I have been blessed with an amazing father and father figures throughout my years. And while every man sits under the influence of his father (good or bad), I know that I would not be who I am without their influence, and by God’s grace, I am thankful. But in less than a 4 year period of time, my father, my mentor, and my father in law have all passed.
I have written much since Thom Duncan passed in 2012. Truly a great, talented, Godly man, “Sam,” as I affectionately called him, was amazing. An accomplished pianist, interior designer, floral designer, teacher, and pastor, Sam had more gifts than most collections of people could hope for in a span of generations. When he died, I could not remember 5 arguments between us, though the few that came to mind were memorable. I was corrected by him countlessly, but the arguments were either rare or have faded from memory. In an amusing re-telling, one of our more serious conflicts was resolved by theologian RC Sproul when I convince RC to say hello to my dad from the PCA General Assembly floor from a cell phone. Sam was an amazing father in that he wanted so many things for me but allowed me to pursue them at my own pace and with little meddling. When I was ordained as a pastor, it was one of the happiest days of his life. At his passing, I could only look back and reflect on his unwavering love and approval of me despite my many sins and flaws.
In 2013, my mentor, Terry Traylor, passed. He was the closest to Superman as any man that I ever met. Wise beyond his years, respected by nearly everyone he knew, and ridiculously strong (physically and spiritually). While I wouldn’t have been a Christian without my father, I definitively know that I would not have been a pastor had not Terry confidently said, “I think you should be a church planter. Let’s get you into seminary.” Terry gave me ear anytime I needed despite his insane schedule. He gave me wisdom, often without even realizing that he was giving it (and without me even realizing I was receiving it). Like my dad, I had few conflicts with Terry, though the few were epic. Unlike my dad, his death was sudden. 24 hours prior to his passing, I had a lunch and a bull session with Terry that was filled with his usual big laughs and big wisdom. At his funeral, all I could do was confess that I didn’t deserve a father figure like him. Even in death, Terry displayed grace.
And on New Year’s Day of this year, my father in law, Jack, passed. Now, Jack and I knew how to fight, but we also respected and loved each other. While Sam and Terry entrusted me with mission, Jack entrusted me with his daughter, my wife, Amy. Because of that, I have to think Jack had more faith in me than the others. There were times we wanted to strangle each other, and on Christmas Day, I literally had to chest compress him back to life after a heart attack. But just like Sam and Terry, I know that I would not be a pastor without Jack’s influence. Soon after meeting, he encouraged the bible study I was leading to come under his church’s accountability. He asked me to lead worship in singing at his church alongside Amy. He loaned me countless books, and I do not have a number of the John MacArthur tapes he gave me. Even his funeral inspired me. I walked away thinking, “I want to be more Godly.” His passing hurts as it turns the page onto yet another stage of my life, as well as my wife’s. She could easily write, “I am a fatherless daughter,” as she shared similar relationships with all 3 men.
So, at the young age of 45, my formative mentors have passed. Others are beginning to take their place, and I am growing into the role of being father figures for younger men. To my dread, I pray that I can father the young men who marry my daughters.
But my true comfort is this verse from Galatians:
Galatians 4: 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
No believer in Jesus is fatherless. In fact, the fatherhood of the Christian is inseparable and more intimate than any earthly relationship. Our faithful brother, Jesus, has made us children of God, and the Spirit of God moves in our heart (my heart) to cause me to cry out, “Abba Father!” – the most intimate name of God of all. And now, because of that inseparable security, we live not as slaves to sin or this world, but as heirs to God.
Thank you Sam, Terry, and Jack. I know that I am the man that I am and that I am set on a course that is far more joyous and great than any other that I would have chosen.
This is our second post of worship observations. You can find our first here. This week, we talk about when things don’t go well – a common challenge for young churches.
At Evident Grace, we have been meeting for a year and a half. For church planters and church plants, a year and a half feels like five regular years. Each Sunday, you feel like you are taking giant leaps forward as you become more efficient in everything from setup/takedown, greeting, music, children’s ministry, etc.
And then there are the Sundays where you feel like you take giant steps back. It feels like you have never met for worship before. No one seems to get anything right.
Here is my encouragement, fellow planters and young churches: While each good Sunday feels like five years ahead, an off Sunday is not a five year setback. Let me give a painful example.
This past Sunday, we were launching a new series, “Journey to Worship – a Study of Ezra”. Excitement built fairly well, and several folks joined in to help with a decent amount of web/social media promotion. While I am given to hyperbole like many church planters, I could realistically say that folks were pretty excited.
But things didn’t go as planned.
For some reason, from the onset, I stumbled over my words. Apparently, I said that, “Christ was circumcised for our sins.” While true in one sense that was far away from my wanting to say that He was crucified for our sins.
I was leading our music as well. Leading a crowd in singing is something that I have comfortably done for over 25 years now, but apparently, comfortable was not yesterday. I couldn’t get into a groove no matter what. In fact, the team finally stopped one song and just began again.
My sermon was never was comfortable either. I felt rushed. I felt the need to over-explain everything, and I continually lost the ability to pronounce most every world.
We made plans to take the Lord’s Supper, but our elder wasn’t able to make it, so the elements remained lonely on the table – something we had to explain to our congregations and visitors.
I left assured that no one was ever going to show up ever again.
But here is the encouragement to my heart and to yours, young planter and young congregation. Our worship is not about professionalism and perfection. While starting songs together and ending them together is preferable, while a commanding sermon delivery is helpful, neither of those are necessary for worship. Worship must always be about grace. Worship must always be about the lifting up of Christ. Grace and Christ equal worship. Preciseness is a bonus.
Yes, you seek to improve in every area. You learn from things that go both well and poorly. You practice and study more. You offer areas that continue to struggle to God in prayer. And then you give thanks for what happens.
So, this week, we will work towards getting the songs right and pronouncing the words correctly knowing that Christ will once again meet us on Sunday. If we make mistakes, we haven’t stepped back five years.
Christ will be lifted up, Christ will be honored, and we will be transformed. We will wait for eternity for mistake free worship.
As of late, I have tried to expand my listening habits to take in pastors who I have typically neglected. This list includes pastors of some of the megas who don’t usually show up on my “theologically sound” list but do show up on the, “Let’s grow big list.” My motivation hasn’t been to try to jump into the megachurch arena but merely to know more about what is happening in our church cultures.
I don’t include their names here as I am not trying to take folks down but only learn. My goals have not been to throw stones or even to disparage. It appears that God is doing great things in churches that don’t run their sermons through a theological or confessional grid. There are pastors gifted with incredible speaking skills. There are pastors who have much to teach all of us.
And there are some who almost none of that matters. To my ears, their sermons scream, “Run away.”
So, please allow me to run through some personal pros and cons that I have gathered lately. I offer them as lessons that I have learned, and in the reading, you have the choice to throw out either the baby or the bath water.
Every congregation needs hope. No matter the text, no matter the passage, and no matter the church venue. Hope is significant to the scriptures and significant to the human heart. The pastors of the churches I have heard do a great job of offering hope.
Every congregation needs to be engaged. These pastors do a great job at engaging their folks. Preaching is different than teaching. Lectures are not preaching. If folks feel like they are listening to the pastoral equivalent of someone reading a dictionary (ala a list of facts to be assimilated), they will checkout mentally. Their growth may very well be limited to the Biblical equivalent of a Fantasy Football League team. You know a lot, but to what purpose?
A sermon that preaches change without addressing sin and repentance is just empty motivation speaking. If the primary point of the pastor’s message is about your missing out on God’s blessing and your living at a higher level, but all the talk skips the issue of sin, be wary. Believe me, I’ve been to the dour faced, “All we talk about is sin,” depressing churches. That is not what I’m talking about. Repentance is walking in one direction and then turning and walking in another. That is how the scriptures define change, and offering grace in the face of sin to motivate and sustain is true change. Not doing that is rah rah pep talk. It only motivates for a season.
A Christian sermon must ultimately be about and point to Christ to be Christian. Casual references to Christ are only casually Christian. If Christ is unnecessary for a sermon, then anyone from any religion could preach it.
If the music starts in the background 5-10 minutes before the sermon ends and then rises to when the pastor gets to the frenetic, high energy climax of his sermon, you should feel emotionally manipulated. That is just classic, emotional, crowd manipulation. The Stones, Zep, Kiss, etc perfected that technique years earlier. It might work in terms of crowd reaction, but be prepared for the drive home/post sermon emotional crash.
And so, I’ll listen to a few more sermons in the next few weeks. As a disclaimer, I am not saying that only the pastors of the megas are guilty of these cons. Many pastors are. For example, I know the music starts early in tons of churches. I just don’t trust why they do. This was simply an exercise and a collection of observations of my own in the past few weeks.
Sunday, August 3rd, will be the final worship service for Sovereign King Church in Garner, NC.
Much like many of you, I wept when I heard the news.
Unfortunately, ministries, churches, and pastors come and go. As one friend reminded me, “Everything in this world has a lifespan.” And though death, endings, and even graduations are something we grow comfortable with, they are never pain-free. While numbers vary, some estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year. The question I wrestle with (and I imagine others do as well) is, “How is the death of a church redeemed?”
Towards that end, individual stories make up the end of a church. This is my portion of SK’s.
Redeemer Church and Eastern Carolina Presbytery sent me and my family to Garner in 2005 with the commission of an evangelist to do what is called scratch planting. Scratch planting, also known as parachute planting, is when you move onto the field without anyone previously committing to help start a church. You start from scratch after you parachute onto the field.
We launched quickly with coffee shop bible studies, blogging, and community service. Soon, we gathered 20 or so people together and huddled with Christ our Comfort, PCA (now Christ the King) as they replanted. The 40 to 50 of us gathered each week in the old YMCA building (also now non-existent) on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC. Eventually from those humble beginnings, SK grew to a consistent 70-80 in worship with vibrant chaplain ministries to the police and EMS in addition to service ministries to a local women’s shelter.
In hearing that, one might ask, “Well, what happened?”
There is no scandalous story here. There is no corrupt tale of money-laundering or sordid affairs. It appears that through God’s providence, things have just come to an end. People moved on to new jobs. Some preferred a different music style. Vibrancy of ministries became lukewarm. Things just came to an end.
I can’t speak to the philosophy of ministry presently at SK as I left to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Spotsylvania, Va. nearly two years ago, but I know that their pastor, their elders, their families, and all the congregation have been faithful. Perhaps, and hopefully, many of them will add their voice of thanks to what has God has done in Garner through Sovereign King because there is so much to celebrate…
Relationships with Christ deepened.
The homeless found Christ, education, employment, and even marriage.
Broken marriages were restored.
A young man and his family suffered a tragic car crash and were loved and served.
Police officers came to know Christ.
Children in the church made professions of faith and took their first Lords Suppers.
And most significantly, the saving faith of Jesus Christ was raised and defended in the marketplace of ideas in that small town.
This apparent death is not a useless, hallow shoveling of dirt on the casket of yet another church. In Christ, all death is redeemed. Some of those redemptions may not be seen immediately, but in God’s grace, many of them will be apparent (even in this lifetime).
I’ve been a pastor in some sense for over 10 years now. Redeemer Church sent me out to plant Sovereign King. I left Sovereign King to plant Evident Grace. Most of our children will leave their home church to prayerfully worship and work at another when they become adults.
The death of Christ and His glorious resurrection mean that the curse of death and ending is redeemed with continuity and eternity.
While SK won’t be gathering in its present form each Sunday in Garner, the pastor, elders, and members will be sent as missionaries to points on the compass that aren’t even known at this point. And that truly is the hope of this applied resurrection. As another friend reminded me, the worship of Jesus is never restricted to a specific address. Out of the death of this church, countless others will arise, and Christ will be glorified…now in even more places each Sunday.
In death, it is right to mourn, but that mourning is not pointless, nor is it morose. It need not be comforted with platitudes and moronic, thoughtless expressions. Christ is risen, and His church and His people are risen with Him. His fame goes forward.
God did so much for His glory in His people’s heart and in the town of Garner. He still will beyond SK. His name is forever praised in the heart of many, and the legacy of Sovereign King is one drenched in the hopeful Gospel of Jesus resurrection.
I hope other people add to this story. So much needs to be shared and even learned from it because where Christ is lifted up, you will find His people. Where you find His people, you will find the hope of the resurrection. Those stories deserve to be told.
And I can’t wait to learn what happens next.
Introducing, sharing, and explaining our faith in Christ to our children is the desire for many parents. How do to that is not always that easy. Additionally, the structure of families is not always consistent. Some families don’t have children. Some families include grandparents, many have step-parents, many are solo parenting, and a few have both mom and dad.
In light of all of those intricacies, how in the world do we introduce and deepen the faith of our families?
While each of the described above deserves its own book, this one is designed to help families with children. And since, the makeup of those families may look different in every household, we will typically just address “parents” and allow you to customize it as you read it.
But the central idea is to create a simple, easy to approach book for you and your kids. So towards that end, “Family Philippians” was created.
As you work through these pages, you and your family will walk through these steps. Each chapter will give you a section of Philippians to read, there will be a brief paragraph to explain and deepen an understanding of the passage, there will be a few questions to answer, and then, there will be a guided prayer time. At the end of the book, you will have covered the every verse of Philippians.
Ideally, each chapter should take no more than 10 minutes, but hopefully, that investment will last a lifetime. As you undertake this adventure, please know my prayers accompany your efforts, and I would love to hear from you about how it all goes.
You can find “Family Philippians” as a pdf download here, and also at
Excited for the arrival of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in all formats. Amazon has it listed as the #1 New Release for men, and thanks to all of you, it is already in the Top 50 of both Men’s Issues and Church Leadership.
The design of “Good Man” is to enable invidiuals, families, and churches to develop and sustain efforts to identify and train Godly men. The book focuses on four areas: Home Life, Thought Life, Church Life, and Community Life. I hope this is a simple, helpful resource. If so, please let folks know about “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”.
You can find “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in several different formats.
Why Another Book about Men, Elders, and Leadership – AKA The Genesis of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”
The genesis of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” came about in 2009 as I was preaching a series of sermons about the qualifications of an officer. SK Church was preparing to nominate, and I was preparing to train men from among the congregation to become elders in the church.
By the end of 2010, elders were installed, and throughout 2011 – 2013, I transitioned from being a solo church planter to leading a session of elders. In every way, I moved from the theoretical to the practical.
All along the way, I discovered deficiencies in my own leadership, gaps in my convictions, and perceived desires of doing it differently the next time. God’s grace shown through, the church continued to grow, and my thoughts progressed.
By the end of 2012, I was transitioning from SK to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Fredericksburg, VA. My thoughts covered everything from building up the men in my future church, sharing mission and vision with families, and starting the process of training officers again.
I realized that the hopes within the Biblical qualifications for officers in the Bible were actually the hopes that should be instilled and developed within every man in the church. So, my mind returned to the series in 2010. By December of 2012, I had developed those sermons into a draft, and in the past three months, they have been edited again into “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”.
My hopes in publishing this book is that God will use it to encourage families, develops men’s programs, and enable pastors to train and install Godly officers. High hopes indeed, but they are no less than what God promises in the scriptures. In all humility, I pray that God brings those hopes to fruition.
You can find “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in several different formats.
Why another book about men, Godly men, training Godly men, elders, and all of that stuff? The simple answer for another book is that we need to keep looking at the scriptures, looking at what we’ve done (and not done), asking good questions, and then we need to look at the scriptures again.
And hopefully, in the process, we will see Godly men grow, be raised up, and reproduce themselves for the church, for the good of everyone involved, and ultimately to the glory of God.
This book is a humble attempt at just those things. Available July 9th everywhere, “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” hopes to be an honest confession and guidebook to help us get there.
The cover art was designed by the ridiculously talented Jay Holmes, and any errors within are mine. I’ve included the Introduction below to give you an idea of where things may go. Thanks for considering this.
I’ve been through leadership training in a bunch of different arenas. I’ve been to public school teacher training. I’ve been to sales meetings. When I managed an eye doctors’ office, I went to the optometric national conference every year. As a seminary student, I was trained to death.
In the church, I was trained to be a lay ruling elder and a pastor teaching elder. All of those involved tests, both written and oral. Once I became a church planter, I was entrusted with the task of training elders and deacons.
I don’t tell you all of that to say that I know what I’m doing. I tell you because at this point and time, I wonder if any of us do.
But this book is my attempt to explain things as I see it, and I hope that it will be of some benefit to you, to my church, and to the larger church nationwide. You see, throughout pastor training (both for me and to others), I’ve noticed a couple of temptations:
Churches often ordain influential, successful men thinking that their earthly success and wisdom will result in spiritual success and wisdom. That’s possible, but it doesn’t always work out.
Another temptation is to completely focus on doctrine thinking that a right thinking man is a Godly leader and shepherd. That is possible, but that is not always the case (and it doesn’t always work out well).
Sometimes elders and leaders move from one city to another and think that they should already be made leaders in any new church that they attend. Again, it might work out, but that kind of assumption doesn’t take into account context or mission.
So what do we do? What do we emphasize while seeking to be fiercely biblical?
Well, in my humble opinion, I would suggest three essential qualities and one really strong recommendation in a Godly elder. Now, let me say this. These should be qualities that every Godly man aspires to, so they should apply to deacons, leaders, and men in general, but this book’s emphasis is on elders.
First, that man must have a personal holiness that enables him to lead his family in a self-sacrificing manner like Christ led the church. We will call that Home Life.
Secondly, that man must have a firm and deep theology that is consistent with the body to which he hopes to lead. We will call that Thought Life.
Thirdly, that man must have the ability to perform the office to which he aspires. If he seeks to be an elder, he must be able to shepherd. If he seeks to be a deacon, he must be able to serve. We will call that Church Life.
And finally, I would suggest from both practical and Biblical example that that man should have non-wavering agreement with the specific mission of that church. We will call that Community Life.
To get us there with these thoughts, we look at the biblical qualifications of a leader in scriptures. Those qualifications will expound on the ideas surrounding our first two qualities (Home Life and Thought Life). Then we will look at the ability to shepherd (Church Life), and then we will conclude by discussing the mission of the church (Community Life).
Hopefully, in the end, we will all walk away with Godly men who lead their families well, have a firm and consistent theology, who own the mission of their church, and have the ability to live out the office to which they take vows.
Thanks for taking the time to even consider these things.
I am always interested in receiving practical advice about how to keep the Gospel in my mind, proclaim it with my lips and keep it in my heart – things that I grapple with daily and fail at over and over again. “The Gospel Carries Us” tells me I’m not alone in my struggle. You’d think I’d know this, but it never hurts to be reminded. This volume is a collection of sermon notes and musings on spirituality and culture that warrant more than one reading. I think any reader, regardless of their particular denomination, will find these passages uplifting, comforting and in some cases, challenging. I’m looking forward to reading more from Pastor Gordon Duncan.
Thanks to any and all who are purchasing “The Gospel Carries Us” – reviews at Amazon and Barnes and Noble are a huge help.
You can purchases “The Gospel Carries Us” in three different formats:
I didn’t plant the church that I thought I was going to plant. Oh, I pastor a church that I wouldn’t trade for any other on the face of the planet, but we are not who I thought we would be, and my peace with that has made all the difference. Let me explain.
5 ½ years ago, Amy and I moved to Garner to start Sovereign King Church. At that time, we did not know a single person in the town, and we didn’t have anybody already committed to the church. We started from scratch if you will.
Needing to get to know folks, I set up each day in the local coffee shop. I would spend 4-6 hours at a time there trying to meet as many people as possible. Within a month, a Bible study of 18 – 22 years old sprung up and the makings of a core group began. Simultaneously, the web was working for us, so 2-3 families were catching the vision and wanted to join in with us as well.
I thought I was planting this suburban church that would have a strong, younger contingent which would reach out to the post-church, college aged generation. We would have a solid base of foundational families guided by energetic young adults that would keep us invigorated and focused.
Within 4 services, every one of my 18 – 22 year olds was gone.
Over the course of the next few years, we’ve regained some folks in their 20’s, but even to this day, we are not identified by a strong contingent of post High School/early college members. We have some, but we are not primarily a church of that demographic. That means that we have a wonderfully different energy – one that I never could have designed or even imagined. And I still pray that God gives us a great showing of that generation, much of whom is lost to the church these days, but that too is in God’s hands.
I guess the question is, “What happened?” Where did those guys go?
Well, I had conversations with many of them without ever getting a definitive answer. So, I used to worry that maybe there was something systemically wrong within SK. I don’t worry about that much any more though. Here is my best guess.
There is a big difference between attending a coffee shop bible study and attending a worship service. In both, Christ is lifted up, but the Bible studies were simply a presentation of the character of Jesus. While a worship service better be that as well, the full breadth of worship includes elements like Times of Repentance, Biblical Exhortation, and the examination commands surrounding the Lord’s Supper. That is a completely different world.
Our services are designed to experience God in full worship, and that must include the confession of sin met by the glories of Jesus’ grace. We could have redesigned our worship services to exclude the elements that made them squirm, but that would be compromising the full Gospel of Jesus.
I know that grace was proclaimed to each and every one of those folks, but the wounds of their prior worship experiences were still fresh for many of them (that is probably another post all together). Some of those relationships remain, and I pray that each of them find a wonderful, worshiping either with us or some else, but the challenge is still before SK (and many other churches). Our communities must be ones that proclaim Christ without hesitation, and at the same time, we need to call all people to faith and repentance of sin. Grace is not grace unless it is the meeting of our sin by God’s love. My prayer is that generation (and all others) will see and meet that love.
So thankfully, we have the church that God has designed for us, and each week, it takes on a new persona as we grow. We don’t look like I thought we would look like, but we look as God wants us to.