April 20, 2015 by
Eighteen pastors. Gallons of coffee. Pages of sermon notes. One purpose:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Last week Jeff wrote a post asking for prayer for Sovereign Grace’s fourth Expository Preaching Practicum. As one of the participants, I can testify that those prayers were answered! For three days we were treated to expositions of God’s Word followed by specific encouragement and feedback on ways to grow. In each part of the week, God met us. Thank you to everyone who prayed for us!
So what does an Expository Preaching Practicum look like? Ten of the eighteen attendees were asked to preach a message they had previously given at their home church. This way the feedback received can be directly translated to the weekly sermons at each man’s local church. I’ll admit to a certain level of relief when I saw my name was on the name of “listening” rather than “preaching” participants. It takes courage and humility to preach to Jeff Purswell, C.J. Mahaney, and a room full of fellow pastors! But if, as Jeff reminded us on our first morning, the ministry of God’s Word is the central task of the pastor, then growing in that task is wort any cost. And these ten men leaned into their task with commendable eagerness.
After each message, Jeff led us in offering encouragement—and there was plenty of material! It’s all too easy to be aware of one’s shortcomings as a preacher, and this part of the process was intended to help each man see God’s grace in his preaching. As a listener, I never felt as though this were an afterthought or a part of the time to rush through; it was evident that Jeff and C.J. wanted each man who preached to leave keenly aware of God’s work in his ministry.
That same spirit also characterized the next part of the process, a time of feedback on ways to grow. The feedback covered a number of topics such as structure, delivery, and exegesis, but all with one central theme: How can we grow as more faithful, more precise servants of God’s Word?
Our three days together finished all too quickly, and we have each returned to serve the local churches we love. But by God’s grace, the effect of those three days will stir a passion to preach God’s Word with clarity and faithfulness. Thanks to everyone who prayed for us, and thanks to Sovereign Grace for hosting such a fruitful event!
Josh Blount is a pastor at Living Faith Church in Franklin, West Virginia. He graduated from the Pastors College in 2009. He and his wife, Anna, have one son.
April 16, 2015 by
This week we have the privilege of hosting our fourth Expository Preaching Practicum designed to serve the pastors of Sovereign Grace Churches.
We invited 18 of our pastors for three intense days of preaching, evaluation, and discussion, with the goal of serving and equipping these men as they seek to preach God’s Word with precision and passion. I am leading the practicum, along with C.J. Mahaney contributing his insights and experience.
We have just completed our second day and have one more to go. So far we’ve had 8 guys preach, representing 8 churches and 6 states. We’ve thought carefully about preaching through the lens of Paul’s letters, the Gospels of Mark and John, and the book of Ezra, seeing how each of these portions of Scripture delivers different aspects of God’s truth, applicable to different circumstances, all ultimately pointing us to our Savior. It has simply been exhilarating.
As those called to preach the word, it’s hard to beat gathering together to think hard and carefully labor over the Bible in a concentrated way. Please join us in praying for this practicum, that by God’s grace, we will grow together as a “company of expositors.”
As Director of Theology and Training for Sovereign Grace, Jeff Purswell is the Dean of our Pastors College, leads our theological training, and helps develop theology resources. He is also an elder at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He and his wife, Julie, have two sons.
April 13, 2015 by
The Regional Assembly of Elders in our Midwest-Northwest region gathered for its first annual retreat. And God met them in powerful ways:
They celebrated a new church adoption with Crosshaven Church of Belleville, IL. We are grateful to welcome pastors Chris Oswald, Rodney Fickas, and Victor Chininin Buele in this region!
Ian McConnell shared a message encouraging the men with Jesus’s rhythm and motivation in mission.
Regional Leader, Rick Gamache, reminded them of the dangers of worry and anxiety in a message called “The Pastor and Suffering” from 1 Peter 5.
Craig Cabaniss taught on the biblical definition and proper expectation of revival.
Matthew Wassink helped the group think biblically about sexuality and how our churches can be a place of love and care for people struggling with sexual sin.
Added to all of these great messages was a wonderful time of fellowship, ministry, and prayer with and for one another.
Please continue to pray for our Midwest-Northwest region and for all our regions as we advance the gospel by planting and strengthening churches.
Special thanks to Jon Hansel for the information in this post and Ian McConnell for the picture.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
April 10, 2015 by
Categories: Articles | Church Updates
Zach Varnell, a pastor at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville, leads a college campus ministry called Volunteers for Christ. This group gathers once a week at the University of Tennessee to worship together, encourage students, and spread the gospel throughout their communities.
And word is getting out about this weekly gathering. NBC recently featured this ministry on their WBIR Knoxville news site, and we thought you would be encouraged by their coverage. Please pray for this important outreach and if you know of anyone in the Knoxville area, be sure to tell them about this group!
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
April 6, 2015 by
Categories: Resources | Worship
This post was originally published on the Worship Matters blog.
Through the years I’ve been grateful for the many books God has used outside of Scripture to expand and deepen my relationship with him.
In the late 70s my wife, Julie, gave me Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount for my birthday. As I read through it, my eyes were opened to the necessity of humility in the Christian life and the profound effect of expository preaching.
In the mid-90s I read Desiring God by John Piper for the first time. It rocked my world. In fact, as a recovering legalist, the book didn’t make sense to me. I thought that my actions only pleased God as they were displeasing to me. I couldn’t believe that what satisfied me best and glorified God most could be the same thing. It was only as I read Desiring God through a second time that I began to understand Christ died on the cross not only to endure God’s wrath in my place but to give me endless joy in him. What a delightful discovery!
There have been many other books that have helped shape and inform my relationship with God. But recently I was surprised at the effect a very short book (135 pages!) could have on me. As you could guess from this post’s title, that book was Delighting in the Trinity by my friend, Mike Reeves.
I “happened” to meet Mike at the New Word Alive conference in Wales in 2011. Within a few minutes I was affected by his love for the Savior, the gospel, the church, and the people around him. His joy was contagious, his conversation engaging, and his enthusiasm relentless. When his book Delighting in the Trinity came out in 2012, I downloaded a copy and expected it to be encouraging. It was much more than that. It affected the way I think about and relate to God.
I’ve been a Christian for 42 years and am always growing in my understanding of and love for the God I worship. What Mike’s book helped me see is why the Triune God, i.e., the true God, is so superior to any other conception of God we might have. For many Christians, and I would include myself among them, God being Triune can at different times seem irrelevant, confusing, intimidating, boring, theologically stimulating, or unnecessary. One word that rarely comes to mind is “delightful.” And yet, it should be obvious that the better we understand how God has revealed himself to us, the more amazed, in awe, undone, and delighted we will be.
Here are a few quotes that helped me understand better why God as he truly is can’t be improved upon:
If the Trinity were something we could shave off God, we would not be relieving him of some irksome weight; we would be shearing him of precisely what is so delightful about him. For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desirable.
Pressing into the Trinity we are doing what in Psalm 27 David said he could do all the days of his life: we are gazing upon the beauty of the Lord.
Neither a problem nor a technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy.
Jesus tells us explicitly in John 17:24. “Father,” he says, “you loved me before the creation of the world.” And that is the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.
For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son’s eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response; the husband so loves his wife that he excites her to love him back. Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God.
The triune God is an ecstatic God: he is not a God who hoards his life, but one who gives it away, as he would show in that supreme moment of his self-revelation on the cross. The Father finds his very identity in giving his life and being to the Son; and the Son images his Father in sharing his life with us through the Spirit.
Ultimately, the Father sent the Son because the Father so loved the Son—and wanted to share that love and fellowship. His love for the world is the overflow of his almighty love for his Son.
As a result of reading Delighting in the Trinity I’ve been finding that my experience of God’s love for me is deeper, my prayers are richer, and my desires to see God’s purposes for my life unfold are stronger. All because I’m more aware that the Father, Son, and Spirit are involved in and behind everything I do.
The Trinity may not seem like the most immediately relevant topic for those who plan and lead corporate worship in the church. But nothing could be more important. We can’t lead people to worship a God we don’t know that well. That’s why I chose WorshipGod: TRIUNE as the theme of this year’s WorshipGod conference in Louisville, KY. Although Mike won’t be with us for the conference, his influence will surely be felt. And I’m pretty excited about the speaker line up we have that includes C.J. Mahaney, Ray Ortlund, Jr., H.B. Charles, Jr., Jeff Purswell, Bruce Ware, and Don Whitney. And if you happen to live in or near the UK, Mike will be a part of WorshipGod UK: Gathering Around the Gospel, taking place 7-9 May in Bath.
Whether or not you can make it to a WorshipGod conference, I pray you’ll continue to grow in your appreciation for the fact that God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit not to confuse us, but to engage our minds and hearts with his unending beauty and glory.
Bob Kauflin is the Director of Music and Worship for Sovereign Grace and serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
April 3, 2015 by
Categories: Articles | Easter
The following questions highlight a series of blog posts Jeff Purswell wrote back in 2010 addressing common questions about how Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection relate to each other in Scripture. We thought they would be timely encouragements as we prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday!
1: Will focusing on the cross lead us to neglect the resurrection?
Sovereign Grace churches and leaders often use the phrase “cross-centered.” Doesn’t this phrase lead to an overemphasis on the cross and a neglect of the resurrection?
2: Why focus on a crucified Savior when we serve a living Christ?
Christ has been raised, and so both the cross and the grave are now empty. In light of this reality, isn’t it wrong to focus on a crucified Savior when, after all, we serve a living Christ?
3: Will a cross-focus lead us to be more aware of our sin than of our new life in Christ?
It’s through union with Christ’s resurrection that we have been raised to walk in new spiritual life. If we talk about the cross so much, won’t we end up focusing only on sin and ignoring this important aspect of the Christian life? Doesn’t a focus on the resurrection lead us to a more holy, victorious Christian life?
4: Doesn’t the book of Acts stress the resurrection more than the cross?
In the book of Acts there seems to be a greater emphasis on Christ’s resurrection than the cross. Shouldn’t we follow the early church’s example and emphasize the resurrection over the cross?
…to isolate either the cross or the resurrection in the Christian life is to distort and impoverish it. The cross and resurrection together shape the contours of our lives as disciples of Jesus…
Note: You can also read this series in a single PDF document.
As Director of Theology and Training for Sovereign Grace, Jeff Purswell is the Dean of our Pastors College, leads our theological training, and helps develop theological resources. He is also an elder at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He and his wife, Julie, have two sons.
As I’ve traveled to our churches over the last year and a half, I’ve heard so many good stories of how God is using the churches in Sovereign Grace to advance the gospel to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ. I am eager for you to hear some of these stories. So, over the next year we are producing quarterly Mission Videos that will not only inform you of our shared mission, but I believe will expand your vision for what God has called us to do together.
Throughout February and March, the churches in Sovereign Grace have set aside a Sunday service to present our Mission Fund, which includes our Mission Fund brochure and our first quarter Mission Fund video. In this first video you will hear stories of how people are being reached with the gospel in the Wissinoming neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia all because we planted a church there.
I hope you will take time to read the brochure and watch the video. As you do so, my prayer is that your faith is strengthened for what God has called us to do together: advance the gospel by building and planting churches for the glory of God. And please pray and consider how God might want you to contribute to our mission in Sovereign Grace.
Grateful for our gospel partnership,
Mark Prater is the Executive Director for Sovereign Grace and serves as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church. He and his wife, Jill, have three married daughters and a growing number of grandchildren.
March 31, 2015 by
Categories: Music | Resources | Worship
Bob Kauflin tackles these questions in his book, True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God (to be released July 29 at WorshipGod 2015):
Both of these questions are rooted in the same problem. We want to sing the songs we like. They might be new, they might be old. But the issue isn’t how familiar we are with the songs. The issue is whether we’re going to take every opportunity as true worshipers to exalt God.
Old songs can seem boring. They don’t have to be. If we focus on the eternal realities behind the words we’re singing, rather than only the music, our perspective changes. We start to see that while music may get tired, Jesus doesn’t. Faith enables us to hear songs as if for the first time, because they’re only a faint reflection of the unending praises being sung around the throne. Familiar songs can help us press deeper into the unseen glories behind them that are imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4). We come to know the God whose mercies are new every morning, every hour, every moment.
On the other hand, new songs can seem intimidating. They don’t have to be. Rather than thinking I have to sing every note of a song I don’t know, I’ll sometimes just listen to those who do know it. I’ll let others teach and admonish me with their words. I’ve had some profound encounters with God in those instances. As I become familiar with the song, I’ll start singing along. An unfamiliar song never needs to keep me from lifting my heart to exalt God.
You can preorder True Worshipers for less than $12.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
March 26, 2015 by
Categories: Conferences | Worship
As the director of Sovereign Grace Music, one of my roles is to help Sovereign Grace churches consistently evaluate what we’re doing musically on Sunday mornings in light of God’s Word.
To that end, this past weekend about 250 people from over 40 churches gathered for a weekend of singing, training, teaching, and fellowship at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. We called it The Gathering, and it was a great example of how the leadership team partners together with local Sovereign Grace churches to serve the broader body of Christ.
The weekend consisted of two parts. On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, the focus was on Sovereign Grace leaders. I met with about 40 worship leaders and pastors from 14 Sovereign Grace churches in the Northeast. While our churches don’t have a written down liturgy or order of service, we’ve developed practices over the years that many would recognize as “Sovereign Grace distinctives.” We took a fresh look at many of those and covered topics that included the priorities of Colossians 3:16–17, the presence of God, spontaneity, working with your pastor, building around the word, and more.
The conference itself started on Friday night with 90 minutes of songs, prayer, and Scripture that included familiar songs and hymns and songs from recent Sovereign Grace albums. The evening was built around the idea that having a meeting that is structured around the truths of the gospel doesn’t mean we can’t respond to spontaneous leadings of the Spirit. I shared that our meetings aren’t about going through a script. They’re about an encounter with a living God made possible through the finished work of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, every gathering is potentially life transforming. There are no ordinary meetings.
We started the first session on Saturday with a time of worship in song led by my son, Devon. I spoke from Psalm 131 on “The Quest for Humility,” a pursuit that is critical for musicians in the church to embrace. After lunch we evaluated two bands. Even though the effect of any meeting is ultimately the work of God’s Spirit, we can do much practically to help or hinder what God is doing. The bands led us in two songs each and Devon and I talked about their strengths. There weren’t many weaknesses! They led well, listened to each other when they played, and sought to draw attention to the truths we were singing. It was a rich time.
After a break, we closed out with another time of worship in song and a final message on “Encountering God’s Presence: What Should We Expect.” I said that our response to God’s presence is a defining characteristic of God’s people, and encouraged us to expect God’s promised presence, pursue His experienced presence, and anticipate His unveiled presence.
The Gathering was one more reminder that Sovereign Grace Music is more than a record label or a conference production company. We exist to produce songs and training from the local church for the local church. We work alongside people like Joseph Stigora, the pastor who oversaw the conference, and Tim Shorey, who oversees our Northeast region of churches. Sovereign Grace is a family of churches marked by relationships, encouragement, and equipping for our common mission of advancing the gospel. The Gathering was just one example of our partnership in the gospel, something I thank God for.
This Sunday, March 22, Christ Church South Philly will be celebrating our one-year anniversary! As this date approaches, my mind has been flooded with the millions of expressions of God’s faithfulness to His mission that we have experienced this year as a church.
One of the most precious of those expressions is the fact that we would not even exist as a church if it weren’t for our partnership with Sovereign Grace Churches. Our churches have a shared value of being committed to church planting. That shared value is not just something that is put on a piece of paper, but something that we, as a church plant, have felt in very tangible ways.
Our church plant team was made up of people from three different Sovereign Grace Churches. The chairs we sit in every Sunday were given to us by New Covenant Church in Arnold, Maryland. The sound system through which we hear God’s word sung and preached was given to us by the Sovereign Grace church in Delaware after they closed. The toys our children play with on Sunday and the tables and chairs where they sit to learn about Jesus came from a Sovereign Grace church.
This summer, two different Sovereign Grace churches are coming to our small part of Philadelphia to help us reach our neighborhood by throwing a block party and putting on a kids camp. Another church might be coming in the fall. This past fall, I had a significant flare of my Crohn’s disease and had to have major surgery that put me in the hospital for ten days and out of commission for seven weeks. Seven different pastors from five different Sovereign Grace churches helped shepherd our church through this challenging time by coming and strengthening us with God’s word from the pulpit.
In our neighborhood, having a place to meet is really important because people don’t take you seriously unless you have some roots in the ground. In two weeks, we are going to be celebrating the grand opening of our newly renovated warehouse where we will be able to not only hold our weekly worship services, but also bless our community in numerous ways and communicate to our neighbors that we are here—and we aren’t going anywhere. This strategic missional gathering place is only possible because of the grant given to us by Sovereign Grace and gifts from other generous donors.
So you see why it is not hyperbole to say that, without Sovereign Grace, Christ Church would not exist. And if Christ Church did not exist, then there are specific names and faces who we didn’t know when we first started one year ago, that would not be with us today as our beloved brothers and sisters. Even though they have never been to a Sovereign Grace conference and probably don’t even know what Sovereign Grace really is, they have Sovereign Grace to thank for being the vehicle through which God came to rescue them.
If you care about mission, you have to care about partnerships, because mission moves forward best when churches are strategically, confessionally, and governmentally aligned together. I’m grateful to be part of this family of churches that cares about mission and therefore purposefully pursues meaningful partnerships with one another.
Jeff Boettcher (@jbettch) is a pastor at Christ Church South Philly. He and his wife, Angie, have two children, Sophie and Judah.