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EPISODE 51: Filtering through God's Perspective
After over 40 years in pastoral ministry, Steve King has many powerful lessons about perseverance, not losing heart, and joy along the way.
Beware the Slow Leaks: Eight Ways Ministry Leaders Can Thrive and Finish Strong by Steve King
Welcome to Questions That Matter. This is a podcast of the C.S. Lewis Institute, and I'm your host, Randy Newman, and today my conversation partner is my friend Steve King. Steve was the pastor of Cherrydale Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia, for 36 years as the senior pastor and then another three years as pastor emeritus. He has just recently moved down to Waco, Texas, in his retirement and is enjoying the swimming pool in his backyard every single day. Steve, welcome to Questions That Matter. It's great to see you again.
Great to see you, Randy. Please come visit me in my swimming pool.
I like that idea. Well, there's so much that we want to talk about, but I want to start with you've moved away just a month ago, and you're now in a position of looking back over almost 40 years in pastoral ministry, all at the same place, which is quite an unusual situation for many people. So what stands out to you about these decades of ministry? And again, I realize most of our listeners are not pastors, so we're not talking to other pastors about how they can persevere, although we will discuss that. But just what is going on in the body of Christ from your vantage point, that would be an encouragement for God's people.
Randy, I actually had seven years in Portland, Oregon, in a church, and then Cherrydale was the second one. So it's over 40 years in two churches. And my bottom line is I'm encouraged. I'm not a cynic. I believe Jesus is building his church. I've been through lots of, in the evangelical community, phases and movements. The movement that is going on now I'm most excited about is the gospel-centered movement and, with that, a strong emphasis on reaching all peoples with the gospel global missions. Those are the two things that excite me the most about the local church. All those years, I know the underbelly and the warts and the problems in local churches, and I know lots of pastors through the years. Overall, I'm very encouraged.
Now, say a little bit more about this gospel-centered movement, because we can throw around that term and just sort of assume that everybody is understanding what we're saying. But there is kind of a new emphasis on the gospel in, I'd say, the last ten to twenty years. Say a little bit more about that for our listeners.
I'll give you my own story to illustrate it. I grew up hearing the gospel preached every Sunday in church, and I received Christ at a young age. My translation of that was that the gospel, you only took it off the shelf in order to share your faith with somebody else. What I mean by the gospel-centered movement—Tim Keller would be a great example of somebody who gets it right—is the gospel is not just getting into the faith. It's not just the ABCs of the faith. It's the Alpha and the Omega. It's the swimming pool. It's everything. It's the Person and work of Jesus Christ who gives us a brand new identity, a new power, and a new purpose, and that is to be in the center of everything. It shapes all of our lives. So when I say gospel centered, that's what I mean. Taking that gospel, applying it to every aspect of our lives, starting with the church, and then living that out in community.
Yeah. I've experienced the same kind of thing. Now, I didn't grow up in the church. I come from a Jewish background. But I came to faith in my sophomore year in college when I was 20 years old. And I think it's exactly similar to yours. The gospel was the entrance ticket into the Christian faith, and then there was a whole lot of other stuff you had to do afterwards, and it was almost disconnected from the entrance fee. I heard someone say it's almost like the singing of the national anthem at a baseball game. Okay, they sing the national anthem, and then there, that's done. Now we play this other game that has almost seemingly nothing to do with the national anthem. So again, yes, you're right. For me, Tim Keller's preaching and others and some very helpful books were, “Wait a minute. No! The whole idea that I've been saved by grace, that God has adopted me into His family, that fuels everything with this sense of gratitude and joy, and so, yes, I read my Bible on a regular basis, but not because I have to do it. Because if I don't do it, I won't be growing.” It’s, “Look at this! The God who saved me has also revealed truth in His word. I want to read it.” You end up doing a lot of the same things, but it's a very, very different motivation. I'm sorry. I'm doing too much talking. I'm supposed to have you do the talking.
Well, I agree with you. I'm saying amen.
Well, I want to spend a little bit of time about your thinking about the pastorate. And again, our listeners, for the most part, are not pastors, but I'm hoping they all have a pastor. That they're a member of a church. And so you've written a book about how pastors and ministry leaders can thrive and finish strong. The title of the book is Beware the Slow Leaks. And so I want you to speak to that for a little bit. How can God's people be praying for their pastor? And what is it they need to know about these slow leaks that you've written about?
Speaking of praying for their pastor, I'll share a story that impacted my ministry from day one until today. My first church was what I call a GA, a growth accelerator. A lot of difficulties, a lot of dysfunction. My second church was the same, and I went to a wise older pastor, told him what I was about to start shepherding, and he had me look up two verses and read them out loud to him. The first one was Hebrews 7:25 that says Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. And the second one was Revelation 12:10 that says that Satan is the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night. And he looked at me and he said, “You need to decide, are you going to be an intercessor or an accuser?” And it pierced my heart. The first sermon I ever preached at Cherrydale when I was candidating is, “Are You an Intercessor or an Accuser?” Back then, I gave invitations. I gave a big invitation. The whole congregation came forward. I'd hit a nerve, because they've been accusing each other.
So how do you pray for your pastor? I would say the way you listen to his sermons, the way he exercises his leadership, be marked as an intercessor, not an accuser. It will make a huge difference in his life, and it will shape your attitude toward your pastor.
Now, when you said the first church was a growth accelerator, did you mean that it accelerated your growth because they were so difficult to deal with? Is that what you were saying?
Yes. I call it GA people, growth accelerators, but it's two sides: I was a young guy, just learning the ropes, and they were so very patient with me. I'm sure I was a growth accelerator to them, but they were a tough crowd. The story ended well. The church healed. But, yeah, that's what I meant by growth accelerator.
So our listeners can't see your face. You're just this very, very pleasant man. You have a smile on your face the whole time, and you said, “This church was a growth accelerator,” and you just passed by, and I thought, “Wait a minute, wait a second. There's something there.” Well, you know, I want to go back a little bit. There are all these truths in the scripture that we hear, and we've heard them a number of times, and after a while, they don't have the power they once had because we've just sort of grown accustomed to them. But that truth that Jesus is interceding for us right now, the text that you read and other places, that He is ever praying for us. That is so encouraging and strengthening and just… it's a marvelous truth! Jesus is praying right now for Randy Newman and Steve King doing a recording. And when people listen to this, Jesus is praying for the people as they listen. That's mind boggling. And yet we forget it. If we remember that, that is just one of the most helpful, helpful, powerful benefits, if I could say it that way, of the gospel and of being adopted into God's family.
Randy, I couldn't agree more. And there are little ways I remind myself of this. It convicts me and brings me to repentance often. Not only is Jesus interceding for us, not only that, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, so if I'm full of the Holy Spirit, one of the marks is that I approach people as their intercessor, not their accuser. And if Jesus is on the throne of my life, I have an intercessor's heart, not an accusing heart. And I think that's desperately needed in the church and in the culture. We are an accusing, big me, little you culture, and it's eating us up. Especially in the body of Christ, we damn people who are fellow believers who are not quite in our little tribe and go around attacking each other. And I think that's the exact opposite of the heart of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Is it possible to be a scientist and a person of faith at the same time? Are Christianity and science at odds with one another? I think there are a whole lot of people in our world who think that. Well, these apologetic questions and others are going to be explored in a prerecorded interview that we did with scientist and philosopher and mathematician and brilliant mind Dr. John Lennox. It's going to be on October 21 at 8 PM Eastern time, and Dr. Lennox is going to examine some of the latest scientific research and theories surrounding questions of the origins of life and concepts of the mind. He will demonstrate why a Christian approach to an understanding of the universe makes the most sense. So if you're a believer who's looking for a way to explain the validity of the Christian worldview to some of your friends who are more scientifically minded or scientifically oriented, this is a really, really important event, and it's free of charge, but you do need to register for it because we'd like to be able to have all those kind of connections in place. So to register for this, please go to www.cslewisinstitute.org/cosmic-chemistry. We sure hope you can make it for this event. Again, that's October 21 at 8 PM.
Well, your book, Beware of the Slow Leaks: Eight Ways Ministry Leaders Can Thrive. So just tell us what's one of those slow leaks?
I will pick the first one and you'll discover, Randy, usually everything I have has a story attached to it.
I have noticed that, and I love it. I love it.
And the first one, I call it “check your filter.” And here's the story: I'm a newlywed. I moved to Portland, Oregon, with my sweetheart, Mae Belle, and I'm assigned a big brother in the seminary, an upperclassman who would shepherd this new guy, and his name was Tom Heflin. I call him up, and we chitchat, and we arranged to meet the next week. And I'm about to hang up, and he says, “Are you aware of what happened to me this weekend?” And I said, “I just got to town. I have no idea.” He said, “Well, Steve, I work in a warehouse with other seminarians, and it was Friday evening, and we were closing down the warehouse. I was in the back. They were in the front. They did not know I was in the back. And I had my right arm up in a machine cleaning it, and they flipped the switch and cut off my right arm right at the shoulder. And Steve, I just got out of the hospital.” And then he ended by saying, “Isn’t God good?” And I went, “Whoa! Whoa! What? What did you say?” And he repeated the story and ended the same way, “Isn't God good?” Now, my response was cynical. I thought, “Maybe he's in shock, and he's quoting Christian platitudes, maybe he's trying to impress me, or maybe he knows God in a way I don't know God.”
So I determined to watch Tom Heflin for the next four years. And it was real. He mastered the life of Christ. I could still see him in my mind, with that fake arm, preaching, and when he talked about Jesus, he would weep. And here's what Tom Heflin taught me, and I'll illustrate it with my hands. I call this the Tom Heflin filter. He taught me with his life, there are only two ways to live. I'm going to put my left hand out in front of me, and it stands for your life circumstances good, bad, and ugly. And then I'll put my right hand in front of my eyes like a filter. That stands for the character and the promises of God in Christ. Tom taught me filter everything in life through the character and the promises of God. The problem is we reverse it, and we filter God and his promises through life circumstances, and we lose heart. So the first slow leak is that we don't have our filter in place. We don't do a Tom Heflin who could lose his arm and respond with, “Isn’t God good?” The only way he could possibly do that is to filter that through the character and the promises of God made known in Christ. That's where we start. And that's usually a slow leak. Guys don't have their filter in place.
Oh, that is so good. And by the way, I love the fact that you're saying it's a filter. It's not blocking the seeing of the circumstances. You're still seeing the reality of the circumstance. So it's not, “Ignore that.” It's not, “Put that behind blinders.” No, you look at that very carefully, but it's through the filter or the lens, and you see it in light of the larger picture. That's really, really crucial. And that's not just for pastors. That's really crucial.
And Tom imprinted my life like a branding iron. It's like Joni Erickson Tada. I mean, when that woman speaks, men weep. Well, Tom's the same way, because he's speaking with that fake arm. And there's nothing you can say. Either you have the filter or you don't.
Yeah. Oh, that's good. I don't want to just assume, if our audience, our listeners… Joni Erickson Tada is quadriplegic. She was harmed, injured terribly at a very young, age 17, a diving accident. She's been in a wheelchair ever since, and I think it's been over 50 years. And so you're right, when she speaks, there is a gravitas. “I'm looking at this wheelchair through the filter and the lens of the goodness of God, the eternity of heaven.” Those are really, really crucial. And I do think…. Well, I'm only repeating myself now. We need to be careful. We're not saying don't look at those circumstances, look at them very, very carefully, and look at them through that lens. So give us another story. What's another slow leak and another story that you can tell us of the kinds of things, again, that flow out of years and years and years of faithfulness?
I’ll go to the third slow leak. I call this “align your life.” And what I'm really talking about is the local church. I ask myself the following question frequently: What is it that Jesus Christ died for, prays for constantly, lives in, works through, is perfecting, is going to come back for, and spend eternity delighting in? What is that? It’s His church? And if that's the way Jesus views His church, how come I don't? And so aligning your life means you not only know what a local church is, but you align your life with what Jesus loves the most, His bride, the church. And you don't attack her. You build her up. You treat her the way Jesus does. He laid down His life for her.
So I believe you can actually be in the ministry, be active in a local church, and not be aligned with the heart of God to love His bride. You're not an intercessor. You're not letting the gospel shape you. You're a critic. You're easily offended. You're wondering, “What have you done for me lately?” Instead of, “How can I build up the body of Christ and use my gifts to make it healthy?” That's a slow leak. Often people get offended in churches and hold grudges or stereotype, and it's the exact opposite of what the gospel demands of us.
You've done a whole lot of speaking and teaching for us at the C.S. Lewis Institute, and I love that you believe in our discipleship program, and yet you are constantly calling us to connect with the local church and be part of it. As you were speaking, I just keep hearing the words of C.S. Lewis from his essay and sermon, “The Weight of Glory:” “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” If I can remember that, and that's every single person, even the most bothersome, complaining, griping person that I might meet, and Lewis struggled with some of that himself. I mean, he was brilliant, and so almost everybody he met was not as smart as he was. So it would be easy for him to think, “Oh, this guy is just not that smart.” But no, no, there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. That is one of the most important sentences. And so it’s very good to have you remind us of that. So let me ask this: So what was that like, the last three years when you were pastor emeritus? Because I know I've talked to a few pastors, they thought they needed to get out of town. Here was the final sermon, they had the little reception, and then he walked out to his car and drove 3,000 miles to get away. But you stuck around in town for three years. And how did that go? What was that like, for you and for the guy who was the new pastor?
Stories attached to that.
Of course! I love it. Yes.
When I first came to Cherrydale, the former pastor of 25 years was still there. But there was a seven-year gap between us. So he had retired at age 65, stayed in the church, and the next pastor, who only lasted 18 months, dishonored him. And then the next pastor, who only lasted 18 months, dishonored him. Then they had an interim, and then I showed up.
So the first thing I did is honor that former pastor and made him my mentor. And that changed the whole chemistry. But back then, I put this in my mind, “Steve, if you ever make it that long, don't do that. Have a succession plan. Do it right.” So about five years before we implemented our succession plan, the Lord was heavy on my heart. “Tell them you want five more years.” So I went to the elders, told them that. They came back and said, “Definitely five more years, but here's what we want you to do, Steve. Two years as senior pastor, three years as emeritus.” And then we developed a succession plan. We did a national search. Praise God. The guy we ended up choosing was a young man who had been on our team for the last twelve years. He's our new lead pastor, a very, very close friend, and it's worked beautifully.
Another story related to that: A good friend of mine. We were fraternity brothers called into ministry together. He retired before I did, three years before, in North Roanoke Baptist Church, after 34 years. And he said to me, “Steve, two things you must do. Number one, it's about humility. This is not about you. It’s about God in his kingdom. Number two, relationship. Love the guy who follows you, bless his life.” So I went into that three years emeritus with that mindset. “It's not about me. It’s about the health of the church. So back away, but yet serve. And bless the next guy, be his champion.” And that's what I've done. And by God's grace, the church is flourishing, and we're in healthy places. And the last three years were healthy for me because I could bless the church, let go, be in the background, be a supporter of the new guy, handle things for him that he knew I could handle, and set a tone of, “Let's intercede for our new pastor,” and really get behind it. So it's been healthy and I'm so grateful.
Oh man, this is good stuff. Well, I hope this is okay to go in this direction: What is it that you learned in all of these years of ministry that you wish you would have learned sooner?
I know the answer to that one.
Oh, I'm sorry.
I tend to be, because of my background and personality, I discovered, by being a pastor, I had a strong independent streak in me. And literally the Lord has used being a pastor to beat that out of me and replace it with a teamwork mindset. I did not enter the pastorate with that mindset. And by teamwork, I mean a strong team of Godly elders around you, accountability, being in a small group, realizing I don't have to have all the answers, I don't have all the gifts, not being threatened by people more gifted than me, build up a team, and that has just increased through the years. I’ve found that healthy teams that lead churches breed healthy churches. The longer you're at a church and you're doing well, the more power you're given. And if you're not careful, it will become about you and your little kingdom. You have to intentionally say, “No, no, no! It's about a healthy team, and you're temporary. Don't make it about you.”
I regularly talk about all of the resources that we put together at the C.S. Lewis Institute. I want to highlight one right now. It's our Keeping the Faith, and it is a whole library and collection of resources for you parents and grandparents. It's a whole entire program with courses and materials that have been developed to equip you, parents and grandparents and other caring adults, for intentional discipleship of the children that God has placed in your life. And we've got videos. We’ve got articles. We’ve got study courses. This is one of the things we've made as a major emphasis on our newly designed award-winning website. And I really want to encourage you to check it out, and even if you are not a parent, that you'll check it out and recommend it to the parents that you know, or perhaps use it at your church in Sunday school. It's a wealth of things, resources for equipping the next generation of disciples.
Once again, you used a phrase that I don't want to just let it fly by: You're temporary. In that setting. We are eternal because we're born again and we have salvation. But in that setting, okay, this isn't about you, because you're only going to be here a certain length of time. That's good. Well, what would you say in case there are any of our listeners who are thinking, “You know, I'm involved in these different things, and I grow spiritually because I go to these different events or whatever, but the local church I don't know. I don't feel drawn to it. It seems kind of ordinary.” What would you say to someone who's questioning or getting tired or not really plugged into the ordinariness of the local church?
I would challenge them as a believer in Christ to look at their filter of the local church. Are you filtering your view of the local church through your circumstances and experiences or through what Jesus says about the church? And if you get a Jesus filter on it, you will be an intercessor. You will love the church. You will see it's His bride. It's His answer for a dark world. There are no substitutes for it. You need to get the heart of Jesus for His church and repent. And usually, when people talk that way, underneath it is a heart that's bought into the lie it’s all about you and getting your needs met. And Jesus says the exact opposite. It's about Him, and you giving your life away for His purposes. So that's my blunt answer, and that's preaching to my own heart. Right now, I'm in that. I’m trying to find a new church in Waco. And so I'm just an old guy that showed up. I don't know anybody, and I'm surveying and trying to figure out, which church do we plug into? But I'm working hard at that filter. Intercede, love, serve. Don't be a critic. Be discerning, but have a heart for the bride. That's not an option.
Good, good, good. Good preaching. I love it. I sometimes wrestle with, and I know I've talked to some others that, for me, the filter that I'm looking through sometimes is…. Well, surely sometimes the filter I'm looking at is it's all about me or my needs or my getting the most out of this. There's another variety of that filter sometimes I wrestle with, of I want things to be exciting. I want things to be special or outstanding. And, you know, the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of Sunday worship services and times together with God's people are ordinary. They're not fireworks. They are good, solid reminders from the Scriptures. I've grown to really love preachers who leave me far more impressed with the text and the truth of who God is in the gospel than I am with them. And I like it when I don't walk out and go, “Man, wasn't that great, the way he said that?” No, it's, “Oh, you know, that's an important truth. I needed that reminder this morning.” And so maybe I'm the only one who struggles with that. I kind of doubt it. But if nothing else, I've shared it on a podcast, and people can pray, “Boy, we really need to pray for Randy Newman. He's really sinful.”
Well, this has been really great and fun, but we need to bring it to a close. Anything else you want to leave us with as far as, again, things you're looking back and thinking about after 40+ years of ministry and now looking to become part of a new local body.
Yeah. My last chapter in my book is called “Don't Lose Heart.” And that's a fascinating study to me. There are seven commands in the New Testament about don't lose heart. And if you look up all seven passages, there's a different aspect to each one. Here's an example: Jesus said, men ought to always pray and not lose heart. So if I'm praying regularly, I won't lose heart. Or Galatians. Don't lose heart in doing good. In due time, you'll reap if you don't grow weary. I think we're in a culture where people are losing heart, and the gospel keeps you strong-hearted and full of faith and encouraged. So my word would be don't lose heart, because God is at work, Jesus is alive, He’s accomplishing his purposes. And here's what electrifies my heart, honestly it does: That every day, I get to be on first string in Jesus’s redemption and restoration purposes, every day of my life. What an adventure! I love it. And nothing compares to that. Nothing. So don't lose heart.
That's a great, great way for us to bring this to a close. Thanks so much. Isn't that encouraging that we have so many warnings or commandments? Don't lose heart. It must be easy to do, so rather than to be shocked and horrified. “Oh, okay, I need to remember these things, because that's a common struggle.” So this is great. Thank you for this time. Thank you for 40+ years of faithfulness and Godly leadership. Thank you for the way you've served the C.S. Lewis Institute. And we're going to still keep working with you even though you've moved far away.
Let me say to our listeners, we hope that this recording has been encouraging for you, so that you do not lose heart. We hope that all of our resources work in that same way. Check out our resources at cslewisinstitute.org, and we look forward to connecting with you again on the next podcast of Questions That Matter.
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