Friday, April 07, 2006

Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 2

Giving and Listening to Talks

1. Apostolic Example
(a) Colossians 1:24-2:5

What is the local ministry of the church all about? What are youth workers or children's workers aiming for? What is it about?

Many people think it's maintenance - keeping the doors open all the time, doing a service for the people. But that is feeble.

Let's get Paul's perspective on this. The commission that God gave me is to present the word of God in its fullness. It's hard work. It would be easy for me to come up, give 2 phrases and tell a few good stories and go off and have a cup of coffee.

Ministry is not about preaching Christianity – we are not preaching a religion, we are proclaiming Christ. Colossians 1:25 - the heartbeat of the ministry is to proclaim Christ.

What is this mystery that has been hidden for so long? Come on Paul, tell us what it is. It is, hold on, Christ in you (that's the gospel, the Christ who came from heaven to die for us now lives in us in the Spirit) and the hope of glory. The now and the not yet. It's theological and it's experiential (Christ in you. So not just Christ out there.). The connection is made by a personal relationship with Christ. The hope of glory is both theological and experiential.

v28 - the purpose is to present everyone perfect in Christ. Sometimes this requires admonishing, sometimes teaching, etc. "Labouring" – it is hard backbreaking work "Wrestling" - like in a arena. Not that ministers should look like sumo wrestlers but it takes all the strength that we can give.

But not with our own energy or we'd just give up but with all his energy. His energy works in us. You know if you lead a Bible study group and you have to prepare the Bible study. When you come home from work and you want to put your feet up and sit in the hot tub or there's a tv programme you want to watch or a book you want to read, you know how much energy you need. Yet it's amazing how if you open the Bible and pray,"Lord, please give me the energy", God gives you the energy. It's not that you put your feet up and pray,"Lord, please give me the energy" but that you get down to doing the work.

2:1 - presumably he is struggling for them by praying for them and writing this letter and other letters to them.

2:2 - "encouraged in heart" - it is the Holy Spirit, coming alongside. Often when you're teaching a child to write you take their hand in yours. So this is what encouragement means.

2:2-3 - "so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge"

Why is that important? 2:4 - so that no one will distract us by false ideas and fall to impressive sounding arguments that are not the truth at all.

You can see why our youth groups and our bible studies have to be modelled on this.

I presume you must be listening to this talk. If not, there's no point my going on is there and I might as well go and have a cup of coffee. There's a contract isn't it? You'll listen to me and I promise not the read out the English football results. Which is why when I give the talk I have to give you something of eternal value. If I just tell you what I think, the word of the preacher lasts 5 min but the word of the Lord lasts forever. And you take it away and it does something to your life.

You have to take in and you give out. If you just take in and not give out you become the Dead Sea. You'll grow bigger and bigger and bigger and you'll get immobile like one of those overweight people that has to be hoisted up by a crane and taken somewhere to lose weight.

I don't just go to church to see how the team is doing this week. We are not a supporters' club. We don't go to see how the team is doing this week. And of course the supporters' club always knows how to do things better than the players, don't they?

There is no such thing as a perfect church. There is a saying that if you find the perfect church, don't join it because you will cause it to become inperfect.

Ask your pastor what they need done around the church. If they say sweep the pathway, sweep it. That's service isn't it. Not just standing in front.

(b) 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (contrast Corinthian methodology)

How do we do this task of presenting the word in its fullness? While we are not the apostle Paul, he gives us an apostolic example to follow.

He's not saying that he is not a good speaker. I've done some research in the Trinity Theological College library. They have a hard-to-find book, "Paul's Theology of Proclamation" which explains the whole theme. The background is that rhetoric was the media of the day. The equivalent of chatshows and tv was the orator. At its best, it was not to compose purple prose. It was about ideas that would engender belief in the audience and the ability to do so. It was about successfully persuading the audience. It was about what was the best method to get this result from the audience. Which is why so much attention is paid to adapting to one's audience, designing effective strategies to achieve results.

When Paul says "not with persuasive words", that is what he is throwing overboard. He is no longer results-driven, but message-driven. My confidence is not in the oration or the orator but in the message. Paul is deliberately turning his back on the methodology of his culture. His efforts are a constant neverchanging confidence in the message.

The call of God was at work in the message of God in the teaching and preaching of the gospel. Paul was not relying on the tools of the professional orator but on the spirit of God.

This doesn't mean that you don't prepare or that you stumble your way through the sermon. But your confidence is in the divine Spirit that changes people through that message. If not, you will have, like in Corinth, I follow Paul, I follow someone else etc. You will look for impressive messengers and not look at the message. Of course you want the communication to be as good as it can be. But it is the conviction of the Spirit that changes people's life. We are not interested in humanly-produced results. We trust in the regenerating power of the Spirit to use it for the salvation of the people.

2. Journalistic Preaching vs Expository Preaching
(a) Bible

"Journalistic preaching" is contemporary preaching that is not rooted in the exposition of the Bible. cf Expository Preching.

Journalistic Preaching wants to do something with the Bible. This is wrong. You must let the Bible do something to you. The Bible dictates the content. The Bible sets the agenda and tells me how to do it. Journalistic Preaching uses the Bible to backup what they want to say.

For example: these are the uses of a chair: to sit on to read your Bible, to kneel against when you pray etc.

You are imposing your message on the text rather than the other way around. That was a particularly gross example but it's quite common. Sometimes if it is done very well people say "wasn't it amazing what he got out of it?"! Rather, they should say "isn't it terrible what he smuggled into it?".

(b) Issues
The issues of the moment against issues of eternity. Of course we have to talk about what is happening in our culture. But what is our agenda is not God's agenda. We come to the Bible with our own questions. But we find that God has different agenda.

In UK it's like this, evangelists are like salesmen: why not try Jesus? is there some way you can be persuaded to accept God?

That's Journalistic Preaching.

The Bible asks: is there any way God can be persuaded to accept you?

(c) Content
Journalistic Preaching tends to major on the witty and entertaining. It is on the entertaining mode. Once people are hooked on that they want more and more.

Journalistic Preaching produces: "wasn't he a great communicator?". But listening to the Bible isn't always fun. The gospel is convicting and shaming. So in youth work, don't think it's all about having fun. We must be serious about the bible. We are not going to make the Bible into some sort of glib fun.

(d) Aim
When we come out of a Journalistic Preaching sermon, we say "wasn't he a great preacher?". When we come out of Expository Preaching sermon, we say "isn't he a great saviour?". We are not presenters of ourselves but God.

(e) Focus
Journalistic Preaching is here today and gone tomorrow. It rarely lasts except a few good ones. It's like the newspapers that are used to wrap up your fish and chips. But Expository Preaching changes people's lives; it has eternal results, because the Bible is doing the work. So is it Christ focused, is it life-changing?

Journalistic Preaching won't change the church or the world. It just tickles people's ears for a while.

3. The Disciplines of Exposition
(a) State
(b) Explain

The explanation is mostly left out, at least in Britain. First I state it, now let me explain it. This is missing in youth preachers. They don't show where they got it from the Bible. Develop the ability to explain the text in the bible.

Haddon Robinson
says when we preach the Bible we preach with biblical authority. When we don't explain, we undermine the Bible's authority and ask people to believe because we say it rather than because God says it.

When we preach we are saying that this is what God says. Do you read it with me? Do you see what it says? I hold the Bible out to you and show you what it says.

(c) Apply
Of course in applying I must think about how it applies today. But unless I've explained the principles, you won't understand it.

In Sunday schools, it is very common to be teaching children to be little legalists: to be a good boy so God will like us. Be like Moses etc. But that's not the gospel.

There was an impeccable evangelical church. And the Sunday school teacher up front said that Noah was the only righteous man in the world and God saved him. And no one blinked an eye. No, Genesis 6:8 says that grace found Noah. It does not say Noah was a righteous man because he was good. Grace. The toladot sayings - this is what came out of it. If not, we have a different God in OT and NT: one is about good works and one is about grace.

We must be careful what we are teaching in Sunday school. Make sure you are teaching the Bible text not the Sunday school lesson or the publisher's lesson.

Not everything with a biblical flavour is the gospel. Mythology is living in the puff, then discovering that what they thought what God promised he didn't promise. That's why so many give up Christianity. Because they weren't taught the Bible. It was a hoax.

4. The Variety of Applications
(a) to the heart

Biblically, the heart is where I decide the person I am and the person I will be. I must work hard at the implications for that. Work hard. When you are giving a talk or doing Bible prep, then think about the people you are giving talk to or Bible study. Don't just apply it into my own life. Think out of my box into others. Understand people at different stages of life. Don't say I can't understand what it is to be an old lady because I am young man. What are their issues? What do they face? Loneliness, poor health, family far away in their country.

If you don't think of those people then you never will be able to communicate. Teenager forced to go to church with their family will think "as soon as I am old enough I will scoot". You must have a word for him.

How this applies in work, in family, as congregation of God's people.

(b) to the church
Preaching can address a congregation like nothing else can. You can write a newsletter but it's unlikely most will read it. You can do what others like one-to-one etc can't do. "You" in NT is all in the plural. Think about the church, the youth group.

(c) to the culture
When we looked at Colossians 2, the purpose was that people do not deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. Not to withdraw into Christian ghettos but so they know how to deal with issues in their cultures. Not to hide. They won't sing "Jesus wants me for a zombie". They have a purpose in their lives.

In New Zealand, we were doing Titus 2:5, and one guy said that if he preached like that in his church, he will be crucified. Because New Zealanders have strongly expressed feminist views. Women will be up in arms. I admit that way to do it has to be sensitive but if we cannot do it because we will be crucified, then who is in control? God or feminism?

Teaching the truth into the lies which are in the culture. Keeping the worldly view in terms of application but never letting the culture dictate the message. Allowing truth to work in our hearts and our community and letting it go out to the world.

Stand firm, always give fully to the Lord because labour in the Lord is not in vain. That's the conviction that keeps us going in preaching and teaching.

Question and answer time:
Joy Kwan Q: When do you cross the line in using rhetoric to become manipulative?

As soon as you put your confidence in the way you have been preaching rather than in the method. When you think this is the point of time in the sermon that I will turn up the gas. As you go on, you will get more skillful and this is the temptation. In preaching the gospel, it is not the skill of the preacher but the word which is proclaimed. Then you will be falling into the Corinthian trap. The key is where you are putting your confidence.

Marc Wang Q: How do we know if we are imposing our own agenda on the Bible?
We all approach bible from our own standpoint. Improve study skills to see "what does the passage say?" and "what does passage mean?". Be careful of seeing things in the Bible which are bees in my bonnet. You need good Christian friends to say "why are you always saying that when it isn't in the passage?". We had a senior minister who always spoke against the charismatic movement, because that was the issue at that time, even if it wasn't in the passage.

Keep on allowing the text to question. The more the dialogue is going on with the text, the more the text dictates the agenda.

If you are a spouse or friend of the preacher then tell them.

Q: Committees of church?
All committees to be under the word of God. Pastors are preachers of the word not only in pulpit or in hospital but whenever on committees as well. Our whole thinking needs to be biblical. The more we are growing in understanding, then the more mature we will be. The Bible must be in driving seat. Not Bible in pulpit and management skills in committees.

Q: How can we not to be audience driven?
We are not to be audience-driven but audience-aware. We speak in terms of which they are aware not "what do they want to hear?". God has given me a message but you do it in different ways. Not: can't teach Titus 2 because I will be crucified. The word has to be in the driving seat not the audience.

Colin Seah Q: Could you show us how you got that bit about Noah?
We always have to read the text in the whole text. Why does he put this here? In the Hebrew, "this is the generation of Noah". It is used 12 times in Genesis to divide up Genesis. This is why we need theological training. That's why the Bible can be shallow enough for a child to paddle in but an elephant to drown in. Paddle first like children then swim in the ocean, not touching the bottom. We are imprisoned by the English translation. The word actually says "unmerited favour" in the eyes of the Lord. God was determined to rescue him inspite of everything. Grace was actually moving in his whole life not just put him in the ark. Also in his obedience. Obedience is not the reason for his rescue. The reason for his rescue is grace.

The same is true in Exodus 19. The Israelites were rescued from Egypt by the grace of God, grace that rescues and gives instructions. Do use commentaries especially with the OT books. Hebrew is a very compressed language so English deosn't do it justice. ESV, NASB are the more literal translations. RV 1881 was the most literal. There is a spectrum from literal to paraphrase. Never use a paraphrase for Expository Preaching.

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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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