Men, Not Geldings

I’ve stumbled (over the course of about a year) onto a group of Christian men that I wish I would have known about years ago (some of them haven’t been around that long, but you get my point). The unfortunate—and sometimes unacknowledged—reality in the Christian world is that most of the widely known, popular pastors and teachers are not masculine men. Sure, they might have good things to say; but many men find it hard to look up to them or to really feel like they can follow them because, well, they’re simply not manly.

Additionally, of those who do aim to appeal to men specifically, those who avoid the trap of immorality (which ensnares far too many), often fall prey to the error of artificial machismo on the one hand, or, on the other, of the “emotionally evolved” masculinity that causes men to relate to other men the way women relate to women—and sometimes they fall prey to both these errors.

Another endemic threat is the fact that many “celebrity” pastors and theologians, including conservative men for whom I have much respect and from whom I have learned much, can be prone to follow the winds of cultural pressure. Even those who for the most part have stood strong against cultural and worldly influences, frequently hold to positions or conduct themselves in such a way as to make me hesitant to actually recommend them as men, to men. The pressure to be academically respectable, and to “have a seat at the table” amongst the intellectuals of the world is often overwhelming, and even the most loved and respected theologians and pastors fall prey to the temptation to be found respectable by the world’s standards.

Well, all that to say, I’d like to commend to you a number of relatively lesser-known men who are writing and speaking about things that actually matter to the every-day person and are genuinely helpful to men, specifically, who are seeking to grow in wisdom and follow Christ faithfully amidst the hectic and mundane schedules of modern life.

These particular men minister in overlapping circles, and thus often interact with each other online; that interaction is beneficial and edifying to the curious observer as well, so I would recommend not only following their individual blogs/podcasts, but finding them on Facebook as well and learning from their conversations with one another. Yes… I very much enjoy being a fly on the wall in those discussions.

Fair warning: this crowd is no stranger to controversy (you can read about some of that here). To sum up my thoughts: often I agree with the controversial side, and am glad someone stepped up to say it; the rest of the time, it’s rarely something that would prevent me from recommending these folks (clearly). I’m not recommending them as the most refined and safe theologians, but as real men you can actually look up to—the kind of men you want to spend time with on the weekend just so they might rub off on you.

Additionally, many (if not most) of these men are Presbyterians, thus I will find myself in disagreement with them on various matters of theology and ecclesiology from time to time; however, I have not actually found this to be a hindrance to my learning and benefiting from them, since our philosophy of worship, ministry, and culture is so kindred of spirit, and, as I’ve clarified here, finding someone with whom you agree on every fine point has never been a good standard to have—that way lies madness.

I’ve taken far too much space to get the simple point across: these are some men (in no particular order) I’ve benefited from recently; they are exceptional resources to be aware of, and I’d like to make you aware of them as I think you’ll find them enjoyable as well. As I said before, I wish I could have discovered these men sooner. So then, to the names:

  • Michael Foster — Foster writes from time to time on sexuality, attraction, marriage, and manhood, but not in the typical way. He’s actually talking about the things we know in our gut to be true, but which most Christians just rarely talk about or acknowledge. Most Christians—including, unfortunately, many complementarians—speak of men and women as though they are basically interchangeable. We often act like humans have largely androgynous souls that just happen to get stuffed into gendered bodies. Where is the real-world, sex-specific wisdom for men to learn how to cultivate godly masculinity? Where is the biblical doctrine of the household? I’d say, start with Foster. You can follow him on Facebook here and here to see more of his thoughts. He and Tennant (see below) also started a podcast called “It’s Good to Be a Man” that is well-worth the listen.
  • C.R. Wiley — If you’ve followed my blog at all recently, you probably recognize this name. Wiley is a pastor in Manchester, Connecticut, and he’s written one of my favorite books for young men on building, cultivating, and managing a strong and godly household. His blog, PaterFamilias Today, is a treasure trove on similar topics. Pastor Wiley also recently started an email newsletter that, so far, has been well-worth it. Just send him your email address over Facebook (and follow him while you’re there) and he’ll add you to the subscribers list.
  • Dominic Tennant — Tennant has an exceptional blog, and also is worth following on Facebook for more of his thoughts. If you want to cut straight to the meat, begin your journey with this article, and (unrelated) this series. He also writes and podcasts with Foster on It’s Good to Be a Man.
  • Tim Baly — pastor at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana; you can hear Baly on Warhorn Media’s podcast The World We Made, and read him at Out of Our Minds. He recently wrote a book called The Grace of Shame, addressing modern Christians’ blind spot when it comes to interacting with and helping homosexuals.
  • Doug Wilson — perhaps the best known name on the list, Wilson is a pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He’s a prolific writer who’s written some of the best pastoral books on marriage and family I’ve read, and he blogs regularly at Blog & Mablog. He also has a podcast I’d highly recommend, called the Plodcast, in which he comments on a current social or political issue, recommends a book, and then discusses a theological word or concept; it’s about 20 minutes total, and well worth it.

As I noted, the above men will often interact with each other on Facebook—that’s worth following. A couple of other men you’ll see associated with these, whom I don’t follow as much but are still worth knowing, include: Eric Conn, Toby Sumpter, Jake Mentzel, Peter Jones, and Andrew Dionne. There are a few other men I would similarly recommend following, but who don’t interact in these same circles. One that I’ll include in this post would be Voddie Baucham. You can find some good sermons and clips on YouTube, but his current messages can be heard on SermonAudio.

I’m sure there are more to include, but I hope you find this group of men encouraging, instructive, and edifying. I thank the Lord for grounded, manly pastors, helping men to be men of God. Do you have any others you would add to the list?


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Best Bible Commentaries

Whenever I begin teaching through a book of the Bible, finding some good commentaries is an important part of the prep work. There are a few commentary series that I always check. Some of the newer ones, like Story of God, Teach the Text, and Evangelical Exegetical, may not have every book out yet, but if they do, it’s worth grabbing a copy. Here are the commentaries I look at when I’m starting a new series—in no particular order:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary

Baker Exegetical Commentary

New International Commentary on the Old Testament (and New)

Story of God Bible Commentary

The Expositors Bible Commentary (brief but valuable interpretive insights; I always make use of this one)

Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (very thorough; this series is very recent, and thus contains some of the latest discoveries and developments in biblical scholarship; also has the best commentary on 1 John I’ve found; one of my favorite sets overall)

Teach the Text Commentary Series (excellent format: context, historical and cultural background, short interpretive insights, theological insights, and key themes—these would actually be great commentaries just for personal or small group Bible study as well; this is another one I use every time I can)

Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (a little more technical analysis of the Greek text, but brief and helpful)

I’ll also often check these lists: https://www.bestcommentaries.com/, http://www.propreacher.com/the-best-commentaries-for-every-book-of-the-bible/, and https://www.challies.com/best-commentaries-on-each-book-of-the-bible/

Of course there are also a couple of specific commentators that I will look up to see what they have on the book I’m studying, such as Ben Witherington III, John Walvoord, Abraham Kuruvilla, Edmond Hiebert, and Thomas Constable.

Any other commentary series, or specific authors, that you tend to always look at?

Tax Resources for Ministry

If I were to choose two things about which I wish I would have learned more in seminary, one of them would be taxes (I’ll talk about the other issue another time:). Trying to figure out taxes as a pastor is incredibly difficult; and the problem is, if you’re planting a church or coming into a new church that hasn’t dealt with these issues before, you’re on your own. Even someone in your church who might be fairly knowledgeable regarding taxes in general may still not be very helpful to you as a pastor. That’s because taxes for churches and for pastors are quite different from taxes for businesses and non-ministry employees.

How does a housing allowance work? What expenses are covered under a housing allowance (why do wall-hangings and decorations count, but not toiletries)? Why should I choose a 403(b) rather than an IRA? What does it mean that a pastor is considered by the IRS to be “dual-status” (an employee for all purposes except social security, for which the minister is considered self-employed)?

Trying to guess where to start can give you quite the headache, and trying to make sure you’re doing it right can be rather frightening. So, for anyone who may need to know a little more about tax issues, either for churches or for pastors specifically, I’ll just share a few of the resources that ended up being helpful to me.

Guidestone is a good resource to have on hand in general. They have some really helpful online resources, especially on housing allowance, but the site is kind of difficult to navigate. Their PDF on Ministerial Tax Issues is very helpful though—that’s probably where I’d start.

Clergy Financial Resources is the other main site I used when I was figuring out tax issues for my own ministry.

Free Church Accounting has some helpful blog posts.

You can also find stuff on the actual IRS site like here and here, but the other resources may be easier to wade through than the actual tax code.

What about you? Any other helpful resources for those on the quest to understand the delightful subject of tax guidelines for ministry?

Some Thoughts on Church Leadership

The Number of Leaders in the Local Church

Although I believe there can be flexibility, as there are few explicit statements in Scripture, I believe that the most biblical (closest to what we see in Scripture) and most prudent model of church governance is that each local church govern itself autonomously (independently), and be led by a plurality of elders. A plurality of elders seems to clearly be the pattern of the early church. Paul appointed a plurality of elders in each local church he planted (Acts 14:23), and he instructed Titus to do the same (Titus 1:5). In Titus, Paul connects appointing elders with setting things in order; so Paul seems to have in mind a set pattern to which the local church should conform. Throughout the New Testament, we find a consistent pattern of plural elders in individual local churches. For example, Paul called the elders of the Ephesian church to come to him (Acts 20:17), and James instructs the sick to call for the elders of the church (James 5:14).

The Terms

There are three titles in Scripture for the spiritual leader of a church: “elder,” “overseer,” and “shepherd” (or the latinized “pastor”). In my opinion, these three terms all refer to the exact same office — not that they are absolute synonyms, because they each emphasize a different aspect of that leadership, but that there is only one office (though it can be held by multiple men in one church) of spiritual leadership in the church, and that is that of the elder/overseer/shepherd.

These terms are often used interchangeably in the New Testament. For example, all three terms are used of the same office in Acts 20:17-28, as well as 1 Peter 5:1-2, and Paul equates elders with overseers in Titus one. It seems that the term “elder” is the more formal title, referring to the man’s position — his standing — as spiritual and theological leader. “Pastor” is a more functional description (appearing only once as a noun—Eph 4:11) of the role of elder, stressing the care and feeding of the church as God’s flock. “Overseer,” or “guardian,” emphasizes the governing or general oversight of church life, as well as protecting the church (from false doctrine, disunity, wolves in sheep’s clothing, etc.).

Distinctions Between Elders

Because of the interchangeable use of these terms throughout Scripture, I do not think it wise to make constitutional distinctions (or to retain cultural ones) between the “pastor” in a church, and the “board of elders” (often treated either like a board of advisers for the pastor, or like the pastor’s staff, i.e. subordinates), as though these are two different offices. This distinction is not biblically founded (thus, not necessary); but nor is it helpful, as it inevitably causes one office to be seen by the congregation as of higher authority or significance than the other.

Rather, the pastor (whether he be called the senior pastor, lead pastor, teaching pastor, or any other moniker to designate him as the primary teacher or leader of the church) is simply one of the elders — an equal member of the council of elders (1 Timothy 4:14); and every other elder is also a pastor just as much as the lead pastor. This is not to say we cannot call one particular man the lead pastor (or some similar title). But his role as “first among equals” is a natural result of his being the one who bears primary responsibility to teach and preach the Word week by week. In other words, a particular man’s role as lead pastor should be more organic, rather than the church officially identifying on paper the position of “lead pastor” as distinct from or superior to that of other elders. As Jonathan Leeman puts it, “any ‘extra’ authority an elder or group of elders acquires should be the consequence of faithful service rendered, such as naturally accumulates through consistent and faithful teaching or a pronounced track record of one-on-one care for the sheep.”

Likewise, some elders/pastors may be paid as the church is able to support them for full-time vocational ministry, while others may be “lay” elders (not paid). Again, I believe this should not be reflected directly in the title used. In other words, I do not think it wise to call someone a “pastor” simply because he is paid, and others “elders” simply because they are not (or any variation thereof). This may be contrary to the way many contemporary churches do it now; but are we going to choose the cultural norm rather than use biblically precise language? I hope not.

The Congregation

So the church is to be led by a plurality of elders. But the big question then is: what is the role of the congregation? Does the congregation simply follow the council of elders, no questions asked? Or does the congregation have a role in the decisions made? Is the congregation in fact the final authority for the church? Must every decision be brought to a congregational vote? Some, such as Pastor Mark Dever, believe that the congregation — the assembly itself — is the final authority in matters of membership, disputes, and doctrine. As Dever puts it, in his book, A Display of God’s Glory, the congregation is “the last and final court of appeal in a matter of the life of the local church” (pg. 33).

Others, however, like Pastor Stephen Davey, in his commentary on Titus, argue that the local church is not a democracy, despite our typical American sensitivities (pg. 66). Rather, Scripture delineates the elders as the clear leaders over the congregation, for whom the elders are responsible and will give an account to God, while the congregation is commanded to obey and submit to the leadership (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2). The elders are not to be dictators or authoritarian rulers, however (Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:2-3). There is clearly two-way communication between the congregation and the leadership in decision-making. For example, the local assembly nominates its own leaders, who are then affirmed, or appointed by the elders (Acts 1:23; 6:1-6; 15:2-3). The assembly is also involved in church discipline (Matt 18:17-18; 1 Cor 5:4-13; 2 Thess 3:6, 14-15), and making decisions such as sending out its own missionaries (Acts 13:2-3; Acts 15:22). The primary delegated responsibility, however, of overseeing the church, and interpreting and transmitting the Word of God to the people of God, resides with the elders.

The Duties of the Elders

What then is the primary function and duty of the elders? Fundamentally, the role of the elders is to lead and disciple the believers under their care in becoming more fully committed and competent disciples of Christ themselves, and to equip them to make disciples of others. Or as one of my professors, Alan Potter, puts it, the elders are to lead the congregation under their care to grow in faith, hope, and love (1 Cor 13:13; Eph 1:15; Col 1:4-5; 1 Thess 1:3; 5:8; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1-2; Philemon 1:5; Hebrews 10:22-24; 1 Peter 1:21–22).

The Realm of their Duties

It is significant to note that the responsibility of the elders is specifically to the congregation under their care. In Acts 20:28, Paul instructs the Ephesian elders to give themselves to the ministry of their flock. Peter also stresses this responsibility in 1 Peter 5:2: “Shepherd the flock of God among you.” So the duty of every pastor is to feed the sheep appointed to his care. The focus of pastoral ministry is not the people outside the church, but on the care of the people within the local assembly. The elder has been set apart “to equip the saints” (Eph. 4:12). Pastors are not called to the culture, and they’re not called to the unconverted; they are not even called to the broader Christian community (although they may well engage and benefit these as opportunity arises). They have been mandated to feed their flocks so they (the flock) can grow spiritually. Of course, everyone, including pastors, is called to do the work of an evangelist. Every Christian is an ambassador of Christ and is called to represent Him well to the unsaved world. So the pastor, by virtue of him being a Christian, is called to witness to the lost. But the pastoral role — the specific job description of an elder — is to shepherd his congregation.

The Specifics of their Duties

How does the elder shepherd the church? Actually, the image of the shepherd is a most helpful illustration. A shepherd feeds, leads, protects, and cares for his sheep. These are the basic functions of the churches’ shepherds as well. The pastor teaches, leads, protects, and cares for the spiritual needs of his people. Perhaps the primary function — certainly the most public — is to feed the flock (John 21:15-17) — carried out by teaching the Word of God. One of the qualifications for an elder, given in 1 Timothy 3:2, is that he be “able to teach.”  Paul exhorts Timothy to preach the Word continually (2 Tim. 4:1-2), and to devote himself “to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). As Dever puts it, the greatest responsibility of the elder, as shepherd, is to teach the Word of God to the people of God. However, remember that this duty is carried out not only in the formal, public preaching of the Word, but also in the giving of personal instruction and counsel (Acts 20:20).

The elder also shepherd’s God’s people by overseeing the basic functioning and governing of church life (1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Peter 5:2), protecting and guarding them from false doctrine (Acts 20:28), and caring for the spiritual well-being of the people (James 5:14; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:14). Alexander Strauch summarizes the responsibilities of the elder well in his book, Biblical Eldership:

“Elders lead the church [1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1-2], teach and preach the Word [1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9], protect the church from false teachers [Acts 20:17, 28-31], exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine [1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; Titus 1:9], visit the sick and pray [James 5:14; Acts 20:35], and judge doctrinal issues [Acts 15:16]. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church” (pg. 16).

The role of the elders, as the spiritual leaders and shepherds of the local church, is, fundamentally, to disciple the people under their care toward Christ-likeness by teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for them through the ministry of the Word.

Phil Johnson Interview [Part 3]

I recently had the honor and privilege of asking Phil Johnson, a well-known and accomplished writer, blogger, editor and preacher, several questions about ministry, practical church issues, theological concerns etc. Phil was gracious enough to take the time to respond and interact fully with all my questions.

Below are the last few questions. The first set of questions dealt with Phil’s personal life and ministry. In the second part of the interview, Phil talked about Strange Fire, second-degree separation, and addressing errors from the pulpit. In this final set of questions, Phil talks about church discipline, addressing errors with grace, and more.

My questions are in bold, with Phil’s responses in regular text.


Phil Johnson is the Executive Director of Grace to You. He has been closely associated with John MacArthur since 1981, and edits most of pastor John’s books. But he may be best known for several popular websites he maintains, including The Spurgeon Archive, The Hall of Church History, and (formerly) the Pyromaniacs blog. Phil has a bachelor’s degree in theology from Moody Bible Institute (class of 1975) and was an editor at Moody Press before joining Grace Community Church. He is an elder at Grace Church and pastors the GraceLife fellowship group. Phil and his wife, Darlene, have three adult children and five grandchildren.

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Could you briefly explain the role and importance of church discipline in the life of the local church?

                  Proper biblical discipline is as essential as proper exposition of the Word of God for purity in the fellowship of God’s people. It’s a command, not an option. See 1 Corinthians 5.

Speaking of church discipline, I see people (adults, as well as kids in our youth group) often posting pictures or even bragging about sinful activities on Facebook and Twitter. If I find out about a sin pattern a brother or sister in Christ is letting the world know about, how do I respond? Do I confront them on these things? What is our responsibility in these situations?

The person who is concerned about this should confront the offender privately, not in the comment-section of some public forum. We all know that the temptation to speak unwisely in social media is HUGE, and pastors and churches simply cannot (and should not) spend time policing their members’ Twitter feed or Facebook page. But our duty to one another as Christians is to hold one another accountable when we do see something truly sinful or shameful. Our first response should not be to report the infraction to the pastor; each Christian should fulfill his duty as a fellow believer and go to the person alone. Admonitions about things like this are best when they are spontaneous feedback from friends and fellow church members. And most people, when admonished, will remove any overtly sinful material.

If the sin is truly egregious and the offender refuses to repent or correct the wrong, it may become necessary to bring church leadership into the matter and follow the steps of church discipline. But I would think this should be very rare. Indiscretions on social media aren’t really the sort thing churches should be regularly threatening people with discipline over.

What is your position on a pastor who is found to have been living in immorality? Even after repentance and restoration to fellowship, should that pastor ever be restored to the eldership?

Proverbs 6:33 says the reproach of sexual sin can’t ever be completely wiped away. Since the overarching requirement for elders is that the man “must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2), it would seem to me that adultery, fornication, or any equivalent kind of scandalous marital infidelity or sexual sin would be permanently disqualifying.

What advice would you give regarding critiquing/answering those in one’s own camp about errors in doctrine, attitude, or behavior, in a gracious and loving manner?

Always attack bad ideas, not the people who propagate them. Be as vigorous as you like in denouncing fallacies and refuting errors. In extreme cases, sarcasm or ridicule can be legitimate tools for showing the fallacy of terribly wrong ideas (1 Kings 18:27). But never stoop to mere personal insults or bare ad hominem just for the sheer pleasure of degrading or humiliating an enemy.

It’s true that no matter how careful you try to be, in these postmodern times, you will automatically face critics who will accuse you of being cruel and unkind (or arguing ad hominem) any time you point out the fallacies of someone else’s beliefs. Don’t be swayed by those accusations if they are false.

On the other hand, don’t be guilty of merely trying to injure or abuse the person whom you disagree with. “Speak evil of no one . . . avoid quarreling . . . be gentle, and . . . show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:2-3).

That’s a universal guideline. When circumstances make it necessary to voice reproof, dissent, or criticism publicly and the person whose views you are refuting is a friend and partner in ministry, an extra dose of grace to season the rebuke is surely in order.

What Systematic Theology have you found most helpful?

They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Grudem is good, except for his charismatic slant. Robert Culver’s massive tome is probably the one I agree with most, but he’s awfully wordy. I frequently turn to Berkhof (because that was our textbook in theology when I was a student). Strong (though sometimes wrong) is a gold mine for good quotes and helpful insights. If I were sent to prison and permitted only two volumes, I suppose I would choose Grudem and Berkhof. But I would be loath to give up Culver.

What is one of your favorite books on apologetics?

That’s a tough one. I suppose Faith & Reason by Ronald Nash. But I’m not an avid reader of books on apologetics, either.

Any quick word of advice for those of us in seminary? What is something that many beginning pastors, perhaps coming right out of seminary, struggle with?

The most valuable thing about seminary is that it equips you with study tools. Don’t imagine that it makes you an expert in the practical side of pastoring. This is an empirical observation, so take it for what it’s worth, but it seems to me that the main reason for failure among seminary graduates is that they enter their first pastorate with the attitude of a know-it-all. They tend to be aggressive and unyielding, and those qualities, blended with inexperience, are a surefire recipe for failure. Don’t fall into that trap.


 Phil, thanks so much for taking the time to interact with me on these questions. I really appreciate the responses; it was an honor.