Friday, April 07, 2006

Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 1

The Necessity of Proclamation
The gods of popular culture are so prevalent. Whether we're in Singapore or anywhere around the world, this is the sort of condition that we are faced with.

Let's first get our theological roots right. Preaching. Let me add to that preaching the Word. (Preaching itself may not do anything.) It's not just the method but the message. Preaching is the way that God has promised to proclaim the Word.

You'll find in Africa that Chrisitanity is growing and growing. But the saying is that it is a mile wide and an inch deep. There's a communication of the basic gospel but the sheep that come in are not being taught the gospel.

I had privilege of going to Brazil. All over the country, the gospel is being spread but it is again a mile wide and an inch deep. You find that a lot of shopfronts are churches. The guy in front with a guitar is the pastor. But most, 90%, of the pastors have no training.

Even in the parts of the world like Europe (which is the least evangelised part of the world), the sheep find it very hard to get proper bible teaching. Which is why we started Cornhill. The test is whether when people leave the seminars whether they are able to multiply ministries and raise up more bible teachers.

1. Theological Convictions
(a) about God's overall purposes
The central need is to pass on God's unchanging gospel. Jim Packer said that the bible is God preaching God to us. God's overall purpose is that God's revelation should be communicated to others. What we are communicating then is the unchanging word of God.

Turn to 2 Timothy 1:13-14. This is what he is communicating. This is the content: the revelation of God that has to be declared and expounded. In events of Scripture and the explanation of Scripture, actions and words that give us the revelation of God.

I have been doing some research on preaching in the Trinity Theological College library. Where is the first time in the Bible the word of God is expounded to a congregation? Not Adam and Eve even though they could be a congregation. In Exodus 19:2—24, where Moses preaches law to the people (God didn't just give Moses the law but Moses proclaimed it to the people). All through the bible you find that there is this proclamation.

Not surprising that when Jesus arrives, there are 38 references to his teaching and proclaiming. Remember the famous verse in Mark 1? The crowd is waiting for Jesus to do his ministry and all excited to see his healing. Mark 1:38 is why Jesus has come: to preach, to declare, God's truth, to make his overall purposes known.

After, when Jeuss commissions people to go and tell the gospel, it's the same thing. One of the clearest apostolic summaries is in 1 Corinthians. We are in the bisiness of proclamation.

(b) in the post-Apostolic church
What were the theological convictions in the early church? It's interesting that as the apostles begin to die out, and it seemed that Jesus had not returened, that there were all sorts of problems. This is a unique window as to what was happening at the end of the apostolic era, the post–apostolic church.

The ministry of teaching and proclaiming the word of God is the point of those apostolic letters. If you've got Peter preaching in Corinth, then what a great day it was, because he saw Jesus and touched him. But if Peter has been matyred in Rome and the other aposles are dying out, how could you be sure that you'd got the true gospel?

Look at Paul's first letter to Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:3 - counteract error by proclaiming truth
1 Timothy 2:7 - herald apostle of true faith
1 Timothy 3:2 - there are lots of character requirements but the only gift requirement of an overseer is the ability to proclaim and teach the message
1 Timothy 4:1,13 - the job of minister
1 Timothy 5:17
There are all sorts of emphasis that that's your job Timothy, get on with it.

In 2 Timothy 2:4-6, we have 3 images of what Timothy is to be doing: passing on message-like a soldier, like an athlete and a farmer. It is the life concern of the servant of Christ, not just on a backstroke.

2 Timothy 2:14-15 - you need to be able to correctly handle the truth as a workman for Christ. How to do ministry? Look at the end of 2 Timothy 2 - it's all word ministry. You can only do that if you are teaching the content of the gospel. If I am here to teach, unless there is some content coming around, there's no point. Don't just go upfront and smile benignly. But that's what some churches are about. Which is why the 2 Timothy 4:2 charge to preach the word. It is possible to have the word but not preach it. And we need to do it with great patience and careful instruction.

It is a requirement to keep teaching the Bible (2 Timothy 4:3-5). That's what we're about isn't it? There'll always people who will want to hear myths rather than the truth.

Let's turn to Titus. I want there to be an avalanche effect here.
Titus 1:9 - great definition of sound Christian doctrine
Titus 2:1 - you must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine
Titus 2:7 - in everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness...
Titus 2:9 - teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything
Titus 2:15 - these, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.
Titus 3:8 - this is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

You are to be doing these things. Teaching and teaching.

There is a body of divinely revealed triuth that must be passed on from generation to generation. It is the heart of what we do in ministry. If you are running a youth grop or running a bible study, that must be the heart of what we do. We can't just encourage each other without the teaching.

(c) in the provision of gracious gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1-3, Ephesians 4:11-13, 2 Timothy 2:2)
God has given people gifts to do this work. In 1 Corinthians 14:1-3, God raises up prophets who speak his word. Prophecy is not predicting the future. In Acts 2, we see that the Holy Spirit has come on Christians and all speak the gospel to our culture. We don't need prophecy to be done by ordained ministers. Prophecy is a gift given to church so they can proclaim his word.

We all have gift. But do we have it? IF you hear something that fires you up, and you immediately think of how to tell it to someone else then you probably have the teaching gift. If you hear something good and you want to keep it to yourself, you probably don't!

Ephesians 4:11 shows the conviction that apostles and prophets have been followed by evangelists and prophets to prepare God's people for works of service.

Just a whirlwind tour shows us that the gospel is unchanging. It is the truth of God's revelation that has to be passed on. If we have prophetic ministry (as in declaring god's work) then we should seriously consider moving into fulltime ministry, because how God has gifted us is probably how he wants to use us.

2. Apostolic Practice
(a) Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9)
Acts 17:1-9 is a classic little Acts passage. We could replicate it many times in Acts. The heart of ministry is proclaiming that Jesus the Christ. How do you do it, Paul? Not saying,"Jesus is the Christ" 10 times. "Reasoning" means that I appeal to the mind...oh so you're just an intellectual? No, through the mind to the heart to activate the will. Paul doesn't just declare it but explains it.

Interesting isn't it when Luke records it? Some of the Jews were persuaded because their minds were changed. There are some preachers who can get people sobbing in the aisles but it doesn't change people. They'll just come back for another sob session.

There's always opposition where the gospel is preached. When I went into ministry I was so naïve I thought people would be so grateful and say thankyou. There is opposition from culture, from church – people with ingrained habits, not wanting the gospel. The gospel humbles us and sometimes religious people don't want that.

Jews don't want it and they go to the marketplace and get rent-a-mob to do Paul in.

The opposition will accuse you of all sorts of things.

(b) Athens (Acts 17:22-34)
Here Paul is again in a gospelling opportunity. Acts 17:17 - he uses every opportunity, both in the synagogue and the marketplace, engaging both Jews and pagans. The Epicurians ask,"What is this babbler trying to say?" Sounds polite, but they are actually saying what is this gutter-sparrow trying to say. He seems to be advocating foreign gods. Dear dear. Jesus Anatasias – probably 2 gods – one male, one consort.

Sounds like a big opportunity for Paul. But the Epicurians probably had demolition purposes in mind. Paul starts where they are: they are religious (a positive). They have a dedication to an unknown god. So Paul says to them, you say that you might have left someone out, this is the one you left out - the true God. Paul does a demolition job on them – the first first negative: God does not live in temple, and second – God's house is not made by human hands.

He is deconstructing their view of religion: (1) why build temples for God to live in. God made place for you to live in; and (2) not that you have to serve God but that God already served you by making everything for you, f.or life in his world

You think he is remote and distant but he is closer than you think. Why? Because he became man. How? Jesus (v31) who will judge the world with justice on a day set by God.

You only have the notes of the talk that Paul gave but you can see how Paul did it.
Look at v29. I left it out so I can make point now: Paul is showing the pagan audience that their teaching is wrong. Paul proclaims the truth by inserting it into their "truth", not by rubbishing them.

When they hear of resurrection, some sneered and some want to hear more. A few became followers: that is, sat at his feet and listened and believed. So he left a little church in Athens. It was all proclamation you see.

(c) Corinth (Acts 18:4-11)
There is public ministry, proclamation ministry. There is the typical violent reaction against him, and he has a vision.

(d) Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10)
Here we see the same pattern. See how Luke keeps enforcing same vocabulary. Some malign Paul but what does he do? He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Put the two together. Daily discussions = hearing the word of the Lord. Probably, Paul hired the hall of Tyrannus when Tyrannus and his students were having their kip and if you were keen, you'd forgo your kip to have these discussion. What happened? People converted. But what happened also? The silversmiths are up in arms because they are losing their souvenir trade. There was the temple of Diana, the Queen of Universe, Diana, the saviour of the universe and cosmos (see how the Devil perverts these things). If people went to the temple, they could also purchase little silver shrines to take home with them. But now that they were all being converted, there was no one to buy these silver shrines.

(e) Acts 20:17-35
All false religions are always about the bottomline and the cash.

Pauls' method and content: Acts 20:20 puts the verbs together – preach, teach, declare.
20:24 - task of testifying to the gospel of god's grace, preaching
20:27 - proclaim
20:31 - warning
Put them all together. What was he doing? Word ministry. All word ministry verbs.

5 Greek words are translated (use Vine's expository): good news, teaching, witness, heralding, proclaiming, and v31 - warning. This is worth pursuing. This is what New Testament ministry is all about.

The content of the ministry was in 20:21 - repentance and faith; 20:24 - the gospel of grace; 20:25 - preaching the kingdom, and 20:27 - the whole will of God. Luke summarises the method and the content.

The servant of Jesus Christ is all about proclamation. It is sometimes in public, sometimes in houses, and sometimes one-to-one.

3. Contemporary Challenges
(a) in the world
We must be realistic. In the world, preaching seems to be strange (although in the culture in Singapore seems to have more authoritative teaching in heart of education system than in Britain which has more discussion). In English, preaching is negative – don't preach at me. We mustn't allow proclamation to be hijacked by this view. We must always encourage people to discuss. Do not confuse being authoritative with being authoritarian. That's what the opposers tried to do. It informs mind before warms the heart energises the will.

(b) in the church
We must have a non-hostile environment in the church. Bill Hybel called this seeker-sensitive evangelism. The basic premise is that when people hear the unsaved message of the gospel, they need to hear it in a safe environment.

Rehabilitate preaching. John Stott said there are 3 types of preachers: the dull, the duller and the inconceivably dull. We don't think it will change their lives in anything significant.

As I was saying goodnight to some people after a service, I saw an Irish tramp come in the door. He say,"Oh Father! I want to say that I believe every word you said."
"I just saw you come in the door how could you have heard anything?"
"Oh, if I'd been there, I'd believed every word you said."
Then he asked for money and I gave him some because he earned price of a meal. Many people in the congregation are like this. They need to be brought alive by better preaching. Encourage ministers, work at this ourselves. When you hear a sermon that helps you, encourage him. It's very hard work. Write letters to strengthen each other, not just criticise bad preaching.

(c) in the college
Those who go to college, realise that academic agenda takes over ministry agenda. Make sure it is all about the gospel.

(d) in the preacher
Is it worth it? Shouldn't I visit every sick person, run the church, be on every committee? No. You must prioritise. We serve best when preparing to preach and teach the Bible.

John Piper quotes Cotton Mather:"the great design and intention of the Christian preacher is to install the throne and dominion of God in the souls of man". Romans 10:14-15 quotes Isaiah: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!". The good tidings are that your God reigns (Isaiah 52). That's why proclamation is necessary and that's why preaching is necessary.
"The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher is to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men" Cotton Mather (Romans 10:14-15, Isaiah 52:7)
Question and Answer Time
Q: What is the role of the Christian preacher for speaking against the values of secular society? Eg. the propagation of homosexual agenda? Should our preaching be a bit more political?
That is an important question. What is the context of preaching within local church. Church has a corporate witness in society. Should church make the sorts of rules we want to see in society? Should we use pulpit to do that? No, unless we are preaching a passage that actually refers to it. We ought to be speaking to governments about how societies should be governed. We sometimes want to make it clear to people when we are preaching what sin means. But when we take ethical issues/cultural issues like abortion as sin then we will necessarily alienate people we want to reach. Use them rather as illustrative of a bigger picture of sin in our lives. Ultimately, sin is not letting God be God in our lives. Sin will demonstrate itself in all sorts of sins. Use issues illustratively not as the main point. People have wrong bottomline. In preaching we want people to turn back to God.

We can make representations to the government and they may not agree with us. But we do not go and destroy government on that regard. We use our citizenship to maximum. If the government rejects us, then nevertheless we go on preaching the Bible. The reason we have this state of affairs is that we don't let God be God.

Otherwise people see us just as anti-this and anti-that.

Q: What is the place of expository preaching versus thematic preaching?
Surely there is a place for preaching on prayer etc. But you'd want to do it in expository way. Expository method is the controlling method. Actually this morning we had two talks which showed both ways. Thematic preaching is important but the congregation must see that it's not what I, the preacher, am saying but what Bible is saying.

Q: How can we give loving feedback to preacher if Bible is not in driving seat?
We can pray, not arrogantly, but pray that they will be convinced themselves that it is important. Sometimes, the preacher may not enough have time or needs to relook his priorities. The minister is in a very demanding role and everyone wants their time. It is difficult to run a church because it's made up of volunteers, so you've got neither the stick nor carrot. Volunteers are the hardest people to manage.

Ministers need our loving support and encouragement. When they do preach the Bible, encourage them to keep doing it.

If after a while, you think there is no response, then go to the pastor concerned and talk to him personally. See him face-to-face and share what you're thinking and that he is responsible under God for what he is teaching. You are not seeking to be a negative threat, but we would love it if we can have more Bible teaching.

Sometimes we don't pray. We just gossip and sometimes we just talk behind his back.

Q: What about dull preaching. If someone can communicate gossip truths, but is not creative, would you still encourage him to go full time?
Dullness is more to do with application. State, explain, truth and illustrate application. Dullness comes when not enough application. Have a preachers club – we have one preacher's club back home and they are ruthlessly honest. Working together as a team gives people more ideas how to do it better.

Doesn't necessarily disqualify a person for ministry but that person needs help.

Q: You have said that the way to study Bible is to understand it, mind-heart-then will etc. It is a suggestion that we should preach to people intellectually. Is this the only way to preach? Should we attack the will or the heart first?

Should we help people with will or heart?

The intellect is the place where we need to be convinced of the truth. It may not be that you can separate them out as easily as we have said. The mind is the way it usually works. If you preach to the will first, you will manipulate people: threaten them etc. We wouldn't want to separate the mind and the heart (biblically this means the whole being, the conviction). Sometimes the heart is convicted before the mind knows what is happening. Sometimes we come and then God teaches us. It is all integrated because we are whole people. But we must ensure that there are something for each of them in each sermon. If it is just the mind, then it will be just a lecture. Preaching is wanting a change in lives. But God's spirit works in any way.

*************
Project Timothy: Ministry Matters 2006
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 1 (The Servant's Calling)
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 2 (The Servant's Confidence)
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 3 (The Servant's Convictions)
Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 1 (The Necessity of Proclamation)
Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 2 (Giving and Listening to Talks)

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