When Ministry Leaders Fail…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSad man praying

The apostle James gave the following caution to leaders in the church:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1).

The calling to church leadership, in whatever role, is a call requiring much study, prayer, and meditation. James is clear that an instructor and overseer must be certain of his calling and diligent in his manner of life. The standards are higher than for others within the church and the leader becomes accountable for not only his walk with Christ and the management of his own household; he now is accountable for the household of God!

Because of this, pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, and others in authority, must avail themselves to years of preparation followed by a rigorous vetting process to determine their spiritual readiness for leadership. This examination however, will rely upon the maturity and knowledge base of existing church leaders, if proper discernment and placement within the Body is to occur.

The specific standards for pastors and elders are well-established in the Bible and demanding in their scope. Paul wrote:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Tim 3:2-7).

This is a daunting list and should be taken with much reverence when considering a call to leadership. To be above reproach is to be beyond accusation. Often used as a legal term, it means that one is not convictable in a court of law. This requirement is to protect the church and to guard the great name of Jesus Christ. A leader, more than anyone else in the church, must recognize that he is a representative of Christ both within the church and throughout the community. As a designated overseer, he will be extremely visible and must show evidence of Christ’s transformative touch. These features of leadership are repeated almost verbatim in the Book of Titus (Titus 1:5-9).

Beyond this overarching call to purity and innocence, Scripture goes on to speak of the specific character one should see in an overseer along with specific abilities. The requirements of deacons are similar and call for great attention to one’s spiritual, family, church, and community life (1 Tim 3:8-13). And while the Bible does not specifically address ministries outside the traditional church, these standards of oversight could well be applied to para-church ministry leaders also. Any ministry that operates under the banner of Jesus Christ must ordain leaders who are devoted to kingdom truth and biblical principles of oversight.

Central to all of these standards is the call for maturity, testing, proven character, stability, knowledge, and godly conduct; demonstrating leadership at home before assuming leadership at church. The Lord has been gracious in defining these requirements and challenging the church to thoroughly examine each candidate. And yet with so many guidelines and instructions in place, spiritual failure within leadership is more common than ever before and its effect is devastating to the church and other ministries.

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A Biblicist in an Unbiblical World…

Dr. Ab Abercrombie
Ps 119 photo

Being a Biblicist in an unbiblical world is challenging. Long past are the days when children were taught to read using the Bible. It is no longer culturally correct to evoke the Word of God in public. Even those within the church often bristle when Scripture is revered as absolute, literal, and authoritative. Compromise is the demand and concession is the norm. God’s Word, if spoken at all, must be unifying, peaceful, and affirming of human needs, to gain worldly acceptance. But Christ gave the following warning concerning God’s message to the world:

“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:51-53).

The gospel is divisive and exposes the inner heart of man. It reveals belief or unbelief, obedience or disobedience, worship or idolatry, humility or pride. The illumination of Scripture asserts the glory of God and the depravity of man. The exposure of sin would be unbearable except for its remedy, the Lord Jesus Christ. But even the remedy will be refused by most and accepted by few. And as Jesus teaches, even those we love will turn away from the truth and often reject the believer who reads, proclaims, exalts, and seeks to live out God’s Word. The writer of Hebrews details this divisive impact:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:12-13).

Thus, when Biblicists speak, live, and teach in accordance with Scripture, the result will be like a two-edged sword. God’s Word is deliberate in its intent, piercing the soul, and judging (exposing) the heart of everyone who is in proximity to its effect. The Bible is clear that no individual is immune to the working of Scripture and that our hearts are laid bare before Christ, to whom we are accountable. This is a glaring and unsettling fact; all will give answer to “Him with whom we have to do.” Believers and atheists, faithful followers and apostates, meek and bold, submitted and wayward, will each respond to the same truth. There is no other scale; no alternate template of measurement.

A purveyor (teller) of truth must know that the success of his/her ministry is not found in its outcome. Rather, the success of biblical ministry is determined by the accurate handing of God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15) and the minister’s obedience to speak “truth in love” (Eph 4:15). The end result of truth is dependent upon the sovereign activity of God, as He interacts with His creation. Jesus told this parable:

“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself…” (Mk 4:26-28b).

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Kingdom Success: Imagine What God Could Do…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieRunners legs

Through the years I have taken note of my fluid and changing definition of success. When I was a young child, pleasing others seemed to be my goal, and I especially wanted my parent’s approval for the things I did. Their evaluation was the only measuring stick I had. If they were happy with me, then I was a success.

By middle school I had discovered music and sports along with the recognition of others for accomplishments in each.  The spirit of competition emerged and I quickly moved toward an orientation of “winning and losing” as I approached activates in my life. My parent’s approval was still important, but I now viewed it as much more “conditional” in its nature. My father seemed more excited when I won “first chair” status in the trumpet section or when I made the starting lineup on the football team.  Success, I determined, was much sweeter in the winner’s circle.

High school brought the acute awareness of friends, females, and fun. By this time, my parent’s approval was the antithesis of success. If they liked it, there must be something wrong with it. I wanted popularity, recognition, fellowship, and good times. If I was connected and included in “the group,” this was my greatest achievement. I still loved completion and wanted to win, but not at the cost of my inner circle.

After winning an athletic scholarship to college I now focused on the next level of accomplishment. By this time my identity was that of a “jock.”  I loved being on the team, standing out, and being something special. I was known by the number on my jersey and my accomplishments on the field. I guess that identity would have sustained me longer if only I hadn’t been such a “flop” at the collegiate level. In college the winner’s circle is pretty small and needless to say, I was well beyond the outer rim.

Since I had built my entire reputation as #75, there had to be a reorientation. “Winning,” to coin a phrase, “isn’t everything.” I swallowed hard, looked around, and decided I needed to re-invent myself. I surmised that if I wasn’t going to be an All-American, I’d better be smart and make a lot of money. So an “A” student I became, graduate school I pursued, a doctorate I received, and a private practice I built.

I was educated; I owned my own business; I had a beautiful wife; a baby daughter; a house on the bay; and even had my old football stories to tell. It’s amazing how much greater you were, the longer you are away from the game! I was the unhappiest “winner” you could have ever met.

So I decided I needed to work harder; build more business; hire associates and dominate the market. I worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week. But the harder I pressed, the greater my desperation and pain. I had spent the past 35 years of my life chasing the world and alas, the world had won. My proclaimed victory had in fact become my greatest defeat. My call to reality came from a question Jesus asked:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26)

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Consequence or Condemnation…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieDepressed Man

“As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).

Here King David records a truly remarkable promise of God. Once we are His children we are forever covered in the security of His forgiveness and mercy.

As humans it is hard for us to fathom such a complete separation from sin. But according to God’s Word, once our sins are confessed before the Lord, they are literally forgotten. If our confession and devotion to Jesus is genuine, then eternity with Him is assured and no act or person can ever take us from His presence. Jesus said,

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn 10:27-28).

As followers of Christ, we can find great comfort in our Savior’s words. But we must be mindful of the fact that forgiveness, mercy, and salvation are terms dealing with eternity. In other words, our sins and transgressions have been made clean by the blood of Jesus and we now are saved from the condemnation of hell. As Paul wrote:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).


But does freedom from condemnation also provide the believer freedom from consequence? Does faith in Christ render one invincible and oblivious to the effect of sin? Does godly conduct really matter once we are under grace? Paul asked and answered the same sort of question,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2).

Clearly the Christian is not excused by grace to go on with his/her previous state of living. Instead we are called to no longer live for ourselves but rather conduct our lives with honor, compelled by the love of the One who saved us (2 Cor 5:14-15). In this state of love and honor we are connected to Christ in a manner that yields conviction and sorrow when we sin; provoking repentance and restoration rather than prolonged, deliberate disobedience. Paul wrote,

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Cor 7:10, NKJV).

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When God’s Counsel Is Rejected…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieTeen depressed fence

God’s Word is fully sufficient for the counseling task and it is superior to anything the world can offer a hurting individual. Scripture, along with the working of the Holy Spirit, is complete in its provision for all matters eternal and functional. Paul wrote:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

It is the counselor’s responsibility and calling to render the Word rightly (2 Tim 2:15); to yield to the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13); and to be spiritually prepared for the counseling encounter, connected and abiding in Christ, so that the care offered is given in “truth and love” (Eph 4:15). But while our resource (Scripture) is perfect and our spiritual response sound, some will not heed God’s truth nor yield to His counsel (1 Thess 4:8). What then should be our approach?

I have a student who recently said: “Biblical counseling is ugly…” In fact counseling is rarely a smooth process whereby the counselee is convicted of wrong, seeking assistance, and thereby sensitive and responsive to scriptural care. Rather biblical counselors are called servants entrusted with the difficult task of turning sinners away from their wayward path: often a path to which they have invested much affection and commitment. And yet sin is progressive and deadly. Without the provocation of God’s Word there is no hope of repentance, salvation, restoration, or sanctification. James pointed to the root and eventual outcome of sin:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (Jas 1:13-15).

Biblical counselors are called to intervene somewhere and sometime before the rebellious heart confronts its own demise. However counselors must be reminded that biblical care is a process of repeated application that demands the counselor’s obedience to the task and perseverance with grief and anguish for the lost and fallen souls with whom we contend. Paul wrote:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (2 Tim 4:1-2).

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A Broken and Contrite Heart…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSad man praying

Have you noticed that many of the most repentant prayers in the Bible come from God’s most faithful servants? Human logic would suggest otherwise. Most would assume that as one grows in his/her faith, sin would decrease, along with the need for confession and repentance.

But in truth it seems the closer one draws to God with a desire to obey and serve; the more grieved he/she becomes with sin. In the life of a growing Christian, the presence of sin becomes increasingly poignant and unacceptable and takes the individual more frequently to his/her knees, seeking out the purifying work of grace and the restorative impact of the Father’s discipline.

Repentance is the centerpiece of Christian growth and sanctification. Whenever one is dull to the stirring conviction of the Spirit, he/she is in true danger. Repentance is God’s gift that provokes the unbeliever unto salvation, and draws the Christian toward sanctification. A repentant lifestyle is brings life, vindication, joy, and development. It is a gift of God that simultaneously convicts the conscience, provokes confession, and heals the willful patterns of our lives.

Because of this we see the great characters of Scripture humbled, submitted, and burdened by the undoing of sin, seeking instead the freedom and provision of grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Paul described well the single remedy for his base depravity:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25).

The awareness of our plight as sinners deepens our dependency upon Christ while provoking praise, celebration, and thankfulness for God’s unmerited favor. A life that is sensitive and yielded grows to have no tolerance for sin and thereby develops an urgent pursuit of righteousness.

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Seeking Someone To Devour…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieAbuse victim

During a time of great distress and persecution, the apostle Peter wrote to the church: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). These words are well known to Christians but few understand the gravity of the threat. Most have not experienced the focused attack of the enemy, set on destruction and death.

But Peter is stern in his warning, knowing that a faithful walk with Christ and devoted service to the Kingdom, will most certainly arouse the devil’s appetite. Therefore believers are called to be “sober” in spirit; calm, temperate, and circumspect. Like soldiers in battle we must be “alert” and clear minded; always in a state of preparedness, knowing that the “adversary” is intent on our destruction.

Many Christians wrongly assume that obedience and service lead only to earthly blessings. But in truth, our reward is eternal and glorious, not bound by the constraints of this world (Rom 8:18). Jesus was clear that while in this world, His followers would be subject to the same persecution He endured:

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” (Jn 15:18-20a).

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Counseling Unbelievers…

Sad Man Half Face

Dr. Ab Abercrombie

The Bible is fully sufficient for the counseling task and superior to any method the world has to offer…for believers. But is the same claim applicable to unbelievers? Many in the biblical counseling field think not. For example, Jay Adams and many within the Nouthetic arena contend that unbelievers require “pre-counseling evangelism” before biblical counseling can ensue. (Newheiser, 2006).

But often counseling is initiated before the counselor can assess the spiritual status of the counselee. Other times an individual enters counseling convinced of his/her salvation, yet lacking the capacity to hear and respond to Scripture, due to an unregenerate heart. In situations like these, should the counselor place the counseling on pause to initiate evangelism?

Rather I suggest there are biblical mandates to both restore the fallen (Gal 6:1-2) and evangelize the lost (Matt 28:19-20) which dictate the counselor’s response and no distinction between the two activities exists. In fact, the course and nature of the counseling can only be determined within the counseling setting, where the Word and the Spirit direct the counselor’s assessment of spiritual need.

Without this assessment, the counselor is left to trust the counselee’s representation of spiritual status without biblical examination. This is dangerous because many within the Church bear a false security reinforced by human markers of salvation (i.e. church membership, baptism, confirmation, or experience). Others may be genuinely born-again yet now doubt or discount their salvation due to the presence of sin and its destructive impact in their lives.

Because of this, the first step of effective biblical counseling is the analysis of the assignment: Is the task evangelistic or restorative? Counseling must begin in order to discern this critical truth. Some steps for making this assessment follow:

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The Wall Is Broken Down: Homosexuality and the Church

Broken Wall

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is in crisis and the enemy is gaining force. The biblical foundation of our faith has been ruptured by a secular assault, the likes of which, we have not seen. And while victory is assured and even the “gates of Hades” will not overpower Christ’s Church (Matt 16:18); the wall is broken down and believers are being devoured (1 Pet 5:8). We need soldiers who will “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3).

The Book of Nehemiah provides a historical reference from which to draw. When Hanani and his fellow countrymen came into Susa, they gave Nehemiah the following report concerning the status of the Holy City of God:

“The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire” (Neh 1:3).

With the wall of Jerusalem “broken down” there was no longer protection from the enemy. God’s people were without refuge, stricken of hope. The rampart, which divided them from the world, had been breached. The Bible records Nehemiah’s response:

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Neh 1:4).

The news we are receiving today is much the same. The Body of Christ has been overtaken with a brutal onslaught. The walls and foundation of our faith are falling under the powerful attack of the enemy and I submit it is time for mourning, repentance, fasting, and prayer “before the God of heaven!”

The weapons of the enemy include emotion, experience, intellectualism, and bias, each challenging the veracity of Scripture as the foundation for life and eternity. Christians are dropping and surrendering in alarming numbers, yielding to secular pressures and the demands of unbelievers.

Recently we see two prominent issues taking center stage in the church: mental illness/suicide and the homosexual agenda. The church is being bombarded with pressure calling for the abandonment of scriptural order and the acceptance of public opinion. Increasingly the church is chided as lacking compassion whenever it references scriptural teachings in these areas. And regrettably the assault has weakened our stance and is eroding the boundaries of truth.

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Hurricane Katrina: What is God Doing?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieHurricane aftermath

Michael and Angela share the first mattress on the left as you enter the shelter.  Both in their mid-twenties, are trying to occupy their three daughters in the midst of the chaos around them.  There is a panicky energy about them; the kind of uneasy tension that comes when one is lost and without direction, running low on hope.  They are stranded in a small rural shelter in Alabama, over 175 miles from their home in New Orleans; a home that is no longer standing.

“We were hoping to leave New Orleans anyway” says Michael, trying to find an upside to his situation.  “I just want to find work and get a place for my family to live.  I’m a good carpenter and I’ll work hard.”

Myrna is across the shelter on the opposite wall.  She is a single mother with two daughters: a twelve-year-old, basketball star/honor student and a two-year-old toddler, who isn’t quite sure where she is and why she can’t go home.  “This is the third shelter we’ve been in since the storm” Myna said.  “Every time they move us we get farther from home.”  Home is Pascagoula, MS about 50 miles away.  Myrna and her children were awakened by the rush of water rising against their front door.  The hurricane they thought was far enough west had made a last second jog to the east, and now the storm surge threatened her family’s survival.  Kicking out a window, Myrna and her children escaped by foot to a near by fire station where they rode out the storm huddled together on the second floor.

Myrna starts to cry quietly.  “I try not to let the children see me upset.  My twelve-year-old is already so hurt.  Every time it rains or she sees lightning, she starts to panic.”  Myrna works in housekeeping for a hotel that no longer exists.  She has no vehicle, no clothes, no money.  “I don’t know where I am going from here.  I have family in Atlanta so I guess I’ll go there for a while.  I want to get away from the coast.  I don’t want my babies to go through any of this again.”

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