. I love it when folks see a need and just step up and meet the need, even without being asked. Things as little as picking up a piece of paper on the floor, or joining in on a work day to pick weeds seem insignificant, but all add together to building up the body of Christ.

I am encouraged that we are a praying church and that the culture is becoming one where folks are open to express their concerns to fellow believers and with hand on shoulder pray together for God to bless.

I am encouraged that our focus as a church is on engaging our families, neighbors and our communities with the gospel, and would be particularly encouraged if our new members class continued to be overflowing with folks who put on faith in Christ through the efforts of each of us and of course by the working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

Anvil_72dpiWhen God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him
And with mighty blows converts him
Into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand.

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes
How He uses whom He chooses
And with mighty power infuses him
With every act induces him
To try His splendor out –
God knows what He’s about.

Author unknown

As Ray Ortlund Jr. says, “stay on the anvil.”

“Who are the Elders of SSBC?”  I can’t say I’ve never heard that question before.  Our church is at the size where getting to know our Elders is not always easy.  Yet God has called these men to be our shepherds (1 Peter 5:2), teachers (Acts 6:4), and examples (1 Peter 5:3).  We should know them!  Being a Pastor at SSBC gives me the privilege of rubbing shoulders with these godly men on a regular basis.  They are wise leaders and enjoyable to be around.  More importantly, they love the Lord, love their families, and love our church.  To help us get to know them better, I plan on asking each eight questions and posting their answers here.  Enjoy.  And please pray for these men and their families.

Past interviews:        Eric Mello        Tim Ells        Jim Kleberg        Kent Forkner        Bill Haeck

COUGHLIN-RICK-293Rick Coughlin might be the friendliest person I know.  More than just gregarious, Rick is large-hearted and cares deeply for people.  He’s faithfully shepherded his Growth Group for a number of years.  I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve witnessed Rick put a hand on the shoulder of a struggling friend and pray right there, following one of our worship services.  And I’ve been that friend he’s prayed for as well!  It’s a privilege to work alongside this brother.   Here’s a bit more about Rick and his family…

1.  How long have you and your spouse attended SSBC?  What drew you to SSBC?

We began attending SSBC around 1984 or 85.  Both Cheryl & I had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church and had fallen away in our teenage years for a variety of reasons.  When our kids came along we recognized that we needed help raising them in a Christian environment and began searching for that right environment.  After visiting several churches of different denominations, we settled in at a local Congregational church.  Once there, we had gotten involved in ministry and began to find that the doctrine and teachings of the church didn’t really align with what Scripture teaches and we began to question those teachings.  Dear friends of ours (Larry & Connie Wagner) were attending SSBC and invited us.  Over a summer break we attended and found that the teaching here was vibrant, alive, and relevant.  Once we returned to the Congregational church the difference was stark.  Shortly thereafter we made SSBC our home.

2.  What is your favorite part about serving as an Elder at SSBC?

I am incredibly blessed by pastoring the people at SSBC.  God has brought so many people across my path that I have been able to speak with, encourage, pray with, and more.  I love the fellowship of the Godly men I serve with on the Board.  I love the pastoral staff and ministry leaders of this body of believers and I have grown so much in my own faith and knowledge of Christ.  Truly I have been blessed far more than I have given.

3.  When was a time that God undoubtedly showed His faithfulness to you and/or your family?

I’m not sure the correct expression is “God’s faithfulness to us” as much as it’s our recognition that God is worthy of having our faith put in Him.  He has shown Himself to be worthy of our devotion and faith countless times, whether it’s in provision of our daily needs; giving me the words – or even the impetus – to speak to someone who needs encouragement; or even looking back at my life and my family and recognizing how truly blessed I am – and the fact that very little of any of this has anything to do with me!

4.  What are three Christian books that have significantly influenced your life?

Aside from the Bible itself, I think the first book to influence me was “The Late, Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsay.  I’m not sure that I fully agree with its theology now (actually, I’m not sure how much I remember of its theology after nearly forty-five years!)  My brother recommended the book to me and it is probably the first time I starting thinking about the reality of God as opposed to some ethereal force out there.

The next book is “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.  I think this is the first book to give me a grasp of who God is and what he’s done for me.  (As a matter of fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve read this one.  I may just read it again.  I don’t think it ever gets old!)

5.  What is God currently teaching you?

I think that God is teaching me humility and patience.  It wasn’t that long ago that everything in life seemed to go easy.  Over the last few years nothing seems to be easy.  I’m recognizing (once again!) that without God’s intervention and involvement nothing happens.  My reliance on Him is complete.

6.  What is one thing about yourself that most people don’t know?

This is a tough question.  I think that most people who know me, know just about anything of importance there is to know about me.  My life tends to be an open book.

7.  What do you like to do for fun?

What’s fun?  Who has time for fun?!  I like movies, reading, listening to music – all kinds of music, long walks on the beach, sunsets ….  (I’m kidding about the walks on the beach and sunsets.  Well, maybe not, but I don’t like to do them as much as the others)

8.  How can the SSBC congregation encourage and serve the Elders?

Seriously, pray for us.  We are no different than anyone else in the congregation.  We’re all screwed up and need God’s grace and mercy regularly.  Please pray for us that we would be good shepherds, faithfully discharging the work He has called us to.  Pray for protection for us and for our families.