Brian Croft

Brian Croft
Senior Pastor, Auburndale Baptist Church

3 Ways to Prepare Your Teenager for Adulthood

I went on a trip a couple of years ago with my son after he turned 13 years old. What was the occasion? My wife and I promised each of our children when they turned 13 years old, they would get to take a special trip with one of us. My son with me, and each of my daughters with my wife. The purpose of these trips is to first have fun and enjoy each other’s company, which is why they each get to pick the destination (must be within a day’s drive) and determine much of the agenda.

There is, however, another purpose for these trips: to celebrate each child is growing up to be a man and likewise our daughters into women. Becoming a teenager can be a scary prospect (for both child and parent), and this often mutes both parent and child from obvious changes taking place. Yet we want it to be something we all would celebrate. We also want to communicate the responsibilities that come with this different life stage as well as some of the developmental aspects of it. Therefore, these trips are also designed for us to have very intentional conversations about life as men and women. Many of these conversations had been already taking place for quite a while, but it provides an atmosphere to delve into them a bit more and reaffirm what has already been said.

Since several of you asked about how I led my son through these conversations on our trip, I thought I would explain it here for others interested in some of those details. The theme of the trip revolved around this biblical manhood template: Protect, provide, and lead.

1)  Protect

We read in 1 Peter 3:1–7 about how I am called by God to protect my wife and children from any physical harm. Then, we discussed how my son could engage in this activity in our home. We discussed the practical ways he, too, could protect his mom and sisters from harm, everything from killing bugs to locking doors at night when I am out of town. We also read Proverbs 5 and discussed the need to protect ourselves from the adulterous woman who is after every man to steal him away from his wife. This allowed a fruitful discussion about sexual impurity and the destruction of pornography that we as men are surrounded by and how we protect our hearts and minds from it.

2)  Provide

As men, we are called to provide for the needs of our families. We were made to work (Gen. 1–2) and to care for our families by providing the physical, emotional, and spiritual support that each family member needs (1 Tim. 5:8). Because of this, we discussed ways my son could accomplish this, even though he does not have to work to support a family at this time. We talked about how he needs to work hard now at school, competitive swimming, cutting grass, chores, and whatever else in his life that will help develop a work ethic that he can later take into his job that he would use to support a wife and family one day, Lord willing.

3)  Lead

We read and discussed many implications to our call as Christian husbands to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her from Ephesians 5:22–33. One of the central ways Christ loved was through humble sacrifice. We talked about how my son could sacrificially serve his mom and sisters to develop that instinct to lead by humble service in the home. Also, we discussed the times I asked him to lead us on a family walk, or when he would pick where we go to eat, thinking of everyone in the family for the best place to go. Those are little ways for my son to lead now (and teach my daughters to follow) and think of how his decisions impact others.

Parents, I don’t think you have to take a trip as we have planned to do with each of our children. If you are able to afford it and do it, great. Regardless, I urge you to be very intentional about not waiting on these kinds of conversations that should be taking place much earlier than 13 years old. Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t run from them and wait because you anticipate them being uncomfortable. I promise you it will be too late if you wait until you must have these conversations. Our trip was a joy, very fruitful, and I am sad it will be my only one.

My oldest daughter turns 13 years old in a couple of months (here we go), and her trip is already planned for the fall with my wife. Parents with older kids, what have you done that has been fruitful in this preparation for your own children?

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Do Pastors "Guard the Truth"?

I recently posted my top 10 biblical priorities for a pastor’s ministry in the local church. One common question asked as a result was, “What does it mean for a pastor to guard the truth?” This is a fair question, especially since I listed it as #1. Here is a short biblical explanation followed by a few practical helps that will show how this all-important priority of guarding the truth manifests itself in the practicalities of pastoral ministry:

Guard the Truth (1 Timothy 4:6-7, 1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:1-2, 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 3:14-17)

If we were to summarize Paul’s message to his young protégé, Timothy, it would be this, “Guard the treasure (deposit) that has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14). Paul is saying guard the sound words, or doctrine, that I have taught you and entrust them to faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2). Jesus spoke his Word to his apostles, the apostles wrote down and spoke that Word to others (e.g., Paul to Timothy and Titus), and now that charge to guard the truth of the gospel and the apostle’s teaching has been passed down and entrusted to faithful men—undershepherds of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words…pastors.

We are now entrusted to first guard this deposit, regardless the cost, then to do what has been done to bring it to us—entrust it to the next generation. This is #1 (out of the 10) because if we lose the truth, we have nothing.

3 Practical Helps to Guard the Truth

1) Declare the gospel. The gospel is the good news of Jesus that has been entrusted to all followers of Christ. This is not just a call to declare the gospel, but to guard the essential truth of the gospel. Paul is writing to Timothy and Titus with the looming presence of false teachers trying to twist and distort the true gospel. Yet, part of guarding the truth of this good news is to make sure we declare these essential truths of it.

Truths like the sinlessness of Jesus, Jesus' atoning death that was completely sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God on sin, his imputed righteousness, his physical resurrection, his rulership at the right hand of God, and that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Him. Those of us who are Christians can begin to assume these great essential truths. Yet, I believe this powerful statement I once heard: “A generation that assumes these essential things about the gospel loses the gospel in the next generation.”

2) Defend the authority of all Scripture. The gospel is the good news of Jesus and reflects the redemptive plan of God throughout history culminating in the coming of Jesus. However, another part of this deposit Paul is writing Timothy to guard is the sound words of the apostles’ teaching. In short, the whole of Scripture we know as the OT and NT is to be defended as we guard the truth. Paul writes that “All Scripture is God-breathed” and is inspired by God. We guard the truth when we view the whole counsel of God as God’s authoritative, inerrant, infallible Word and we defend it as that.

3) Exercise Oversight. Wrapped up in us guarding true doctrine is the implication of true practice. Peter exhorts to “exercise oversight” as a function of shepherding, which means a pastor is to oversee not just that God’s Word is taught and preached, but to lead in such a way that God’s Word is the standard for the practice of the church in its day-to-day operations.

Pastors must delegate responsibilities to deacons and other leaders, but ultimately pastors still must maintain oversight over the entire church. In other words, administration, the handling of finances, caring for the children, planning the public gatherings, upkeep on the building, etc. We guard the truth by not just watching our life and doctrine, but making sure we operate with a biblical standard and practice in all we do as a local church.

I hope that is helpful in some way for those of you asking good questions in regard to this particular priority.

Should a Pastor Take a Sabbatical?

For the last 18 months or so, the pastors of our church have been having a discussion about a sabbatical for me. What is it? Should I be given one? How long? How should it be spent? After spending a good bit of time doing research, seeking counsel from others, and discussing it among themselves numerous times, they included me in the discussions. They determined they would recommend a Sabbatical for me to the congregation for next summer as I approach my 10-year anniversary.

Here was a portion of that proposal they wrote and submitted to the church for discussion last month:

The intention of a pastoral sabbatical is to provide a time of rest, renewal, and refreshment of the pastor’s soul and his family with longevity of ministry in mind. The pastoral sabbatical includes deliberate efforts for the pastor to grow, learn, mature, and excel all the more in his ministry upon his return. The pastoral sabbatical is distinct from vacation time. When the pastor uses vacation time, he is not expected to fulfill ministry obligations. However, during the pastoral sabbatical, the pastor is charged to engage in devotional, theological, pastoral, and personal reflection and renewal.

I would love to hear from some pastors who have taken a sabbatical.  What did you do?  How long was it?  What were the reasons for it?  How did it benefit you and your congregation?

Thanks for your feedback!

What Should a Pastor Long to Hear after Conducting a Funeral?

I am often given the opportunity to preach funerals where I do not know the deceased or their family. This was one of those occasions. I preached a funeral of an unbeliever with many other unbelievers present. When conducting a funeral in this environment, you never know what kind of feedback you will hear. I hear a variety of statements that are meant to encourage me, and sometimes I am just met with a scowl. But what should be the words we long to hear more than any others after a funeral?

I heard them from a very unlikely source. A burly man with a bushy beard and a long pony tail had already left, but I saw that he came back in specifically to talk with me. I must be honest; I had no idea what I would hear. What I heard was a great, unexpected encouragement to me. Let me first tell you what he did not say. He did not say, “You spoke very well about the deceased, or you accurately portrayed him though you did not personally know him, or you spoke in a very articulate way.” These are all encouraging words to hear, but should not be what most encourage us. The man said none of these things. He simply shook my hand, pulled me close, and said:

“Pastor, thank you for preaching the gospel.”

Then, he turned around and walked away. A gift from God was this man. In an environment you expect to anger some people, God was so gracious to bring this bearded, burly man to minister to my soul in that moment.

Pastors, my challenge to each of us is this: “What words do we long to hear the most?” I will be the first to admit that I like hearing strangers praise me for speaking well or creatively representing a man I did not personally know, or that I articulate words of which were easy to listen. Yet, these all point to us and feed our ego often times in an unhelpful way.

Although my pride is always tempted to be fed in these moments of encouragement whenever they come, I can honestly say, by far the most meaningful words I heard came in the form of a really hairy servant of Christ who reminded me what really matters in those moments when the sting of death is so real and Christ is all we have.

Pastors, honestly, what words do you long to hear the most after a funeral or even after you preach on Sunday?

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Pastor Experience Encouragement when Tackling Sin?

Several years ago now, I came home late one night having spent a few hours counseling a couple in our church whose husband had fallen into pornography. My wife was waiting patiently for me knowing what I was doing. She asked how my time went with this couple.  I responded with this statement:

“That was one of the most pleasant… unpleasant conversations I have had in quite sometime.”

Before convincing you why we as pastors should embrace this paradox we experience in ministry, I suppose I should define what I mean by a “pleasant…unpleasant” conversation.

Unpleasant. After numerous counseling sessions with both single men and married couples who have been harmed by the snare of pornography, I can’t recall any conversation about pornography that was enjoyable in itself. Writing my book on the subject affirmed there is nothing enjoyable about reflecting on this topic, even though it was written to serve and help others overcome it. This is why regardless who I am talking to about it, it is and will always remain an unpleasant topic and difficult conversation. There are many other sins and struggles our people battle that regardless how hard we may try or how lightly we try to bring it to the table, the nature of the way sin affects us almost always makes for an unpleasant conversation.

Pleasant. So what becomes pleasant when talking about something of a most unpleasant nature? Answer: The way the power of the gospel brings forgiveness, healing, grace, and victory in a dark sinful struggle. As I met with this couple, the power of the gospel was clearly at work in them both. There was genuine biblical repentance in the man and brokenness for hurting his wife. There was a sincere graciousness in the wife, despite the fact this wife learned a few days before of this recent struggle in her husband. There was an eagerness on the wife’s part to embrace her important role to help her husband battle this struggle.

Even by the time I met with them both, God had already begun to bring healing to the wife’s heart, cultivate increased intimacy between the husband and wife, and establish a radical plan of accountability in which the wife was eager to serve. I couldn’t have imagined a more encouraging meeting about something so harmful and potentially devastating to a marriage. God was truly kind and the power of the gospel was undeniably present.

Therefore, dear brothers and fellow pastors, we should embrace the moments in our ministries where we must tackle the issues of sin that plague our people. It is part of the burden in our joyful call to shepherd God’s people and it is inevitable to face. Yet we are ministers of the gospel and we must also grow to love seeing the power of the gospel shine in the midst of our people’s struggles. Why? Because this paradox captures the essence of why we do what we do and what we have been divinely called by God in His grace to see and experience.

Should Pastors Still Anoint with Oil?

I am painfully aware that I am the guy who wrote Visit the Sick, thus naturally become the guy who is supposed to know the answer to this question. The fact is, I am still wrestling with it. While teaching through James in our inductive Bible study on Wednesday evenings, I was recently confronted afresh with James’ instruction for “The elders of the the church to come and pray over the sick, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Despite the fact that there is clear instruction from Scripture on the matter, there remains a debate among faithful pastors on whether this is a practice that should remain in the modern church. In the midst of many positions people take on this issue, I have narrowed the debate down to 2 positions:  

Medicinal Purpose:  Some argue oil was used as a healing balm for those experiencing illness in the biblical context. Because of this, the anointing with oil was an effort to use modern medical means to aid in the healing process while praying with faith for God to heal. This position is especially convenient for those who want to argue against anointing with oil today, as oil is no longer used to treat sickness. This position can be summarized in coming to the hospital, supporting the doctors and nurses efforts to treat the patient with modern medicine, while you still pray in faith for God to heal according to his will.

Spiritual Purposes: This position would argue there is a New Testament connection with the Old Testament anointing of oil as a setting apart of someone for God’s blessing and Spirit to come. Specifically this position in the context of James means this practice should continue today asking God to show his favor upon the sick and bring healing as the elders pray in faith. Those who hold this position might be found walking through the hospital (possibly with other elders) carrying a small bottle of oil to anoint and pray for the sick.

There are many implications to hold either of these positions, which I plan to address in a future post. For now, I wanted to put the question to each of you to see how you are wrestling with the practical implications of this instruction and why you hold the position you do.

What say you?

1 Clever Way to Engage in Spiritual Conversations

All Christians should be looking for ways to engage in spiritual conversation with others with hopes to talk about the gospel. Yet many struggle to see when those doors are open or how to try and open them. Here is one easy way to engage others in a possible spiritual conversation that I was taught many years ago and has proven quite effective when asked at the right time. The only caveat is it has to get asked on Monday. The question is…

“What was the sermon about yesterday?”

You would be amazed at some of the responses I have gotten over the years. Responses have varied from a joyful response of a good, fruitful sermon heard by a grocery clerk to a tearful confession of skipping church from a bank teller. There is the common reaction of the awkward silence of shock from someone blindsided by the question. Of course, if you try to engage this way, you will eventually be asked the same question back, and you’d better be ready to respond. Pastors, you have no excuse not to remember the sermon you just preached the day before.

So then, if you read this post in time, try it today. You may experience a very encouraging conversation with a fellow believer in Christ. You may remind a straying church member of their disobedience of forsaking the assembly (Heb. 10:25). Who knows? God by His grace may just open a chance to share the gospel with someone as you recount the faithful word preached to you or by you the previous Lord’s Day.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

When All Else Fails, Pray This

When all else fails… pray the gospel. One morning, I was called by a nurse at a local hospital requesting my immediate presence. The non-Christian spouse of one of our members was moments away from dying. I had no idea what awaited me when I arrived. I walked into a room full of family with this heartbroken husband motioning me over to his wife’s bed. He was also suffering from some medical problems that resulted in a tracheotomy preventing him from speaking.

However, it did not take me long to see why I had been summoned. He was asking me to pray over his wife as the doctor removed the ventilator. Twenty minutes ago, I had been in my office neck deep in my studies. Now, I found myself being asked to pray a final prayer over a dying, non-Christian woman in front of her husband and fifteen to twenty non-Christian family members hanging onto some miracle with my prayer. I literally had a few seconds to decide what to do and how to pray.

I decided to pray the gospel for this dying woman, her husband, and this room full of non-Christian family. I did not pray for God to spare her. I did not pray that God would heal her. I did not pray some manipulating request that God would receive her (which is what I think they expected me to pray). I prayed that the gospel was her only hope in such a way that God could let every person in that room know it was their only hope also. Praying the gospel does not have to be complicated, just simple and faithful.

God taught me an invaluable lesson that day in the hospital room that has had a profound impact on me and my ministry:

When the gospel is prayed, the gospel is heard.

When I prayed the gospel in the room that day, it was for this dying woman moments from facing judgment, her Christian husband, and her lost family members to hear. If we truly believe that faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), we should never leave a hospital room, nursing home, rehabilitation center, or home of a sick person (or healthy person for that matter) without praying the hope of God in Christ.

When you visit, it is ideal in the midst of attempting spiritual conversation to speak about God’s righteousness, man’s sinfulness, and Christ’s dying on the cross in our place for our sins. However, many circumstances can make that difficult. But nothing prevents us from praying the gospel. It is God alone through his Holy Spirit who transforms the darkest heart. Whether through prayer or proclamation, we should see every visit as a divine appointment to make the saving power of the gospel known.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

What is a Pastor’s True Calling?

The only way for a pastor to avoid the many distractions of life and to remain steadfast throughout his life and ministry is to know what God has truly called the pastor to do. The pastor’s calling is not to run programs for the masses. The pastor’s calling is not to do whatever is necessary to please everyone in his church. God’s calling for the pastor is different and clearly outlined in God’s Word. The Apostle Peter exhorts elders/pastors (same office) to one undeniable task:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2–4).

Peter’s exhortation to pastors can be summarized in this way, “Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care until the Chief Shepherd appears.” Peter is quite clear of the what, who, how, and when of the pastor’s true biblical calling:

What: Be shepherds of God’s flock.

Who: The flock that is under your care.

How: Not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

When: Until the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, returns for his flock placed in your care.

The pastor’s true biblical calling is to shepherd the souls of God’s people humbly, willingly, eagerly, and on behalf of the Chief Shepherd. This was the calling for those leading the local church in Peter’s day, and it is the same calling for the busy pastors of the twenty-first century.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

5 Times When a Declining Church is Actually Healthier

I am amazed at how much material has been released recently about church revitalization. I just heard a statistic that 80% of churches in America have either plateaued or are in decline. I am grateful for the efforts of those who seek to bring life to these struggling churches. I am one of them. Yet I have a growing concern the more I learn about many of the materials out there addressing this problem. If we are going to characterize local churches as “declining,” then we are basing a church’s health on how many people attend.

How many people now attend a church versus ten years ago and why does give us some helpful insight into why a church is struggling, but that does not always tell the full story. This way of evaluation can also be an unnecessary source of discouragement to a pastor. The more I hear the push to overcome the “plateau or decline,” the more I begin to think of scenarios where a church’s decline in numbers is not necessarily a sign of trouble, but may be even a sign of health. There are many, but here are 5 reasons that came to my mind, several of which I even experienced in my own church:

1)  Unconverted people leave because the gospel is being preached

If there are many unconverted members in local churches (I believe there are), they will not want to hear a new pastor come in and replace the typical feel good, better yourself message from the pulpit with the true gospel of Jesus Christ that is the only source to bring true spiritual life to a dying church. Unconverted church members will either leave or stay and cause problems, especially if they are in leadership. Preaching the gospel is the right thing to do and is the only thing that can give life to a church. No pastor should ever be discouraged if he loses people over declaring the gospel.

2)  Church members pass away and go to be with Christ

We had a year where we lost several dear elderly saints, and the amount of those who died was more than the new members we brought in that year. A pastor should celebrate faithfully taking sweet saints of Christ to their eternal home and not fret about “replacing them” all at the same time.

3)  Pastors and missionaries are tested, trained, affirmed, and sent out into the ministry

That same year we experienced a decline in numbers not only because of the amount of deaths, but because we sent two families out into the ministry that we had invested in and trained to do so. I can remember someone coming to me concerned about the sliding numbers, and I replied, “Really, in God’s eyes this may have been our most fruitful year.” That was received well, and we were both encouraged in the reason for our declining numbers and struggling finances that year, both of which were recovered the following year.

4)  An intentional process to take in new members is established

Raising the standard for membership and protecting the front door a bit might cause you to have fewer members join the church in the beginning, but God is honored in pastors making sure believers in Jesus Christ are the only ones that become members of the church, even if the church numbers do not boom like you hoped. Membership meaning something has actually been the eventual cause of numeric growth for us, not the other way around.

5)  A new pastor takes a long-time declining church

If you take a church as I did with decades of decline, it is a challenge to change that pattern. It takes time, even years. I talk to so many young pastors who, inside of two years, are discouraged because they have not be able to change the patterns that brought much of the decline. Remember what you have inherited, and if it took 30 years of decline to get your church where you find it today, it might take 30 years to change the pattern. But God’s gospel and word are powerful enough to do just that over time.

Therefore, dear brothers and fellow pastors, press on. You may be the cause of the decline, and if that is the case, you need to take a good hard look at yourself before God and ask for those blind spots to be revealed.  However, in many cases, imperfect pastors, especially those new to their congregations, are still bearing too much of the responsibility of the decline. Sometimes God takes us through ups and downs, and there is so much more to evaluate on a church’s health than whether your numbers are “higher” this year than last. Decline can reveal many problems, but it can also be a source of encouragement to a pastor.

Pastors, preach the word, love those people, stay a while, and may God give you grace to determine what your “decline” should say.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

Pastors, Don't Neglect Prayer

When I became a senior pastor, transitioning from an associate role at another church, my life and ministry suddenly became very busy—busier than they had ever been before. I knew, without a doubt, what I was called to do. I knew what I should be doing. Yet week after week, I saw the things I was supposed to be doing getting squeezed out of my schedule because there were urgent demands on my time. Above all else, the one task that seemed to get squeezed out most was prayer.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. More than any other aspect of a pastor’s calling, prayer is the most difficult to maintain. Prayer requires time. And prayer is usually most fruitful when done in a quiet place, without constant interruption or distraction. Unfortunately, prayer doesn’t demand your attention.

In the midst of people wanting your time and urgent tasks to complete, spending time in prayer is easy to neglect.

A pastor knows that he will be preaching every six days, regardless of how busy he gets. The sermon must get done, and so time is set aside for that. And there are sick people in the hospital, and their suffering sits on your conscience so that even if you are busy you’ll eventually make the time to go. Funerals happen as well and a pastor is at the mercy of the plans of that family and funeral home. Pastors’ and deacons’ meetings get planned in advance, and these become default priorities in a pastor’s schedule. Besides, other people are depending upon him to be there and lead.  But none of this is true with prayer.

Prayer may sit on your conscience, but it isn’t complaining. It remains on the list of tasks for the day, but those who are not prayed for are unaware that they are forgotten. As other demands steal our attention, prayer gets pushed to the background. Many pastors, myself included, will go week after week until eventually that soft but necessary voice calling us to stop and pray just fades out. If enough time passes, the voice of conviction and desire will go away. When that happens, prayer gets squeezed out of our life.

Ironically, a pastor can be so busy caring for his people that he never makes time to stop and pray for them.

Pastors, I know your schedule is busy.  I am aware of the great demands on your time that pull on your conscience.  But, don’t forget to pray for your people this week.  Pray with your people.  Set time aside in a quiet place and cry out to God for your people.  Make the other pastoral matters wait.  It is safe to say they are less important than prayer.

5 Reasons Christians Do Not Visit the Sick and Dying

One of the most important tasks in a pastor’s ministry is one of the most neglected: Going to hospitals to care for the sick and dying. It has practically become a lost art in the younger generations of pastors. Why is this? Here are 5 of the most common reasons Christians do not go to hospitals and visit the sick and dying.

Christians neglect it as a priority. All of us are busy. Busyness can be the excuse to get out of just about anything. Make sure busyness is not the reason you are failing to care for your people. Make it a priority.

Christians dismiss it as our responsibility. Visiting the sick is the pastor’s responsibility; no, it’s the deacon’s responsibility; it’s both their responsibility; I have even heard pastors say it is the church member’s responsibility to care for the physically infirmed. It is the responsibility of the “body of Christ” to care for those physically suffering. Do not allow yourself to put the responsibility upon others.    

Christians fail to see the value in it. We question the value because we do not know if it will be fruitful. Will they be there? Will they be coherent to talk? Will they be gone from the room having tests run? We question its value and that makes us neglect it. We fail to see the value; when in actuality, it may be one of the most fruitful ways to serve Christ’s church.

Christians forget it is biblically commanded. It is not love one another, or preach the word, but Christ and the apostles commanded that we care for one another, specifically those who are sick (Matt. 25; James 5).   

Christians avoid it because of fear. We can fear many things when it comes to going to see someone sick, suffering, and hurting. We may fear getting sick ourselves. We may fear facing the reality of sickness and the possibility of death. We often fear not knowing what to say or do. Although all these are issues to be prepared to face, they are not reasons to neglect obedience to Christ’s command to serve Him while caring for your brothers and sisters who are sick and dying (Matt. 25).

The best way to overcome fear is to be equipped and prepared for whatever you might face in visiting the sick in hospitals, rehab centers, nursing homes, and even their own homes. The practical tools to be equipped for this task is the purpose of this book. Examine your heart and your daily schedule to make sure you are not hiding behind these excuses and ultimately neglecting Christ’s clear command to care for His people in these moments of greatest need.

Pastors, it is not just your responsibility to set the example for your people in this area, but a hospital is where some of our most significant ministry takes place. Go and find out.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

4 Essential Questions to Ask before Joining a Local Church

This has been a question I have been asked not just through the blog, but even more recently in my church by those visiting. It is a common scenario. You move to a new area. You get settled at your new residence and job. You get the kids settled in school. Where you settle in a local church often times becomes a longer, more drawn out task. After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are four questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.

1) Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word? 

This is the first question that needs to be asked. Not just are they faithful to the Word of God, but is this a church where the preaching and teaching is such that my soul and the souls of my family will be nourished because of the way the Word of God is taught and preached? In other words, are they preaching expositionally through books of the Bible as the regular, steady diet of the congregation. This does not automatically answer this question, but is a great place to start and evaluate, in my opinion.

2) Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority?

Does this church have real pastors/elders who see their primary task to be the spiritual care and oversight of the souls of the members? In other words, just because they have powerful, biblical preaching, does not mean your individual soul will be tended to on a regular basis. Ask the pastors. Ask other church members. It will not take much investigation on whether this is a priority of the leadership of the church.

3) Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability?

To know this, it will require a bit of a commitment to one church for a time to build relationships, attend some church fellowship events, and get to know some of the pastors and leadership. Yet you must have a realistic expectation as you are not yet a member; so do not expect to be treated as one.

4) Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit?

It will help to know where you are gifted and what some of the needs of the church are, but oftentimes there are many needs that you can fill by simply your presence and commitment. Also, do not assume you know what those areas of need are by your limited observations. Look to see what ministries exist and where you see yourself and your family fitting.

It will be different for everyone depending on the choice of churches and the efforts you make, but you should be able to know the answers to these questions within a few months of attending one church if you give yourself to the process. If you can answer in the affirmative to all four of these questions, it is a good possibility you have found your next church. If you find yourself in that place I would encourage you not to delay, but to pursue membership.

Important final note:

Finally, there is one essential element that must exist in this process. It is the key to possessing the zeal required in this search. That is, a constant feeling of uneasiness that should exist in you knowing you and your family are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls. The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency. In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Do You Teach a Child This: “What is a Pastor?”

I once was asked to address a classroom filled with 4–6 year old children and try to explain to them what a pastor is and does. I accepted, not because I felt I could do this well (far from it), but the challenge of it intrigued me. How do you teach a group of 4–6 year old kids what a pastor is and does? This is something any pastor should be able to do. So, pastor, how would you go about this? Below represents my efforts to explain a pastor’s task in the form of props I brought with me to class for the kids to see, touch, and ask questions.


A pastor’s task is to read, study, and teach God’s Word to God’s people. It is also to be that which dictates all that a pastor believes, lives by, and does to care for others.


A cross is the simplest visual to understand the gospel of that which a pastor preaches and equips the church. It is also the most obvious way to talk about Jesus and his person and work in a way for children to understand.

Picture of Prayer

A pastor is to be dedicated to prayer and the ministry of the Word. The easiest way to portray prayer to children seemed to be a drawing I brought that showed a man on his knees with folded hands praying to God. A pastor is specifically to be dedicated to pray for his family and the people in his local church.

Family Picture

My role as a pastor is to first shepherd my wife and children before I focus on anyone in my church. Their souls have been entrusted to me in the same way as my congregation has been by God. This is so important that if I fail in this task, I am disqualified from being a pastor.


Most kids would recognize a stethoscope as that which a doctor uses to care for his patients. A pastor is similar to a doctor in two ways. First, we also go to the hospital to visit people who are sick. Secondly, like a doctor, we care for sick people. However, as doctors care for the physically ill, we care for those who are spiritually ill, whose hearts need healing from sin.

Coffee Mug

I know many of you might take issue with this one, but much of what I do as a pastor revolves around shepherding the flock under the oversight of the heavenly gift of “coffee.” Whether it is a pot of coffee that gets put on when someone comes over to the house, a one-on-one discipleship meeting conducted over a cup of coffee, or important uninterrupted sermon writing or counseling that takes place at a local Starbucks, much of a pastor’s work (at least mine) often revolves around coffee, tea, hot chocolate (my 6-year-old’s contribution), or some other hospitable drink of choice (which is what the mug ultimately represents).

I hope this acts as a guide for you to come up with your own way to communicate the important role of a pastor to children and why even these little ones should be thankful if they have a faithful pastor in their life.  Whatever version of this teaching you create… try it out on your token 6-year-old at home as I did.

What props would you add to the list and why?

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Do I Prepare a Sermon for a Funeral?

The most helpful advice I ever received about preaching at a funeral for someone I didn’t know is this: “Don’t preach them into heaven. Don’t preach them into hell. Just preach the gospel for the people who are there.” This principle captures our task regardless the kind of funeral we do. Ironically, though we focus on remembering and celebrating the life of the deceased, the funeral service is ultimately for those who attend. The sermon is where the gospel must be preached clearly. Only when we can personally have confidence in a person’s conversion should we feel comfortable to speak of the heavenly reward he/she has now received. If there is any doubt in your mind, it is best to focus on the gospel for your hearers and resist the temptation to provide a false comfort that you have little or no basis to give.

A funeral sermon should not exceed 20 minutes and should highlight these three categories, preferably expounded from a text(s) of Scripture:

1)  Acknowledge the need to grieve. The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) is particularly helpful as there seems to be a legitimate time of grieving for those present and sorrow for those who are experiencing the separation that death brings, including Jesus who wept (John 11:35). I often share of the time my father sat my wife and me down, once we found out we had miscarried with our second child, and exhorted us to take time to grieve over this child, instructing us how to do so.

Don’t ever presume that people realize that grief is appropriate or that they know how to work through their grief by simply talking about their deceased loved one. In actuality, many do not want to talk about them because of the hurt felt in loss. Many pastors know that often, years later, people learn the value of this process, eventually working through the grief with some pastoral guidance.

2)  Make the hope of the gospel clearly known. True hope in grief cannot come apart from the hope of the gospel. This is why the second and third portion of a funeral sermon focuses on Christ’s person and work. Whatever text you choose to preach, make sure you are able to focus on the clear elements of the gospel from it:  God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness and deserving judgment, Christ’s perfect personhood and atoning work to save us, our essential response to repent and believe upon Christ.

3)  Call your hearers to respond to the gospel. To do so appropriately and effectively, you must prepare by knowing as much as you can about your hearers as well as the deceased. You should assume Christians and non-Christians are present. You should assume they all have come with a preconceived understanding on how we receive eternal life. For example, I have done a funeral where ninety percent of those in attendance were devoted Catholics, another who were Mormons, and another where no one in the building had ever stepped foot in a church.

In every case, I explained the gospel clearly, called my hearers to repent of their sins, believe upon Christ, and trust in him. Yet, in each of these different situations, I approached calling them to respond to the gospel differently, depending upon their preconceived understanding of the “good news.” Exhort them to grieve. Preach the gospel clearly and simply. Help them understand their need for Christ as death is before them. Call them to repent and believe.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Pastor "Pick His Battles"?

Pastors who walk into existing churches are quickly burdened by needed changes to improve the church. Where the challenge is for most of us is when and how those changes need to be brought. If you are wondering how to choose those battles wisely, first receive this most excellent counsel I received as I entered my first Senior Pastor position at a church clearly needing change and revitalization, “Preach the Word, sacrifically love those people, and do not change anything for a while.”

Now, having shared this invaluable counsel that should be applied first, here are 3 questions to ask yourself as you move to bring the change that is needed and how to do so with discernment and wisdom:

1) Is it biblical or preference? Whatever you wish to change, make sure you have a strong biblical argument to do so. If you desire to change the structure of your church to a plurality of elders/pastors, or raise the commitment of all church members to gather regularly on Sundays together (Hebrews 10:25), those are appropriate biblical changes that should be pursued. If you want to change which translation of the Bible to preach, the style of music, or remove the giant picture of a white, American, Jesus in your lobby, those do not possess as clear a biblical argument. Whether it is biblical or a preference matters in how you bring change, and in many cases whether you should change it at all.

2) Is it the right time? Just because a biblical argument can be made for the change, does not mean it is the right time to make the change. So many young pastors walk into an existing church, make quick, needed changes because “it’s in the Bible” and think nothing of shepherding a congregation through those changes. Then they wonder why eighteen months into their pastorate, half the church remains and there is a general lack of trust and suspicion towards the pastor. That’s because the new pastor was too busy figuring out what “had to change” instead of first loving and shepherding that congregation so they would later be receptive of the change.

3) Is it worth the possible consequences? Determine if the change can be taught as biblical, consider if the timing is right, then a pastor must weigh whether the consequences deem it wise and worth the risk. For example, I would not split the church over a plurality of elders/pastors, or purging an inflated membership role in the first few years at a church. Those are changes that can come later with good teaching and patience. However, I would risk being fired over confronting a deacon found in open adultery, or an attack on the deity of Christ, whether the church was ready for it or not. Choosing the right battles wisely involves whether you are willing to face the potential consequences of your decision as well as stand before God with a clear conscience.

This is a general template to follow as you determine the changes you desire to make and how they should be chosen and done. Whatever you do, choose battles wisely as if you will be at that church ten years or more. That will give you a different perspective and will help you be patient.

Oh, and one more thing. Listen to you wife. My wife kept me from getting fired a few times by her wise cautions about a few different things I was about to change. Your wife is your helpmate and will be a particular help to keep you from doing something you might regret. Listen to her.

What Is the Purpose of the Lord’s Supper?

I have had a decade long wrestling match with the Lord’s Supper. Many conversations with others. Searching the Scriptures to find answers. Heated conversations with young seminarians. Thoughtful pushback from fellow pastors. I believe I have found the answer. The answer is best explained in these two sermons as I am preaching through 1 Corinthians.

All my thinking and understanding of the Lord’s Supper for us as Christians today is best captured in these two sermons. The purpose is summarized in these to points:

The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is about…

1)  Remembering Jesus and what He has done.

2)  Being considerate of your brother.

The Lord’s Supper is about remembering Jesus and unity with your brother. Listen to these two sermons, and you will hear the detailed explanation of what I have discovered and how it should inform us as pastors on how we administer the Table to our people.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Much Should a Church Depend on One Pastor?

Isn’t it amazing how much stuff happens when you are gone? Whether it is while on vacation or doing ministry outside your local church, inevitably the unforeseen happens when the one full-time pastor is gone and you cannot do anything about it. While I was in Zambia, I missed a very important funeral and a sudden open heart surgery of one of our elderly members. Because of this, my time in Zambia reminded me of the importance of my “motto” for pastoral ministry:

“Expendable, But Appreciated”

Expendable: I realized that I must pastor this church in such a way that allows this church both to flourish while I’m here and continue to do so once I’m gone (Lord willing, I hope a long time from now). This requires me to delegate responsibilities, share the pulpit, share my authority (plurality of pastors/elders), raise up and train leaders, train my people to disciple, serve, and minister to one another, and personally take breaks with my family that require my people to step up while I’m gone, to mention a few. For different reasons, too many pastors want their ministries built around them, yet in doing so we are hurting the next generation in the local church from moving forward after we are gone.

… But Appreciated: Some of you may be thinking, “If I work myself out of a job… then I won’t have one! Since my full salary package, benefits, and insurance absorb close to a third of our annual budget as a smaller church, it is also a good idea to give reasons for the church to still keep me around. Unfortunately, some pastors (especially at smaller churches) accomplish this by building the ministry around them to where the church feels helpless if something happened to the pastor. I prefer my “job security” to be in the form of appreciation for me and my efforts to care faithfully for their souls. It is the church’s desire to keep me as their pastor year after year out of appreciation for my ministry of the word, friendship, and spiritual care for their souls that creates the dynamic of a local church who will not miss a beat if I, in the providence of God, am hit by a truck tomorrow.

Almost 10 years later, the balance of this motto has shown to bear much fruit. Yesterday was my first Sunday back after being in Zambia for 2 weeks. I observed 2 important things upon my return: 1) The church not only was cared for very well in my absence, but it was amazing the amount of visitors who had come while I was gone and had come back. The church never missed a beat in my absence. 2) I felt missed. I saw it in the eyes of so many as they spoke their kind words that they genuinely missed me while I was gone and was glad I was back. For both these reasons, yesterday was a huge encouragement to my soul.

I began applying “this motto” at the very beginning of my pastorate at Auburndale, but it is never too late to begin this work where you are. Empower biblically qualified people to do the work with you. Share the responsiblity, authority, and equipping of your people and the ministry you do. I am confident that you will not only see God work in more fruitful healthy ways, but you will be more “appreciated” by your people for it.

How Important Is the Perception of a Pastor’s Ministry?

It has been said that “perception is reality.” This saying is most especially true for the pastor and drives so much of what the pastor does. This principle is often a good perspective for a pastor to have, as it can lead to a mindfulness to pursue personal holiness, avoid scenarios that might compromise our integrity, and give due diligence to the call to manage our household well (1 Tim. 3:4). Yet, this perspective can also be taken too far. Because our ministries and families are typically under such scrutiny by the church, we can be tempted to worry more about the appearance of them to others than our actual ministry and family themselves. After all, we are called to be above reproach and manage our household well as a qualification of our calling (1 Tim. 3:2, 4-5). However, if we feel the perception of one of these areas slipping, we can be tempted to fall into the trap of the quick fix to hide the struggle, instead of dealing with it.

For example, when marriage problems exist, the pastor and his wife will try to put on a happy face, instead of transparently dealing with the struggle. A recent poll of over 1,000 pastors at a conference revealed that 77% of the pastors surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage. Yet, I think we can assume a much lower rate for how many of those pastors have actually revealed their marriage struggles to their church. In desiring the appearance of hard work, the pastor might be tempted to do what will give that appearance, instead of just working hard before God regardless who sees.

I once heard a pastor share about some church members who were growing in hostility towards him and were trying to build a case to remove him. One tactic that some embraced to charge this pastor was to drive by the church and keep a record of when his car was at the church and when it was not, thinking they could indict him for being lazy or not working. As silly and even juvenile as that was, this pastor confessed he was still tempted to accommodate them, change his schedule, visit less, and do what they wanted, even if it meant compromising the way he felt he needed to conduct his day. Perception is reality for the pastor, and it can make the demand of appearance control a pastor to the neglect of those to whom he should be tending.

Pastors, the perception of your ministry and family is important, but it is not more important than the actual reality of your ministry and family life. Guard from allowing this temptation to drive your daily life into a sinful deception. It is an empty pursuit and will eventually end with heartache. Trust me: if you are someone different at church than you are at home… your family will notice.

How Does a Pastor Help His Children Not Become Disenchanted with the Church?

This is a question that should be on the minds of every pastor. It is certainly on mine. Every pastor’s family is at risk at becoming disenchanted, even hostile to that church and ministry that so often takes their father away. How can a pastor help, not hinder his children to grow in love for the church?

A better, more effective counselor to us on this matter than I am is to hear from those who have lived it: Pastor’s kids who have lived their whole life under this tension and came out more grateful for their father, his ministry, and their church. They do exist, you know. I recently met one such pastor’s kid and he has graciously offered these kind words of testimony about his father and his faithful efforts. Pastor’s take note…

1)  He was home in the evenings, physically and emotionally. Not all evenings of course, but most evenings, and we knew it was important to him to be with us.

2)  He talked with us. I think men and women are different. Generally, women talk more than men, and that is fine and even good. But pastors talk to other people all day—what does that communicate if they then don’t want to talk to their kids? Other people are more important. The job is more important.

3)  He was hurt more than any of us when ministry would detract from family time. In spite of the safeguards of the evenings he set up, emergencies came up. People died when we were on vacation several years in a row, weddings sapped his energy for the entire weekend, a heavy counseling situation meant he came home more tired than usual. But because his heart genuinely wanted to be with the family and he communicated this, we saw it was not his choice; we saw that it bothered him even more than us.

4)  More than anything else, he was not a hypocrite. He lived consistently with what he preached. He did not put on a show when he was in front of people and when he was with the family, and he did not feel that he had to portray ministry and serving the Lord as fun and joyful all the time--sometimes it was not fun, sometimes it was just rough. He was honest about that, and we could tell he was not trying to pretend.

Excellent wise words.... Thanks for your contribution to serve us. Thank your father and his faithful example for those of us still trying to be faithful. Pastor’s take this to heart as you wrestle with this tension that will always remain. Let us be faithful to do our part and trust our great and powerful God who works in our children’s hearts for the rest.