Posts Tagged ‘Preaching’
I am becoming more and more convinced that two qualities of life that are absolutely necessary to preaching the gospel are humility and love. Of course these two qualities are necessary whether one is preaching the gospel publicly in a formal setting or preaching the gospel “across the fence.” However, my thoughts are more inclined toward the public proclamation of the Word of God to God’s people (as that is my delightful duty). I am going to get a little personal in this post. First I must preface this by saying, I know that these qualities need to be added to a greater degree in my own life. I know. . . who would be so bold as to say that they have no pride or lack of love? But I am being genuine here. I know that often I am arrogant and loveless in ministering God’s Word. I am acutely aware of my failures, and I hate the pride and lack of love often prevalent in my life. From my own ministry experience, I have seen my love for God begin to fade at times; I have been able to associate with the church at Ephesus who “lost their first love.” That lack of love for God so quickly turns into a lack of love for God’s people. Bitterness, angst, sarcasm, and self-love then begin to grow and fester-May God squeeze my rock of a heart until it crushes into a thousand pieces and is replaced with a fleshy heart of love for God and his people. I have also experienced both successes and failures in public ministry in God’s Church and at times I have begun to pat myself on the back, congratulating my soul for the hard work–May God continually humble me as he humbled David, Elisha, Moses, and Jacob. May God search my heart and test me and purge me from my own weakness and spiritual failure! As I said, I am very much “in-tune” with my sinful flaws and godless doings.
But at the same time, I praise God that he has been maturing within me an increasing love for his dear name and along with that a deep desire for his people. I recognize this by the compassion God has placed within my heart for his people. As I grow closer in relationship to God’s Church, I have begun to view God’s people as His prize (I know, as a pastor I should have come to this conclusion long ago. . . sometimes I am a little slow). I have been learning what it means to wrestle with ideas and philosophies not people. I have been coming to an understanding of what it means to rage against the captor while loving the captive. Bluntly put, God has been teaching me how to love his people with the same kind of love He has for them and me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am far from loving as God does, but that is the goal he works in us, making us “Christ-like” in our love.
God has also been causing me, by his grace, to humbly seek his will and face, to bow my heart and will to his sovereign design, and to trust His care and tender mercy to guide me, equip me, and enable me. One way in which God has increasingly humbled me is by teaching me to tremble at His Word (Is. 66:1-5) both in preparation and proclamation. As I have spent more time in the preaching ministry, I have found myself becoming more confident in God’s Word and less confident of my knowledge of God’s Word. Another way to put this: I have increasingly learned that there is so much in the Word that I haven’t learned. By God’s grace, I am beginning to see even more clearly that God’s Word and the doctrines of the Scripture will take a lifetime to understand and an eternity to master. But I am also seeing that it is worth the lifetime commitment and effort. I am becoming more convinced that the saint’s faith (and my own as well) will only grow through the faithful, consistent, systematic preaching/teaching of the plain text of Scripture. So if I love God, I will love his people, and if I love God’s people, I will humbly commit my life to the careful exegesis of His Word-so faith can blossom (Rom. 10:17).
So, I have been a little personal in this post. No doubt if any one reads this, some will question my motive or genuineness, but what is written is written from my heart. But now I am going to switch directions. While acknowledging that I have not attained these two graces (humility and love), and noting that God is working these in my life; I think it important to point out that there are many who fancy themselves ministers of the Word who show nothing of these two characteristics. I doesn’t matter if someone is a professional minister (a pastor) or a traveling preacher (some call them evangelists), or just a person who desires to preach (Bible study teacher, pulpit supply, substitute preacher) without these two qualities, they are not fit to stand in the pulpit or lectern and proclaim the Word of God. What does it matter if a man knows Hebrew and Greek language better than their own, without a genuine love for God manifested through loving others, and without a real humility, they should not open their mouths. What does it matter if they can generate Bible “outlines” on a whim, alliterate points and create whimsical illustrations? Who cares if they can compel crowds to hear their words, or elicit “decisions” for Christ? If they have not love and humility, it is wasted air. I acknowledge that God can use any means to spread His Word, but God using man’s failures is no excuse for those failures, “Should we do evil that good may come?”
All the while recognizing that God is still creating in me as his workmanship more love and humility, I believe that it would be an offense to my High and Lofty God and a discredit to my Humble, Loving Savior to permit such an one to stand in the pulpit and speak to the church God has allowed me the responsibility to under-shepherd. I believe it would be foolishness for me to approach the pulpit on the Lord’s Day not having humbled myself before God in prayer and His Word often, and to not have interceded on behalf of the people whom he loves relentlessly. God give me the humility and love needed to preach the Word, and to protect the flock of God from a proud and loveless preacher, even if that preacher is me.
The Lord has used some people recently in my life to teach me about priorities. I am not talking about priorities when it comes to human beings, but rather priorities as a minister of the Word of God, a preacher, if you will. These are not new things, just things that I need to put in remembrance.
1. My personal walk with God.
It is far too easy for a minister of the Word to become so focused on bringing fresh bread to the people of God’s pasture, that he ceases to feed his own soul with the Word. Couple the eating with fervent prayer and we have a full meal. Often I find myself thinking about what the church needs or what my duties are and how to accomplish those duties, meanwhile failing to spend much time in personal reflection and attention to my walk with God.
2. My family.
This is cliché I know, but it is still true. The pastor’s family is his walking résumé. Most other professions do not require a family in submission to God’s teaching both in word and in conduct in order to continue at the job. But the Bible clearly gives a requirement that the pastor’s family walk with God. For this to happen I must be real as I live out what it means to be a Christian (notice that I did not say, “what it means to be a pastor”); and I must be really there (there is no substitute for the often presence of a father with his family).
3. Exposition of Scripture.
My chief responsibility as a minister of God’s Word is to accurately know and proclaim the entirety of God’s Word within its context. I must spend the bulk of ministry engagement in analytical study and prayer over texts of Scripture. I must wrestle with original intent, grammatical wording, and logical relationships. I must deepen my understanding of historical interpretations and original languages. I must consult other men of God both living and dead who have wrestled with the same texts. By the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, I must boldly proclaim the intent of a text and provide implications for how this ought to impact all who hear or read.
4. Systematic teaching of Doctrine.
Along with exposition of Scripture, I must make it my delightful duty to study and prepare systematic teaching of the Word of God. My job is not to change people, persuade sinners or saints, or to make clones of myself; but my job is to teach all who have ears to hear the manifold wisdom of God unfolded in a systematic, understandable fashion. If I must part ways with those with whom I have been privileged to minister to, I must depart with the doctrines of God and grace firmly rooted in their hearts so that they might continue to teach others long after I am gone.
5. Continued Discipleship of other men.
The things that I have learned of God, I must commit to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. This means that I must prioritize my time to teach the teachable, to study with those looking for answers, not those who imagine they have all the answers. Jesus Christ taught multitudes, ordained 70, discipled 12, and devoted much time to only 3. All were important to the ministry and to our Lord. Instead of trying to build large congregations where crowds can get only a taste of Christianity, I must devote the bulk of my attention to those so satiated by the Word, that they will be able to feed others.
6. Give further teaching to saints personally as needed.
Another way this has been expressed is with the word “counsel.” Counseling is private teaching from the Word of God. Those who don’t desire to find the answers in the Word of God will not generally appreciate the type of counsel I can give. I am not a therapist or counselor in the modern use of the word, but I can point people to Jesus Christ. He has the answers to every problem, and he has given us the answer in His Word; ours is to obey.
7. Facilitate proper worship of God and service to God.
A duty of mine as a minister of God’s Word is to help God’s people understand the true meaning and purpose of corporate worship and to facilitate such. By facilitate, I mean both by example and principle, provide a God-honoring method and motive for pure worship in public reading, music, giving, serving, and prayers. This mostly happens when we gather on Sunday to honor the Lord. This, of course, implies that I would be confident in what God-honoring worship looks like from Scripture and be willing to model and gently urge toward that kind of worship.
8. Faithfully lead the church in spiritual direction.
This includes leading the church in administrative and policy decisions that enable us to more fully do the work of the ministry. By example and teaching, God can use me to help the church make Biblical decisions that will set the direction for the church. This is a far cry from a dictatorship, but rather through giving principles and then urging others how to practically follow those principles, God can use me to spiritually guide the course of the ship.
You might notice that some duties that ministers do are not included in my priorities. I believe that we have confused what it means to be a pastor with a Christian at times. I did not include my duties and priorities as a Christian in this list, but this does not mean that a pastor is exempt from them. They are a given no matter what position I would hold in an assembly. These would include (but not be limited to) evangelism, edification of others, service in the physical needs (the building, etc), visiting the sick, praying for one another, fellowshipping with saints, attendance to church services, Bible studies, discipleship, etc.
Consider this post as a work in progress, as this is my understanding with the Biblical knowledge I have at his time. I have intentionally put these priorities in what I believe to be order of importance. Although I did not quote Scripture, I believe that Scripture supports what I have written. “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enable me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” -I Timothy 1:12
I had the great opportunity to be in Ely, NV, last Saturday, Monday and Tuesday to be some assistance in our beloved Wally Higgins’ efforts to hold evangelistic meetings in that small town. The current population of Ely is about 4000 people. The demographic of Ely is mostly Caucasian (about 89%) with some Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics rounding out the figures. Ely is a Nevada boom town with Kennecott copper mine first having success there. When the copper market crashed in the1970’s, Ely suffered like most boom towns. In 2005 there was a resurgence of copper and mining boomed again. Gold mining also plays an important part of Ely’s economy. Like most Nevada towns, religion is not the “main thing.” The Mormons, Catholics, Methodists, and even a small group of Baptists have a presence in Ely.
My observation of this small Nevada town is not that much different than most “boom” towns. There is a wide divergence between the classes of people in the town. As we were walking the neighborhoods passing out fliers to the meetings, I noticed that the “run-down” areas of town were very dilapidated, while just down the street you had very well-manicured and wealthy homes. But the most striking feature of any Nevada boom town is the overwhelming presence of “night life.” Coming out from our gospel meetings Tuesday night, I looked down the street and the casinos, clubs, and bars were lit up and packed with patrons. This is what people do, this is their life. We had a few people in the meetings hearing the preaching of the gospel, while Satan has lured many souls bedazzled with the pleasures of sin for a season. While in Utah, we realize the bondage of religion, but we cannot ignore the bondage of the entertainment/casino industry of our neighbor state to the West. A comment my father made as we drove out of town resonated with me. He said, “I wish there was some way to preach Acts 16 (the content of his message) to all those people in the casinos.”
Pray that God would deliver souls from the bondage of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and immorality in these little boom towns in the West.
In the previous post, I said that this one would be practical concerning the presentation of exposition. I am going to deviate a little bit here because I think that I missed an important point concerning why we should be committed to exposition as undershepherds, and why the people of God’s pasture should desire and demand expositional preaching.
Need for Exposition
The definition of expositional preaching is explaining a specific Biblical text (without our personal, cultural, or traditional opinions and biases) within its own context and providing implications concerning our lives. Since this is the definition, we must recognize that Biblical exposition may not always have immediate application in our lives. (Although I have learned that the Holy Spirit has a way of meeting a specific need that I had no idea existed when I have preached the Word). But that is okay! If we are living from sermon to sermon in order to “survive” as a Christian we are exhibiting immaturity and frailty in the Christian life. The Psalmist says, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11) Often we use this verse to promote Bible memory, and that is good, but hiding God’s Word in our heart is better understood as storing up sustenance that will keep us in the moment of trial and temptation. That is why we must be active in receiving Biblical exposition even if the preacher’s sermon is not what we “need” today. Preventative treatment for illness is far better than prescriptive rescue when we are failing in spiritual health. No one would argue that counseling with a married couple on the verge of divorce is better than premarital counseling or consistent teaching on Biblical roles in marriage long before there is conflict. However, the church has long ago left this concept behind and has moved along with the culture in seeking instant gratification in all areas, even the spiritual. “I’m sick, fix me!” is the cry of the anemic Christian, or rather “My job is in danger, my kids are struggling, my marriage is suffering, etc. . . Fix it. . . Now!” Perhaps the cry should be, “I may become ill, build me up in the most holy faith in a consistent, thorough fashion!” (Personal note* As a pastor, that would thrill my heart more than a million statements like, “good sermon pastor, it was just what I needed today.”) One view seeks a solution from Christ, the other seeks after a relationship with Christ. Crisis preaching (topical preaching patterned to focus on man’s current need) views God and the Word as means to an end. Expositional preaching (systematic explanation of Biblical texts) views a relationship with God through the Word as the end itself. One is man-centered, the other is God-focused. I will let you guess which is which.
If we are committed to thorough, Biblical exposition, we will take great joy in preaching through texts that seem to have nothing to do with the “big issues” of today. The opposite is dangerous in my opinion because the preacher becomes tied to the issues at hand and may begin drifting toward a man-driven ministry rather than a Word-driven philosophy of ministry. On the flip side, it is a misnomer that some texts are alive while others are dry and boring. The entirety of the Word of God (even Leviticus) cries out concerning the beauty and glory of our great and mighty God. He is in every phrase and paragraph of Holy Scripture. We can delight in God through any passage of Scripture because the Bible is the revelation of God Himself, not a book of virtues or morals. Perhaps the style and type of preaching will reveal the preacher’s view of the Book itself and even the God of the Book?
Shepherds, be committed to expositional preaching. Flock be demanding expositional preaching from your shepherds. The health of the local church, present and future, depends upon it.