April 24, 2015 by
Categories: Child Protection
With each new study of sexual offenders, we learn more about their patterns of behavior and the various ways they target their victims. So it is important to train all our childcare workers to recognize the warning signs. While we’ve done annual training for our children’s ministry workers, it wasn’t until we partnered with Ministry Safe that we recognized this is a church-wide issue.
Think about the different contexts, beyond your Sunday children’s ministry, that you have folks in your church working with children. At Covenant Fellowship Church we have Vacation Bible School, choir camp, youth camp, our Wednesday evening evangelism program The Bridge Course, an annual Easter egg hunt, a homeschool ministry on Thursday’s, and evening childcare in many of our small groups. Once you start checking off the names of everyone who serves with kids, you realize that the vast majority of your church members are involved with caring for children in one capacity or another.
While child sexual predator awareness is not a pleasant subject to teach, Kimberly Norris of Ministry Safe recently presented the material to our members after a Sunday worship service with great care. Thanks to Sovereign Grace Churches, who introduced our pastoral team to Ministry Safe training at the last Pastors Conference, we reached unity as a team and were able to promote the training to the whole church.
We started by training our pastors, office staff, and key leaders. Minstry Safe emphasized to us the importance of top-down training, knowing our folks follow the example of their leaders. We then deployed our trained staff to serve in providing childcare after a main service so that the rest of our church could be trained.
Those who were unable to attend can still pick up the training on the Ministry Safe website to ensure that all of our folks are able to recognize sexual predators. That is important when you consider that 90% of sexual predators have yet to be prosecuted and hold clean background checks—another important point Ministry Safe makes.
If you are a Senior Pastor, don’t pass this off to the director of your children’s ministry. Give it a Sunday platform and ensure that all the ministry team leaders who work with children feel the importance of getting their folks through the training. That can be a daunting task, but utilizing an organization like Ministry Safe, with their training, counsel, and resources, can help you make it happen.
Marty Machowski is a Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA. He and his wife Lois have six children.
April 23, 2015 by
An apple seed is really small, but with a seemingly immeasurable inside. Inside the miniscule there is the massive. One seed has within it a tree which will “give birth” to hundreds of apples which can generate a thousand orchards able to produce millions more apples. It is—in C.S. Lewis’s memorable line in The Last Battle—“bigger on the inside than on the outside.”
Welcome to the Kingdom of God manifested in local churches partnered in a small family of churches. We are so very insignificant, but what God is doing through us is changing lives, undoing hell, and advancing a cosmos-altering gospel force.
I was reminded of such work this past weekend (April 17–18) when the Northeast Regional Assembly of Elders met. Here’s what we enjoyed:
- A brief reflection on Psalm 22 and the great old Thomas Kelly hymn, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted,” which reminded us that the cross is our salvation, our consolation, our sanctification, and our mission.
- Multiple seasons of worship-filled prayer which ignited and fueled our Assembly.
- A two-and-a-halfhour mission session, with focus on Jacob Young and Shawn Woo, and their mission efforts out of King of Grace Church in Haverhill, MA, along with a new campus church being started by Covenant Fellowship Church (which I will have the privilege to lead). One exciting development: the exploration and implementation of new models that each of these three mission efforts represents—all of which received warm commendation by these elders.
- A decision to pursue formalized relationship with a Sovereign Grace partner in Africa in hopes of drawing him into our regional partnership and care to enjoy his fellowship, benefit from his pronounced gifts, strengthen his hand in gospel work, and advance the pioneer work of the kingdom.
- Gary Ricucci’s excellent Pastors College update. Nearly 30 of our 45 voting elders are Pastors College graduates. What a massive impact our little institution has had!
- The approval of six ordination candidates. Six men. How many thousands will their lives affect? Bigger on the inside.
- The formation of a new region comprised of six churches from Ohio, Indiana, New York, Toronto, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This new region (the second off-shoot of the Northeast Region that’s sprouted in recent months) will form a tighter missional/relational connection for these churches. From one region, now three. Huge on the inside.
- Affirmation of truth as 15 elders stood, each reading aloud consecutive sections of our Statement of Faith, at the end of which the room was filled with tears, cheers, and very loud amen’s. Small voices, big truth, massive power.
Orchards are growing.
Tim is the Regional Leader for Sovereign Grace’s Northeast Region and serves as a pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church (Glen Mills, PA).
April 22, 2015 by
Last week our Regional Leaders gathered in Frisco, TX (the Dallas area) to pray, learn, and plan together. These men play a strategic role in leading the elders in their regions, therefore much of our time was given to sharpening our understanding of the role of the Regional Leader.
Our Executive Director, Mark Prater, joined us for the first half of the retreat and presented a “State of the Union” update on Sovereign Grace. In it, he communicated areas where God is calling us to theological vigilance in today’s culture. He also outlined our Leadership Team’s priorities and led us in discussing how those priorities can be translated throughout our regions.
We also addressed some very practical issues. Mickey Connolly taught on how to help our older pastors prepare for their inevitable pastoral and financial transitions and how our churches can implement succession plans when their Senior Pastor retires or scales back his responsibilities. Steve Shank taught on how Regional Leaders can best serve elders and churches when they visit a church for a weekend.
Additionally, we devoted time to meditate on the Word together. Rick Gamache taught from 1 Peter on “The Pastor and Suffering” which fostered personal ministry among the Regional Leaders and equipped them to better serve the elders in their region. Throughout the retreat, we took time for personal and church updates as we seek to maintain our relational foundation for ministry.
All in all, it was a fruitful time away to thank God for the many ways He is at work in our churches and to get equipped and refreshed in order to better serve the regions.
Please pray that we would effectively lead our regions in our unified gospel mission.
Craig is Sovereign Grace’s Director of Church Development and the senior pastor of Grace Church in Frisco, Texas. He and his wife, Ginger, have four children and one grandson.
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.