Covenant Theological Seminary

It’s Easier Together: Christian Teamwork through the Eyes of Ruling Elders in Mid-Sized Reformed Churches

Matt Giesman
The purpose of this study is to investigate how ruling elders from mid-sized Reformed churches describe their teamwork. The assumption of this study is that most pastors do not begin their ministry with a sufficient understanding of the need for teamwork amongst their lay leaders and that such teamwork is vital to their ministry success.
This study utilized a qualitative design using semi-structured interviews with eight elders at mid-sized churches (approximately 150-450 in attendance) in the Presbyterian Church in America. The literature review and analysis of the eight interviews focused on three key areas to understand the nature of teamwork in mid-sized Reformed churches: trust in teams, power dynamics in teams, and the parity of elders.
This study found that the following are the five most common descriptions of teamwork in mid-sized Reformed churches: fellowship beyond business hours builds trust and teamwork; healthy conflict and patient listening are hallmarks of healthy teamwork; power is used “judiciously” in healthy teams; consensus is sought and usually achieved in healthy teams; healthy teams are humble, with no MVP, with no head except Christ.
Therefore, the study concluded that these strategies should be implemented and modeled in mid-sized Reformed churches by elders.

Transition from Founding Pastor to First Successor Pastor: Every Pastor Is an Interim Pastor

Christopher A. Polski
Stories of conflict, loss and congregational collapse are far too common during seasons of pastoral transition and especially so when the transition in view is the transition from the founding pastor to the first successor pastor, a circumstance that presents a highly unique set of challenges that often prompt a crisis of identity within a still young congregation. The purpose of the study is to explore how church leaders describe influential factors in their process of transitioning from a founding pastor to a first successor pastor.
This study made use of a qualitative design utilizing semi-structured interviews of founding pastors, first successor pastors and key church leaders who were involved in congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) that had recently undergone a transition from a founding pastor to a first successor pastor.
The literature review focused on surveying insights and principles related to transition in the following fields of inquiry: Core Ministry Practices, initial Biblical leadership transitions, leadership transitions in stepfamilies, leadership transitions in business, and leadership transitions in churches.
This study revealed that there are seven key principles that must be considered in relation to a first pastoral transition:
Principle #1: Every Pastor Is an Interim Pastor
Principle #2: Founding Pastors Make a Unique Mark
Principle #3: Plan for Transition Now
Principle #4: Continually Recalibrate Your Culture for Smoother Transition
Principle #5: Transition Isn’t Over when the New Pastor is Installed
Principle #6: Engage the Inevitable Loss in Transition
Principle #7: Even in Difficult Initial Transitions, Hope Remains

The long-term hope for this study has been to give founding pastors, church planting core groups and church sessions working alongside a founding pastor, tools to heighten their awareness surrounding the complexity and inevitability of an initial pastoral transition.

Love and longing in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13: expanding Robert Funk’s exclusive-authority view of the apostolic parousia

In his influential 1967 essay, Robert Funk coined the term “apostolic parousia” to describe Pauline passages where the apostle groups material related to his presence into one section of the letter. Funk argued that such material manifests the apostle’s presence within the letter, exclusively seeking to convey Paul’s apostolic authority and power to the readers. Funk’s essay and proposal have significantly impacted NT studies and continue to influence scholarly discourse.
While affirming much of Funk’s proposal, this thesis offers an expanded perspective of the apostolic parousia convention that corrects an unnecessarily restrictive view of its literary function. The study examines 1 Thess 2:17-3:13 and demonstrates that Paul literarily manifests his presence in that passage primarily to convey personal affection and a desire to see the readers.
The first part of the argument focuses on 1 Thessalonians as a whole and establishes that expressions of affection and affirmation as well as Paul’s minimization of authority characterize the entire letter, particularly the first three chapters. Such factors indicate no need for the apostle to emphasize his authority in the apostolic parousia section. An exegetical examination of 1 Thess 2:17-3:13 then demonstrates that Paul seeks to convey love and longing more than authority in this section.
The evidence confirms that 1 Thess 2:17-3:13 does not function exclusively or primarily to convey Paul’s authority and power, as Funk’s unqualified approach suggests. Pauline studies will consequently benefit from clear qualifications about the limits of Funk’s work in this area and also from further exploration and clarification of the multiple functions apostolic parousia passages exhibit in the apostle’s letters.

Preaching in an age of anxiety

Anxiety today is rising and building, one crisis after another, and yet the church remains an important refuge for many, serving to mediate that anxiety. Preaching in particular, as a central function of the church, plays a significant mitigating role. The purpose of this study is to explore how senior pastors preach Christ-centered sermons to lower anxiety in congregational systems.
The literature review focuses on four key areas: Jesus’ teaching on anxiety in Luke 12, anxiety in family systems perspective, the experience of anxiety in the person, and modern sources of anxiety.
This study utilizes a qualitative design using semi-structured interviews with eight pastors who have served congregations for five years or longer in the role of senior pastor. Four research questions guided this qualitative study: 1. How do senior pastors describe the presence of anxiety in the congregational system? 2. How do senior pastors understand the impact of their presence on anxiety in the congregational system? 3. How do senior pastors negotiate their own anxiety as a part of the congregational system? 4. How do senior pastors describe sermons that lower anxiety in the congregational system?
The findings of this study reveal four components required to preach Christ-centered sermons that lower anxiety in the congregational system: discerning systemic realities of the congregation, practicing a non-anxious presence, shaping interpretive frameworks, and communicating in a manner that is challenging yet not coercive. Several practices and attitudes are suggested that best contribute to preaching in a manner that lowers anxiety in the congregational system.

Evangelism to college football players

The purpose of this study was to determine how college football chaplains communicate the gospel to college football players. Football chaplains face a number of challenges in winning players to Christ. College football is a distinct subculture. Big time programs are increasingly popular, providing teenage athletes with national notoriety. The rosters are large, and the schedules are busy. The game is violent, and the culture is competitive. This segment of the population is unique and requires a contextualized evangelistic approach. Evangelism is at the heart of the church’s mission to make disciples. Therefore, this issue is crucial for fruitful chaplaincy.
This study utilized a qualitative design using semi-structured interviews with ten chaplains who served their programs for ten years or longer. These men are either employees of their university, work for parachurch organizations, or serve as local pastors. The literature review and analysis of the ten interviews focused on three key areas to understand in impactful chaplaincy: a biblical understanding of contextualization, sports as religion, and locker room culture.
This study concluded that three components combine in evangelizing college football players: intentional trust building, simple and sensible ways to present the gospel of grace, and a structured ministry funnel. Related to these three components, this study found that veteran chaplains face three major challenges to evangelism: a distorted view of manhood, the performance mindset, and scheduling constraints. To address these challenges, this study identified the motivations and practices which contribute to developing a fruitful evangelistic movement.

Pastors Leading Congregants to Participate in God’s Mission through Their Vocations

This study discovered how pastors lead congregants to participate in God’s mission through their vocations. A pastor who wants to equip people to be missional sees that they are already participating in God’s mission through their vocations. This qualitative research involved interviewing eight pastors who are leading their congregants to be missional in their vocations. The literature review explored the mission of God’s people and a theology of vocation. The interviews discovered what pastors attempted to help people be missional though their vocations, what challenges they faced, and their results. Recommendations are presented for implementing this discipleship paradigm in churches.

Postmortem Preaching and Primopetrine Polemics

What happens to those who die without ever having heard the Gospel? A number of theologians, both ancient and recent, have suggested that these will have an opportunity to hear the Gospel after they die and that those who repent and trust in Christ for salvation in response to this message will be saved. In support of this view, proponents have put forward several Bible passages, but the case depends on the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6. On close examination of these verses within their cultural and literary context, neither of them supports the view which has been alternatively been called “postmortem evangelism,” “future probation,” or “divine perseverance.” Since the Biblical case for this view depends on 1 Peter, it seems that there is no Scriptural warrant for it. Since there is no Scriptural warrant for it, Christians ought not to teach such a view.

Expositing the Scriptures in Preaching to Digitally Saturated Congregants

Expository preaching in the digitally saturated context of the twenty-first century presents
challenges that have been and continue to be under-addressed. A massive media shift,
comparable to the dawn of the printing press, has been changing cultures worldwide for over a
decade. While resources regarding media ecology are increasingly available—as are resources
dealing with expository preaching and culture—preachers lack resources for expositing the
scriptures in a digital age, with its shifting epistemologies. The purpose of this study is to
examine how preachers navigate the challenges of expositing the scriptures to digitally saturated
Four research questions guided this qualitative study: 1. In what ways do pastors describe
the effects of digital saturation on the lives of their congregants? 2. What challenges do pastors
experience in intentionally preaching expositionally to engage their digitally saturated
congregants? 3. What opportunities do pastors experience in intentionally preaching
expositionally to engage their digitally saturated congregants? 4. What strategies do pastors
employ in meeting the challenges posed by intentionally preaching expositionally to engage their
digitally saturated congregants?
The findings of the study show that the current media ecology has shifted in
demonstrable ways from that of the print age, giving way to emerging epistemologies. This study
also reveals valid concerns regarding the emerging digital ecology and the church’s vital need to
better understand these epistemologies. Additionally, specific practices and approaches to
reading and preaching scripture are presented for improving gospel communication in the current
media context.

Restoration of Pastors Who Left the Ministry in an Honor-Shame-Based Society like Singapore

Pastoral ministry compacted with challenges. Unable to put up with the vocational pressures several pastors quit the ministry. Quitting pastoral ministry has serious and long-term implications for Asian pastors. They run the risk of being unkindly labeled as poor examples for the ministry. Some boldly attempt to return and try to reintegrate in the Lord’s work. But not easy! The failed pastor’s family undoubtedly will suffer embarrassment, shame, and emotional duress. Only by God’s grace, can they survive in the ministry.

What Does the Bread of Life Discourse Reveal about the Benefits Communicated to the Believer in the Lord’s Supper?

In this thesis, the author defines and explores the benefits received by the partaker of the Lord’s Supper. Though many theologians have addressed this question throughout history, there remains a greater need to engage this question from the standpoint of the Bread of Life Discourse. With the intention of answering this question solely through Scriptural exegesis, the author chose to conduct an exegetical study of the Discourse as it is recorded in John 6:22-59. After examining the structure and historical context of the passage, she deemed it necessary to address whether the Discourse and the sacrament were related, and if so, the nature of that relationship. Through linguistic, structural, and historical considerations of John 6:22-59, she concluded that the passage at hand is indirectly related to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Discourse and sacrament share key Christological teachings.
The scope of this project yielded a list of the various gifts Christ gives to the one who “comes and believes,” or “partakes” of him, as well as a description of each. This study is a valuable resource for the Church as it provides a deeper understanding of the spiritual realities surrounding the Lord’s Supper. The Supper is a binding, covenantal act believers perform, in which they receive visible, tangible signs and seals of Christ’s benefits given to them.
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