Archive for August, 2009


41 Questions To Ask a Potential Church

August 27, 2009

Before being called to pastor Ballymoney Baptist Church, I inevitably faced a raft of questions from its eldership.  Beforehand, however, I also asked the elders some questions of my own. Since mentioning this in a prior post, I’ve been emailed several times to forward a copy of those questions to pastor’s in the same situation. Here then is a slightly ammended list of the questions I asked.

A. Theological Questions

1. What is the church’s statement of faith and how did the church devise it?

2. What has been the most vexed theological question the church has faced? Has there ever been a church split over theology or practice? Why?

3. On the wider scene, what theological trends and strands of false teaching would the elders at Ballymoney be particularly concerned about at the moment?

4. What are the key functions/roles of an elder at Ballymoney?

5. What is the elder’s relationship to the pastor? (For example, is the pastor an elder? Do the elders perceive themselves as, in some way, subordinate?)

6. What would the church’s position be on the role of women?

7. What is the church’s position on the function of charismatic gifts?

8. Is there a different kind of membership for someone differing on secondary issues? Would it ever be considered?

9. What kind of church government structure is practiced? How does it work out in practice?

B. Ministry-Philosophy Questions

10. What is the process of being baptised and becoming a church member? How is baptism and membership encouraged?

11. What are the expectations laid upon church members?

12. How does the church practice church discipline? (What sort of discipline has been practiced in the past?)

13. Do the elders have any plans for expansion of the building or church planting?

14. What, if anything, would the elders want to see change or develop in the future? (each elder might want to answer individually!)

15. Do the church members generally (and happily) follow the lead of the eldership?

16. Can the elders give evidence of an openness to growing in their role? (by eg. reading resources on eldership, attending conferences, having a weekend away with pastor, etc)

17. In what ways (if at all) do you think my young age might affect my reception both in the church and among the eldership?

18. What would be the minimum and maximum expectations be of the frequency of the pastor’s preaching? (ie. is one Sunday evening off in preaching a month the minimum acceptable; on the other hand, would preaching every service without fail be deemed unhelpful)

19. What items in the current services are non-negotiable? What other items are deemed acceptable and have been featured in the past? Is the pastor responsible for putting together all orders of service?

20. Is the current practice of communion (format, timing, gap between service and communion) set in stone?

21. What sorts of things do the Ballymoney elders feel the pastor should not be doing with his time?

22. What are the congregational/eldership expectations (these two may be different) regarding pastoral visitation?

23. How often are business meetings conducted? Does the pastor moderate this? Are they productive and generally positive? What is typically discussed?

24. Does the church have a yearly budget and if so, how is it put together?

25. What is the church’s attitude and approach to missionaries?

26. Who is responsible for the website and library and how easy would it be for the pastor to make a significant input into each of these areas? (Note: I believe these resources would have some relation to my teaching function as a pastor)

27. Has the church ever had Fellowship Groups? If so, what is the leadership’s feeling about their significance?

28. What are the leadership’s views concerning counselling?

29. How would you sum up the spiritual health of the congregation in qualitative terms (against measurements like prayer, heart for evangelism, love for one another)?

30. What kind of impact have ‘the troubles’ and its aftermath had on the Ballymoney congregation?

31. Pardoning the expression, are there any ‘sacred cows’ in the church?

32. Would the congregation consider adding an additional paid staff member at any point?

C. Personal Questions

33. Would the elders have any objection to the pastor working from a church office? (my preferred place for sermon prep)

34. What is the view of the elders regarding the pastor resourcing himself? (conferences; the odd retreat to read & plan, etc)

35. Are there any expenses for things?

36. What is the rationale regarding days off and holidays?

37. Is there any scope for ‘preaching away’ from Ballymoney? (Note: I would be very cautious about doing much of this, especially early on, however)

38. Do you think it would be relatively easy for a young family to settle into the church/town? What challenges might Nicki and the children face?

39. What role would the pastor’s wife be expected to have in the church?

40. What are the schools like in Ballymoney?

41. How easy might it be to buy an affordable house in the Ballymoney area?


Little Notes…

August 25, 2009

Have you ever received unrestrained criticism about one of your sermons? Unpacking boxes in my new study today, I came across an old note that was thrust into my hand a few years ago after preaching.  Part of it read…

“Over long, wandering and utterly impossible to remember ‘the points’. Be clear about what you want to say. Write it out and then spend more time on the editing.”


What’s the most hard-hitting criticism that’s come your way?


Preach on Alienation….to Reconcile

August 22, 2009

Many voices today are calling on preachers to abandon the usage of concepts like sin, alienation and (especially) hell.  Chad Brand, Professor of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, disagrees. Here is Dr Brand’s biblical and counter-cultural advice for preachers:

“So, we preach on alienation, but not in order to alienate. We preach on alienation in order to reconcile. So, when you preach on sin, do it with tears in your eyes and not a flash of anger. (Don’t preach against anger angrily.) When you preach on sin and alienation, do it recognizing your own sinfulness and alienation. Admit that you, too, have been where they are, and that you are not the expert come here to lecture them on getting their lives right. You are simply the one who got out of the mire before they did, so that you could throw them a rope of rescue. But when you preach on sin, make it clear that this is a crucial moment. With both anger and lust, Jesus said, “Do something now! This is not the time to mull it over. Get out now, or you may be in hell by morning.”

The whole article.


Worship That Echoes the Word

August 20, 2009

Ed Clowney:

“Yet above all, the minister must bear the Word of God in the full depth of his stewardship. With the Word he enters the presence of God as he leads public worship. Only with the Word can men ascend God’s holy hill, for God’s promises are the only plea of a redeemed people. Worship is always an echo, reflecting the word of grace with the cry of praise. Preaching, too, is worship, for the naming of God’s name and the proclamation of his mercy is itself an act of praise. The minister at the Lord’s table or the baptismal font continues to be a minister of the Word. For this reason he administers the sacraments: not because he has a claim to a separate priestshood, but because the sacraments seals the Word and are observed as part of the proclamation of the Word to men.

(Clowney, Called to the Ministry, p 58)


Now In Northern Ireland

August 18, 2009

Just an official update for those not on Facebook. I have now moved with my family to Northern Ireland and we have just passed the two weeks mark in being here. I officially start work next week. My induction is two weeks on Saturday at Ballymoney Baptist Church.


We are grateful to God for how the church here have rallied round to support us in all sorts of practical ways. From child-minding to fixing electrical problems, from constructing furniture to cooking us meals, its fair to say we are being looked after.

We have also enjoyed the beginnings of integrating with the life of the church. Simply ‘going along’ to Sunday and midweek services- rather than leading them – has been a breather of sorts, and good for my own soul. Last weeks prayer meeting was a particular blessing, as one of our church members, Phil Dunn, ably preached on ‘Gentle-giants’ (meekness) from the Beatitudes.

Its inevitably hard not to be pulled into the pastoral work itself. I have already hosted an elders meeting and made my first official pastoral visits while technically on holiday. Thoroughly enjoying it though.

Appreciating your prayers,



Listen Up! – Help for Listening to Sermons

August 15, 2009

LISTEN UP! by Christopher Ash (Reviewed by Phil Dunn)

Here’s a question for you. Think back to church last week. What was the sermon about? Have a think. What passage in the Bible was it from? Do you remember the main points from the sermon? Can you remember any of the applications the preacher made? What truth impressed you most? Tricky questions – aren’t they? Well if you’re struggling with your answers, you’re not on your own. In fact my suspicion is that most of us can’t remember very much about last Sundays sermon at all.

Listen up

Now that’s a pretty big problem. In fact one experienced, now-retired pastor recently commented, “One of the biggest problems in the evangelical church today is that its members simply leave their brains at the church door!” Yet Jesus said “Consider carefully how you listen.” (Luke 8v18)

Of course some of us do have good intentions and try our best to listen, but we never seem to take in very much. Others are content with just getting out to church and staying awake! Whatever category you fall into I think you’ll agree we could all do with some sound advice in how to listen better in church.

So then, let me introduce you to a super little booklet entitled ‘Listen Up’. It’s a practical guide to listening to sermons – and I’ve got to say its absolutely brilliant! It really is! It’s written by Christopher Ash – the director of the Cornhill Training Course in London. Its quite short – just 31 pages, and is attractively designed with lots of colour and little pictures. But the best thing about it is that its really reader friendly. Its written for the man in the pew. So it’s is not a difficult read – but it is definitely a very challenging one!

The booklet begins with ‘seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening.’ Each of the points begin with an interesting little case-study looking at two easily recognisable, contrasting viewpoints. Then after an explanation of each point (around 2 pages each), there is a little bullet-point section called ‘practical steps to take’ helping the reader to know what to do in response to each point. These are the seven ingredients which Ash expands upon:


The explanation and advice given in each point is always biblically based and extremely practical. Some things, doubtless, you’ll might know already – but to read them properly fleshed out is actually very enlightening. Other aspects you probably won’t have considered – and these again are sure to help you gain more as you listen to your pastors sermons week by week.

But what about those of us who have to endure ‘bad’ sermons in our churches? Lets face it, many of us do have this experience. Helpfully Ash takes time to address this problem and suggests three types of bad sermons and how we should respond to them as listeners. He offers advice on dull sermons, biblically inadequate sermons and heretical sermons. Even just by categorising bad sermons like this is beneficial as it helps the reader identify what the problems actually are in the sermons he/she hears each week. The advice offered is also very practical and helpful.

The last page of the booklet contains 7 suggestions for encouraging good preaching. These are things we can do as listeners to encourage better preaching in our local church. Particularly helpful (I thought) was the fourth suggestion of thanking the preacher. Here we’re advised against flattering the preacher, or just giving vague comments – instead “try to be specific and focus on the biblical content of the sermon.”

In summary then. I cant speak highly enough of this little booklet. I honestly cant imagine anyone reading it and not finding it immensely helpful (and that includes older Christians too). Are there any drawbacks – well, I really couldn’t think of any! It’s short (only takes about 5-10 minutes to read), it’s clearly laid out, and it’s easy to understand. And if the reader takes the content to heart he/she is bound to benefit and enjoy Gods word much more. My advice – grab a copy for yourself – or even better get one for each member at your church!

(Available from

Phil Dunn is a member of Ballymoney Baptist Church.


John Newton: Ministry on My Mind

August 12, 2009

“Ministry on my mind” by John Newton (Reviewer: Paul McFarland)

Over a period of 8 months, following a conversation with friends, John Newton found himself increasingly drawn to the work of the ministry. So for the six weeks which led up to his 33rd birthday (when he resolved he would make a decision) he wrote down some “miscellaneous thoughts” on the subject, which have come to be published in this 25 page booklet.


It is clear from the outset that Newton has a strong desire to enter the ministry, however he clearly has not yet made up his mind. As he looks through the various verses he remains confident that God has called him, while at the same time honestly tests himself against scripture, remaining suspicious of his own judgment. It is refreshing to see some of Newtons reasonings, fears and concerns about this weighty decision. He discusses his own weakness, general human weakness, the cost of taking up the call, the origin of the call, and the diligence required if he is to be faithful to the call.

He makes a clear case that the call of God is not something mystical, and in his writing it becomes apparent that he was already involved to some degree in speaking and discipling. However he also writes that it is not a matter of simply assessing/weighing up gifts in a calculated materialistic manner. He writes: “in many places the call to office seems to have been previous to the power necessary to execute it”. This provides him with the confidence to proceed in faith “for it is nowhere said, we may expect to possess strength today, suitable to the work and trial of tomorrow.”

In the end Newton is persuaded by scripture and conscience that the call is of God. He resolves to be faithful to God and His call, living in a manner appropriate to an ambassador of God and declaring the full truths of Christ.

No doubt these “miscellaneous thoughts” would have provided great comfort and strength to an older Newton looking back in times of distress, doubt or discouragement.

I would recommend this booklet to anyone considering entering the ministry (especially the pastorate). Both as a model and a challenge to take a balanced and critical look at what they might consider to be God’s call. I have found myself writing down notes on certain dates regarding different directions I have felt led, but nothing to the extent found in this booklet. As a result I have been challenged by Newton’s dedication and thoroughness, to put more of my rambling thoughts down on paper, hopefully allowing me to see them more clearly. I will treasure this little book.

(John Newton, Ministry on my mind: John Newton on entering pastoral ministry, transcribed Marylynn Rouse, Stratford-upon-Avon: The John Newton Project, 2008), ii+31 pages; ISBN: 978-0-9559635-0-6.)

Paul McFarland is a member of Ballymoney Baptist Church.