Pastor + Scholar = Preacher

John Calvin, the great reformer, is an excellent model if you’re looking to develop your preaching skills

By Philip Ryken on Sep 3, 2021 Wheaton.edu

As far as John Calvin was concerned, almost nothing was more urgent for the church than the reformation of pastoral ministry. For centuries, most ministers had been shockingly ignorant of the Scriptures and thus ill-equipped to preach the gospel. As Calvin said in one debate with a Catholic cardinal (pretending to defend the Protestant cause before God): “Those who were regarded as the leaders of faith neither understood Thy Word, nor greatly cared for it. They drove unhappy people to and fro with strange doctrines and deluded them with I know not what follies.”

Calvin was determined to be different and thus to do everything he could to promote the ideal of the pastor-scholar—a minister who had a deep knowledge of the Scriptures and able to preach its doctrines to his people.

This commitment to scholarship came naturally, since Calvin had been trained as a legal scholar before he gave his life to Christ and entered the ministry. It was also his calling. Based on his reading of Ephesians 4:11, Calvin made a clear distinction between “shepherds” (who served as shepherds of a local church) and “teachers” (who served the wider church by interpreting God’s Word, defending true doctrine and training other men for ministry, much like seminary professors today). But since Calvin held both of these offices, he set an example as a pastor-scholar that Reformation churches have followed ever since.

Calvin held a high view of the gospel ministry. Ministers are “God’s hands,” he said, to do his saving and sanctifying work in the world. When the church has “good and faithful teachers and others that labor to show us the way of salvation, it is a sign that our Lord Jesus Christ has not left us, nor forgotten us, but that he is present with us, and watches for our salvation.”

Evidently, God had not forgotten his people in Geneva, for the church there was blessed by Calvin’s preaching ministry for nearly 30 years. The Reformer’s work load was heavy. He preached almost daily, and twice on Sunday—roughly 4,000 sermons in all, carefully transcribed and collected in 48 bound volumes. In addition to his preaching, Calvin was a prolific writer, producing personal letters, essays on the reformation of the church, theological treatises, commentaries on almost the entire Bible and, of course, his famous Institutes.

Calvin’s goal in all his preaching and writing was to teach the Word of God faithfully so that the Holy Spirit could use his words to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to help them grow in godliness. He knew that only God could do the real work of the ministry. Preaching accomplishes nothing, he said, “unless the Spirit of God does inwardly touch the hearts of men.” Yet Calvin also believed that the Spirit’s work included his own best efforts to teach the Bible: “Through [the Spirit’s] inward operation [preaching] produces the most powerful effects.”

In order for his ministry to have this effect, the minister had to be faithful in interpreting and applying the Scriptures. This, in turn, required careful study. Although his preaching was not for a scholarly audience, Calvin took a scholarly approach to his preparation. Typically, he preached through whole books of the New Testament (or the Psalms) on Sundays and from the Old Testament the rest of the week. In both cases he preached directly from the Bible in its original languages. 

Although Calvin usually preached for more than an hour, he spoke extemporaneously, without text or notes. He was not speaking “off the cuff,” however, because whatever he said was the product of his own careful, first-hand exegesis and wide reading in the early church fathers and other Bible commentators. As Calvin once remarked to his congregation: “If I should enter a pulpit without deigning to glance at a book, and frivolously imagine to myself, ‘Oh well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say’—and come here without troubling to read, or thinking what I ought to declare, and do not carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people—then I should be an arrogant upstart.”

Needless to say, Calvin was no such arrogant upstart, but a humble and rigorous expositor of the Word of God. If faith in Christ is a sure and certain knowledge of God’s grace in the gospel, and if that knowledge comes through the preaching of God’s Word, then every minister is called to be a diligent student of that Word. “The teaching of a minister,” Calvin once said, “should be approved on the sole ground of his being able to show that what he says comes from God.” 

Calvin’s example as a pastor-scholar is instructive today. For pastors, his life serves as a call to work hard in ministry, giving our best efforts to understanding the Scriptures. For parishioners, Calvin’s ministry can help us understand the God-given calling of our pastors. In devoting their time to prepare for preaching, they are not serving themselves but Christ and His church.

But of course, the calling to study God’s Word is for all of us, all through life. Here Calvin should have the last word: “God will not have us trained in the gospel for two or three years only, but he will have us go through with it, so that if we lived a hundred years or more in this world yet we must remain scholars, and know that we have not yet approached our perfection, but have need to go forward still.” 

Scriptures: Acts 27:13-26, Ephesians 4:11

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/philip-ryken-pastor-scholar-preacher-1885

The Preacher’s Task: Saving Souls Or Making Disciples?

“Don’t confuse me with the one who saves souls; I’m just a messenger bearing good news.

By Nathan Aaseng  Jul 20, 2021

I experienced an uncomfortable moment recently when someone expressed admiration for my chosen vocation, which was characterized as “saving souls.”

The reason I was uncomfortable is that I don’t do that, and so I couldn’t take credit for it. No, this is not just a typical case of Midwestern modesty, like a firefighter who dashes into a burning building to save a child and then insists he’s not a hero. Shucks, I’m just an ordinary guy doing his job.

Seriously, saving people is not my job. I don’t save souls. Never have, never will. Getting credit for doing so reminds me of the story in Acts 14 where Paul and Barnabas are mistaken for Zeus and Hermes. When the townsfolk bring out on ox to sacrifice to them, the two missionaries frantically plead, “Why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news.”

That’s it exactly. Jesus saves souls — that’s what Easter was all about. Don’t confuse me with the one who saves souls; I’m just a messenger bearing good news. Maybe there shouldn’t be a “just” in that sentence. Being a messenger of the good news is certainly a meaningful vocation. But the fact that bearing good news is my vocation doesn’t make me any more or less worthy of admiration than anyone else.

 Not only do I not save souls, but I don’t think it’s helpful language for preachers to talk about saving souls. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive because of the wisdom imparted by parents from the years they spent in the mission field in KwaZulu, South Africa, but it sounds like a condescending, paternalistic way of going about things. Like it’s our job as superior beings to rescue others from their ignorance or intransigence.

I think that, in the past, this one-way-street attitude not only got missionaries in trouble, it got the universal church in trouble. I was asked recently if the traditional Lutheran understanding of mission work is basically that you have to convert them first, and then offer help. I responded that I hope not. When I read the Gospels, I don’t see Jesus focused on converting people; he spends most of his time healing and helping and loving. He does not describe his mission as saving souls and converting people. He does say, “I have come to heal and help folks, especially the poor and the powerless.” And in the process of that, faith incubates and grows, lives are changed and people are saved.

Yes, Jesus asked us to make disciples of all nations, but that isn’t the same as asking us to save souls. There are a lot of Christian believers in our congregations who are not disciples, and it is one of our jobs as preachers to try to make disciples out of them. Why? So that they can heal, help, love and proclaim the good news to others who aren’t disciples.

So while we’re in our pulpits trying to make disciples out of congregation members, we should also be out there being a blessing to others. I can’t see where one goes before the others. You can’t proclaim effectively about the love of God without reflecting that love.

Christians reflect the love of God — love that has the power to heal, to feed and to save. That’s what we do. There is no nobler vocation in the world. If we’re doing it right, that’s what preachers do as well.

Scriptures: Acts 14, John 6:26-51

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/nathan-aaseng-the-preacher-s-task-saving-souls-or-making-disciples-1563

Why The Cross Is Not Enough

By Ray Hollenbach on Jul 24, 2021

Christianity without the cross is a sham, but the cross is not enough. You heard me: the cross is not enough. Before the cross came incarnation, and after the cross came resurrection: Jesus modeled all three, and so should we.

I’ve watched recently as an increasing number of teachers and leaders encourage us to follow Jesus’ example by going to the cross. Our Lord is a model—the only true model, actually—of self-sacrifice and humility. This much is true: he is our example, and he went willingly to the cross. He didn’t miscalculate, he wasn’t blindsided by people or events beyond his control. No one took his life from him: he laid it down freely, and so should we.

Before the cross, however, all of heaven gasped in wonder at the miracle of Incarnation. The Creator became part of creation. He did not stand afar off and offer advice; he became present in his world. He arrived in the usual way for a man and the most unusual way for God. Nor did he simply drop in for a weekend redemption spree. He lived life to the full and left a record of how we should live. This part of his example required humility and sacrifice, as well.

The Apostle Paul tells us the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The cross, he says, is a scandal to the religiously minded and ridiculous to the wisdom of this age. The world does not value humility and sacrifice, but they are the calling cards of another realm. Still, Paul did not leave Jesus in the grave, nor did the Father. To win by losing is an oxymoron. But Jesus didn’t win by losing. He won by winning, and the winning came by the resurrection.

Jesus’ example did not end with the agonizing beauty of his tortured death. His final words on the cross were not his final words. He had much more to say and plenty for us to do. His work beyond the cross required the Father’s intervention in his life, and our work should require no less. Have you ever considered the humility and faith Jesus displayed by placing his future in the Father’s hands?

Jesus died in faith, trusting in the Father’s promise of resurrection, but he had no guarantee beyond the love and trust he exhibited that night in Gethsemane. In this, too, we can follow his example. The Spirit of God is hovering and poised to infuse our lives with resurrection empowerment even now.

No witness is complete without these three vital elements: incarnation, sacrifice and resurrection. Our attempts at ministry are incomplete without the three. We cannot stand far off and offer advice. We cannot follow Jesus without bearing the cross, and we cannot carry on his work without the Father’s intervention. Our tendency, though, is to prefer one of these above the rest. This week’s meditation asks of us: which is our default position, and how can we make room for the other two aspects Jesus modeled?

Scriptures: Matthew 1:1-28:20

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/ray-hollenbach-why-the-cross-is-not-enough-1646?

5 Things God Never Said

By Dr. Larry Moyer on Feb 9, 2018

Misconceptions of God can be costly, because they can be very defeating. For example, it’s agonizing to me how many people think “Cleanliness is next to godliness” comes from the pages of Scripture. If this is indeed a word from God, then homemakers have every right to feel guilty that their house is not always tidy. In fact, depending on how far you carry it, people soon become more concerned about their furniture than they do their family. And what about “God helps those who help themselves”? I’ve seen this used as a basis for many people thinking they can work their way to heaven. They therefore miss the Biblical teaching that eternal life is free (Romans 6:23).

Here are five other misconceptions of God’s Word you’d be wise to spend a Sunday addressing. In fact, I think you’d be wiser to give one Sunday to each of these. I assure you, they are so rampant that you could easily spend a 30-minute message discussing each one. Most unfortunately of all, every single one of them in some way adversely affects our outreach to non-Christians.

1. If you don’t know the date you were saved, then you are not saved.

Unfortunately, evangelists have been the worst at propagating this first misconception. The fact is, there is a split-second when a person goes from darkness into light. After recognizing you’re a sinner and that Christ died for you and rose again, you place your trust in Him alone as your only way to heaven.

However, just because you don’t know when that particular split-second was doesn’t mean you aren’t saved. When Scripture gives assurance of salvation, it doesn’t go back to a date or a moment; it goes back to a fact. Who are you trusting right now? If you’re trusting Christ alone as your only way to heaven, you are saved, regardless of when you crossed the line. After all, John 3:16 does not say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and whoever believes in Him and knows the date should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This idea is critical, because if a person buys into this misconception, it’s a tremendous hindrance to their outreach for Christ. How can I talk to someone else about their salvation if I’m not entirely certain of my own?

True, some people come to Christ from a very sudden and dramatic experience, like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39; he could have easily given you the date. And there’s no doubt the same thing was true of Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:1-22, 26-28; I’m sure he not only could have given the date, but he could have testified of the specific hour he trusted the Savior. But there are those whose conversion is not as dramatic. They may have been raised in a Christian environment, where Christ was spoken about frequently. Certainly at some point of time they came to clearly understand their sinful condition and trust Christ, but they may not know exactly when the moment occurred.

Minister deeply to your people and free them by telling them that as long as they’re trusting Christ alone, they are saved, regardless of when they crossed the line.

2. If you want to be saved, just invite Jesus into your heart.

Well-meaning people often use the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart.” They often base this on Revelation 3:20 where we’re told, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” With the phrase “stand at the door and knock” in mind, many picture the heart as a door where Jesus stands begging us to let Him in. Therefore, the lost are exhorted to “invite Jesus into their heart.”

However, that verse is addressed to Christians, not non-Christians. Verse 19 reads, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Chasten means “to discipline” and is used of believers, not unbelievers (Hebrews 12:5-6). The passage addresses the church of Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3. Their wealth at the time had lulled the church into spiritual sleep; Jesus Christ described this distasteful condition as “lukewarm” and invites them to repent of their condition and make Him the center of their love and worship.

Additionally, in Revelation 3:20, the Greek translation of in to means “toward.” In a figurative language, Jesus is saying to Christians He will enter the Church and come “toward” the believer for fellowship. The word dine referred to the main meal of the day to which you invite an honored guest. It was a meal given to hospitality and conversation. Again, the issue is fellowship, not salvation.

Why is this phrase so dangerous to use in evangelism? There are those who “invited Jesus into their heart” and sincerely meant they were trusting Him as their personal Savior, and they are forever His. However, there are some people who think that by simply saying a prayer in which they “invite Jesus into their heart,” they’re saved. In this case, their trust is in a prayer, not in a Savior who died on a cross.

Ninety-eight times in the Gospel of John, the one book whose purpose was to tell us how to receive eternal life (John 20:31), we’re told to believe. It means “to trust in Christ alone as our only way to heaven.” There’s nothing wrong with someone praying to tell God they’re trusting Christ alone, but he/she must be aware that saying a prayer doesn’t save; it’s trusting Christ that saves.

Teach your people to use the right terminology. They should ask lost people to do what the New Testament asks them to do—believe—and this means to trust in Christ alone to save them.

3. When you miss an opportunity to share Christ with someone, it’s your fault if that person goes to hell.

Many believers don’t enjoy evangelism. When they do practice it, they often do it out of guilt, not grace. One reason people feel guilty is because they’ve been told that if they’re given an opportunity to share Christ but they don’t take it, they are forever responsible if that person goes to hell.
This false teaching is often based on the misuse of Ezekiel 3:18-19. There we read, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”

This passage has nothing to say about evangelism. God appointed Ezekiel a watchman (Ezekiel 3:17). His job was to warn of impending danger. The nation was doomed, and only through heeding their watchman could they survive. Chapters 4-24 of Ezekiel contain his cry of alarm, which gave those outside the walls opportunity to seek protection. It also gave the people time to secure the gates and man the defenses. The death spoken of in Ezekiel 3:18-19 is physical, not spiritual. The context is the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem that Ezekiel predicted.

A person refusing to heed God’s warning from Ezekiel could expect physical death. Ezekiel was to warn the righteous, not just the wicked. If Ezekiel refused to speak God’s message to people who came to his house, he’d be guilty of murder. This is the meaning of “…but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” By giving a warning, Ezekiel delivered himself from the responsibility of the coming judgment. Those who ignored his warning could only blame themselves. One can see the danger when this idea is applied to evangelism; all of a sudden, we become responsible for someone’s eternal destiny.

But bringing people to Christ is a God-sized job. It’s our job to bring Christ to the lost; only God can bring the lost to Christ. John 6:44 reminds us, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Evangelism now becomes exciting. I do it recognizing that God is not holding me responsible for the results.

4. If you come to Me, I want either all of your life or none of it.

This one is said in different ways, but the meaning is the same. There are those who exhort, “You can’t meet God halfway. If you want to come to Christ, you must completely surrender to Him. God will only do business with you if you mean business with Him. He’s going to get all of your life, or He doesn’t want any of it.” What’s the problem here?

Look at the language in John 3:15, 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:25, 6:47, 11:25-26, and 20:31. All of them make it clear that salvation is based on one thing: believing and trusting in Christ alone as our only way to heaven. The moment we trust Him this way, we are as certain of heaven as though we’re already there.

This misconception is, again, often based on a wrong handling of Scripture. To support it, verses are cited that speak of discipleship, not salvation. Every Christian should be a disciple, but unfortunately, not every Christian is. In fact, Christ warned people about the cost of discipleship before encouraging them to sign up (Luke 14: 26-27). Salvation is free, but discipleship involves a cost.

Here’s where the misconception becomes so defeating: Who of us at any given moment would say every single aspect of our life belongs to Christ? All of us have those aspects we hold back, and even if we do give them to Him, there are moments we take them back. If indeed He has to have control of my entire life, how can I speak to someone else about their salvation? This misconception presents new Christians with conditions that, as unsaved people, they’re not even remotely prepared to meet.

Encourage your congregation, when they speak to the lost about Christ, to explain that salvation is instantaneous, but discipleship is a process. Once they decide to trust and believe in Christ for salvation, wholehearted surrender and Christ-likeness become a goal to achieve with the help of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of believers.

5. If you’re not willing to confess Christ publicly, you cannot be saved.

This misconception comes in different colors, and there are those who carry it to different extremes. Some are simply talking about admitting personally and publicly that you’re a Christian. Some go so far as to say one must walk forward in a church through what is commonly called the “altar call.” Either way, the understanding is given that if you don’t, you can’t be saved.

When addressing this misconception in a message, approach it positively, not negatively. Stress the importance of unashamedly telling people that you are a Christian. After all, if He was not ashamed of you, why be ashamed of Him? Such a confession plays a part in receiving eternal reward. A good passage to support this is Matthew 10:32-33, where Christ declares, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” The context clearly explains that the issue is not eternal life; the issue is discipleship.

Then show your people that confession is not an issue of salvation by pointing out three things. The first is John 12:37-43. The miracles of Christ were designed to wave a flag before the Jewish people proclaiming Christ as God. Many refused to believe. John tells us, “…but although He had done so many signs before them they did not believe in Him.” Some, though, did believe. John 12: 42-43 says, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” In the book of John, the words believe in are used consistently for saving faith. Jewish rulers had trusted in Christ the Messiah, who could save them from their sins. But confessing Him in public would have resulted in their excommunication.

You can also show them the many verses that condition salvation upon faith alone, apart from any public confession. For example, John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Romans 4:5 says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
You might also point your audience to the thief on the cross. The thieves on the cross were divided in their view of Christ. One extended the condition, “…if you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). The other placed his faith in Christ, asking, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (vs. 42). Christ’s response was the best news a dying man can hear. “Surely I say unto you, today you’ll be with me in paradise” (vs. 43). There was no way this dying thief could have told others of his salvation. He was saved by recognizing Christ as who He said He was—the only One who could save him from his sin.

Romans 10:9-10 is many times used to support the misconception that if you don’t confess Christ publicly, you can’t be saved. We read “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Above all else, it’s worth noting that the word righteousness in Romans 10:10 is a noun form of the verb translated “justify.” Romans 5:1 reads, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justified here means “to be declared righteous.” Therefore, the meaning of the first part of Romans 10:10 is, “…with the heart man believes and is justified before God.” But confession in Romans 10:9-10 is a part of what’s necessary to live a victorious Christian life. The context is arguing that one has to be willing to confess Him publicly in order to triumph over sin. For further explanation of this passage, I would direct you to my book, Free and Clear, which has a chapter entitled, “If I Don’t Confess Him, Do I Possess Him?”

Regardless, the passage itself clearly says that believing is what justifies a person before God. A public confession of Christ is very important, but the importance is not related to our eternal salvation. Upon trusting Christ, we receive His gift of eternal life. By confessing Christ consistently and unashamedly, we experience victory over sin and gain eternal reward when we see the Savior face-to-face.

Conclusion

Misconceptions can be damaging and defeating. The above five can be a particular hindrance in our outreach to non-Christians. The result is a confusion of the message, the questioning of our own salvation, and even a lack of boldness in speaking to others about the Lord. Consider giving a series of messages addressing the above five things God never said. You may free people up to evangelize—and encourage them to do it out of grace, not guilt.

Scriptures: Acts 8:26-39, Acts 9:1-22, Ezekiel 3:17, Ezekiel 3:18-19, Hebrews 12:5-6, John 1:12, John 12, John 12:37-43, John 20:31, John 3:15, John 3:16, John 6:44, Luke 14, Luke 23:39, Matthew 10:32-33, Revelation 2, Revelation 3:20, Romans 10:10, Romans 10:9-10, Romans 4:5, Romans 5:1, Romans 6:23

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/larry-moyer-5-things-god-never-said-726

Your Pulpit Is A Place Of Spiritual Warfare

There’s no need to be paranoid, but there’s no reason to be ignorant, either.

By Peter Mead on Jun 30, 2021

Whenever the subject of spiritual warfare is raised, there is a danger of falling into one of two extremes. On the one hand, it is easy to become paranoid, “seeing demons behind every tree” and giving Satan far more credit than he deserves. On the other hand, it is easy to become overly relaxed and essentially treat the spiritual realm as having no effect on our lives. 

Yet if there is a realm in which we should be aware of spiritual warfare, surely it is in the realm of preaching. Surely the enemy would love to disrupt or damage the proclamation of God’s Word, the presentation of the Gospel, the encouragement of believers and the praise of God.

First of all, spiritual warfare and the preacher. What tactics does the enemy use against us as preachers? Here are a few; perhaps you have others to add. 

One danger constantly facing us is that of pride, which leads to a lack of dependency on God. Then there is temptation to sin—how often do we face waves of temptation in areas of vulnerability while preparing to preach, or the day after we preach? Perhaps distraction is a tool of the enemy—things thrown in our path that keep us from the task at hand. Then there are lies, the discouragements meant to bring down our high goals with their high prayers.

I’d like to pursue this subject further, but let me ask you—what tactics does the enemy seem to employ in relation to your preaching ministry?

I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing unusual technical difficulties before presenting, or out of the ordinary family tensions on a Sunday morning. Then there are the more overt attacks both before and after preaching. Not always, but sometimes. But if we are thinking about the work of the enemy, it is important to remember he can also target the listeners in a preaching event. Our ancient foe seeks to work woe on various fronts.

As 2 Corinthians 4:4 states, the enemy works to blind listeners to the gospel so they cannot see the truth. There is also the possibility of distraction before and during preaching, as well as discouragement whispered direct. I do not want to give any credit to an enemy who stands defeated, but it would be naive to ignore this dimension of preaching. We tremble not for him, but must be sure to stand firm in our role as God’s spokesmen.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/peter-mead-your-pulpit-is-a-place-of-spiritual-warfare-1673

How to Shepherd Your Flock in a Politically Charged World

Trevin Wax

Everything gets politicized these days. It’s never been easier for churches to also get caught up in waves of political enthusiasm and social activism.

So, what should a pastor do when their fellow church members see needs and want to meet them, see injustice and want to stop it, or see a good cause and want to support it?

First, we should rejoice! When a church does a good job equipping people to think and live as Christians in a fallen world, the people become like rivers overflowing the banks of the church gathered (the lake). The landscape changes when there are lakes and rivers. But not all lakes need to be rivers.

So what do you do when one person wants their passion to be the primary passion for the whole church? 

There are no easy answers to this question because every church and every community and every activist is a different mix of personalities and passions. But here are some principles to keep in mind.

1. Demote the political sphere while encouraging your politically active members.

For too many in our society, politics is everything. In This Is Our Time, I write about the politicization of everything, where politics has become a religion. Our country is still faith-filled; it is just that today our faith is misplaced. Too often, it’s directed toward government, not God. And many of our frustrations come when we realize government can’t ultimately save us. It was never meant to. Peggy Noonan writes: “When politics becomes a religion, then simple disagreements become apostasies, heresies. And you know what we do with heretics.”

All around us are people who believe the myth that politics is the only real place where you can effect change or transform the world. When you think that laws are the most important factor in changing the world, then every battle must be fought to the end. Otherwise, you’re sacrificing the cause!

The gospel challenges that myth. It tells us that the political sphere is just one area in which change can take place. It helps us put the political in a broader context, to realize that it is not everything. All gains are temporary, but so are all setbacks. Even if we lose a political cause, we can still be faithful. We are called always to witness, not always to win.

With all of this in mind, pastors should demote politics to its proper place, while simultaneously encouraging Christians who are active in their community. Understanding that the political sphere is not ultimate does not mean we should retreat. We cannot be indifferent, hoping to enter our houses of worship or our closets for prayer, as if holiness is all personal and private. No, the apostle Peter calls us to holiness and honor as a way of being on mission in this world. “Holiness is not supposed to be cloaked in the chambers of pious hearts,” says theologian Vince Bacote, “but displayed in the public domains of home, school, culture, and politics.”

2. Be aware of how quickly the uniting factor of a congregation can become a cause rather than the cross. 

Once you have demoted the political sphere to its proper place and encouraged your church members to remain active, you should keep an eye on what is at the center of your preaching and teaching. It is easy for the unifying factor of a church to become what we do for others instead of what Christ has done for us.

A church’s unity for a cause can eventually displace the cross. The gospel is still there, but it’s no longer in the center. Something else is uniting the church – a political cause, social work, a community ministry.

Why does this matter? Because we want long-term fruitfulness in our communities.

When you put the gospel at the center, various ministry opportunities will come alongside as demonstrations of the power of Christ’s work on the cross. But when you put a cause at the center, various ministry opportunities may flourish for a time but then wither away, because they are no longer connected to the source of life that can sustain such activism.

3. Guard the platform of your church.

As a pastor, you’ve probably received multiple self-invitations to take “just a few minutes” of precious platform time to give a report or make a congregation aware of a need. Whether it’s people spreading Bibles around the world, missionaries coming home from furlough, medical missionaries providing essential healthcare or pro-life opportunities… everyone wants just a few minutes. Except for the congregation. They expect you to say “no” and protect them from the countless ministry opportunities that could be presented every week.

Do your congregation a favor and guard the platform of your church. Only put activities in the bulletin that correspond to your church’s mission and presence in the community. You can’t be a megaphone for every single thing people in your church want to promote.

4. Observe your church’s particular gifts and passions, and provide opportunities for community involvement.

Right now, our church is involved with tutoring elementary school students down the street. We’re helping plant a church in Cincinnati. We’ve celebrated when families have adopted children from overseas, and we’ve hosted fundraisers to help them offset the cost. We’re assisting refugees being resettled in our area.

These are ways that our church is ministering to the community. Enough people in the congregation were involved in the need for the church to realize it could help facilitate some of this good ministry.

J. D. Greear lays out three approaches to individual ministries – Own, Catalyze, and Bless. He explains it this way:

To “own” a ministry means we staff and resource it directly.

Those we “bless” are those we know our members are engaged in, but as an institution we have little interaction with them other than the occasional encouragement. 

But the third category, “catalyze,” is where we put most of our energy. When we catalyze something, we identify members with ideas and ask them to lead us. We come alongside them, adding our resources, networking power, etc. We serve them. And that means sometimes they don’t do things exactly the way I would prefer. But in the long run, an empowered church catalyzed to do ministry will do more gospel-good in the community than if the church owns and staffs all its own ministries.

5. Publicly affirm and bless the kind of activism you want to see.

This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Lift up examples of people who are the kind of activists you want to see.

When you hear of people in your congregation doing good in the community, don’t be shy in letting the rest of the church know. What you celebrate, you become.

Three Keys To Overcoming Barriers To Bible Engagement In The Church

By Paul Caminiti on Mar 16, 2018

“Do you know what your problem is?” the business consultant we had hired asked me. “You’re lazy.”

At the time, I was running a successful Bible division for a well-known publishing company. Before that, I had been a pastor for 15 years. “Lazy” was not one of the words I would have chosen to describe myself.

“You’re not lazy when it comes to creating and selling more Bibles,” the consultant continued. “But what are you doing to help people engage their Bibles once the cash register has rung?”

I didn’t have a good answer.

Like many in the church, I had come to assume that if we simply got the Scriptures out there—that if we translated, published, and sold enough Bibles—then we’d done our job. God would take it from there.

Since then, I’ve learned the unvarnished reality: in North America, we have more Bibles than ever, but less and less real engagement.

Bibles, Bibles Everywhere

Americans buy 25 million new Bibles every year—and that’s not counting the millions that are given away by churches, Bible societies, and other ministries. The Bible is not only the best-selling book of all time; it’s the best-selling book every single year!

Yet we all know that the incidence of Bible reading is going down, not up. In the last few decades, one in five Bible readers has given up on Scripture. Today, twice as many people think the Bible is a fairy tale as did when I started in ministry.

The problem isn’t just outside the church, either. Willow Creek’s groundbreaking REVEAL study uncovered a surprising hunger for God’s Word among our congregations: 87 percent of churchgoers identified in-depth Bible study as “very” or “critically” important. No other spiritual need scored this highly.

But the REVEAL study also contained more sobering news: Only one in five churchgoers says their church offers in-depth Bible engagement.

For me, there is a compelling sense of opportunity and urgency in these numbers. As the authors of the REVEAL study concluded, “The Bible is the most powerful catalyst for spiritual growth. [Its] power to advance spiritual growth is unrivaled by anything else we’ve discovered.”

But how many of us have figured out how to unleash this power in ourchurch communities? And if we don’t find a way to better Bible engagement, how much longer before our parishioners start looking outside the church for spiritual direction?

This question prompted a two-year journey at Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). For more than two centuries now, we’ve translated and distributed Bibles all over the world. We’ve been privileged to serve as stewards of the NIV, the most widely read contemporary English version of the Bible.

But we’ve come to realize that translating, publishing, and distributing Bibles—while important—isn’t enough. It’s not good enough to ask, “Do people have the Bible?” We also have to ask, “What kind of experience are they having with the Bible?”

Three Barriers to Engagement

Today, it’s safe to say that our congregants’ Bible experience isn’t always everything it could be. What’s getting in the way of meaningful engagement? I propose the existence of three barriers:

  1. Too many of us read Scripture in fragments.
    From topical reference Bibles to verse-of-the-day emails, we tend to parcel Scripture into bite-sized fragments. Even the modern verse divisions in our Bibles—which weren’t added until the mid-1500s—encourage fragmented reading. We’ve made the Bible feel more like a reference book than a story.

    For the most part, biblical books were meant to be read as whole units, from beginning to end. Yet if we engage the Bible at all, we’re more likely to do so in a verse here or a chapter there. We’ve refashioned God’s Word in the image of our sound-bite culture; as a result, readers can lose sight of the bigger story.
  2. Too many of us read Scripture without a sense of context.
    We all know the Bible is an ancient book written by ancient scribes. We all know it’s the product of a world vastly different from our own. But if we are to discover the Bible’s implications for our lives today, we have to bridge the gap between its world and ours.

    Let’s face it—that’s easier said than done. More often than not, we’ve soft-pedaled the Bible’s foreignness. We haven’t fully come to grips with the reality that the Bible was written for us, but not directly to us. In the words of N.T. Wright, we have to learn to read it “with first-century eyes.”
  3. Too many of us read Scripture in isolation.
    Many treat Bible reading mainly as a private discipline. We have private devotions and personal quiet times. We’ve been taught to ask questions like, “How does this verse apply to me?”

    Personal Bible study is a wonderful thing. But in prioritizing individual experience over that within the community, we may have been unwittingly influenced by our Western, me-centric culture—more so than we care to admit.

    The Bible was originally the product of a very different mindset. Its books were written, first and foremost, to whole communities. They were composed, for the most part, to be read during public gatherings. Think of the many times Israel assembled to listen to the Law—or when Paul instructed that his letters be read aloud to the entire local church.

    We need a Bible experience that doesn’t just begin and end with “me.”

Three Cs of Engagement

These barriers to engagement are not inconsequential. But I believe they can be overcome by focusing on the three Cs of engagement:

The complete Bible . . .
For starters, we need to clear away some of the clutter that’s collected around the Bible. Study notes, cross-references, and verse numbers have a role to play, but let’s be honest about the fact that they encourage us to read in fragments rather than whole books. We need a panoramic view of the entire story.

Understood in context . . .
Before we can ask (much less answer) the question, “What does this passage mean to me?” we need to ask, “What did it mean to the original audience?” We need to go back in time and step into the world of the Bible’s writers and recipients.

Experienced in community. . .
Recovery movements understand what many of us in the church have missed: Great undertakings are far more likely to succeed when they are group efforts. Smokers, for example, are six times more likely to quit if they are part of a support group.

Bible engagement is no easy task, so individuals shouldn’t be left to go it alone. Our Bible experiences will be richer and more meaningful when we share them with the whole community of faith.

Community Bible Experience: A Step Toward Better Bible Engagement

We live in interesting times. There is a window of opportunity—one that will not last indefinitely—to really engage people in the Scriptures. Our parishioners are hungry to hear God speak—as hungry as they’ve ever been. Many churches, publishers, and Bible societies are finding innovative new ways to address this need.

At Biblica, we’ve spent the last couple years turning our vision for Bible engagement into concrete reality. We started by designing a different kind of Bible—one that presses the “undo” button on much of the artificial formatting that’s been added to Scripture over the years. We have given the Bible an un-makeover.

We published this new edition, called The Books of the Bible, without chapter and verse numbers, cross references, or study notes. We restored the natural section breaks within each book and arranged the books in a more natural order. (For example, instead of arranging Paul’s letters from longest to shortest—as they are in most Bibles—they appear in chronological order.) We included introductions that reveal the context and literary structure of each book. In short, we designed The Books of the Bible to be read from beginning to end.

But we didn’t stop there, because we believe that a better Bible experience demands more than just another Bible product. It takes a whole different approach to the Bible, the whole community of faith experiencing the whole story of redemption.

Last year we began testing this approach we call a Community Bible Experience. For approximately eight weeks, the whole church reads a section of Scripture (starting with the New Testament) from beginning to end using The Books of the Bible. Participants share the experience with one another through small groups that are deliberately more like book clubs than traditional Bible studies.

This experience isn’t about mining all the right answers from Scripture; it’s about helping people experience God’s Word on its own terms. It’s about whole communities immersing themselves in God’s story.

Already Community Bible Experience is generating powerful stories of transformation—new believers reading the New Testament for the first time, entire youth groups rallying around the Bible, and churches reaching out to the surrounding community through Scripture.

“We’ve never engaged so much of the Bible at one time,” said Brad Gilliland, pastor of Immanuel Community Church in Colorado, one of the first churches to hold a Community Bible Experience. “In terms of what God is doing, I feel like we’re the strongest we’ve been in a long time.”

An Invitation

As a pastor, you already know the importance of Bible engagement. We at Biblica would like to be your fellow travelers on the road toward a better Bible experience.

Community Bible Experience officially launches this fall, but we’re holding one more “test run” with a number of churches this spring, during Lent.

We are offering you the free opportunity to gather a small group of 10 leaders from your church—it could be your staff, your elder board, or other members of the congregation—and commit to journeying through the New Testament as a group this Lent.

Biblica will provide up to 10 free copies of The Books of the Bible, New Testament edition, to each of the first 100 churches who respond. (The cost to participate in a Community Bible Experience, normally $5 per person, will be waived.) We will also provide online access to a downloadable audio version of The Books of the Bible and other resources, including:

  • Promotional video
  • Reading plan
  • Discussion guide

Because this is a test run, we’re asking you to help us refine the experience for others, by telling us what works and what doesn’t. But we’re also asking you to consider sharing the experience with the whole congregation by holding a church-wide Community Bible Experience this fall.

A better Bible experience is possible, but it starts with the complete Bible understood in context and experienced in community. My prayer is that engaging the Bible in this way will be as life-changing for you and your church as it has been for me.

To learn more or to sign up for a free Community Bible Experience, please visit biblica.com/cbe.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/paul-caminiti-3-keys-to-overcoming-barriers-to-bible-engagement-in-the-church-770

Seven Deadly Sins In The Pulpit

 Steve Murrell on Aug 21, 2020

It is increasingly common today to hear parts of the gospel proclaimed. The same was happening in the early church. In Acts 20, Paul says to the Ephesian church elders, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you.  For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the WHOLE WILL OF GOD (Acts 20:26, 27).

Unlike many modern preachers, Paul refused to edit out the difficult parts of the message. He insisted on preaching the whole gospel.

In 604, Pope Gregory wrote about the “Seven Deadly Sins” which included pride, gluttony, envy, lust, anger, greed, and laziness. In the spirit of the Pope’s top seven, here’s my list of “Seven Deadly Sins of the Pulpit.” 

1. Preaching Christ Without the Cross.

No-cost Christianity. Paul was determined to know and preach nothing except Christ and Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Today it seems we preach everything but Christ and the cross, causing many to live as enemies of the cross (Philippians 3:18).

2. Preaching Salvation Without Sanctification.

No-change Christianity. So many claim Christ today with no evidence or change in their lives, and the pulpit is at least partially to blame.

3. Preaching Decisions Without Discipleship.

No-commitment Christianity. I know we are getting crowds and decisions, but are we making disciples?

4. Preaching Love Without Lordship.

No-compliance Christianity. Jesus is Lord, and because He is Lord, He heals, delivers, provides, and saves.  

5. Preaching Prosperity Without Purpose.

No-cause Christianity. God blesses us so that we can be a blessing.

6. Preaching Blessing Without Birthright.

No-covenant Christianity. Esau threw away his birthright and still expected a blessing. It does not work that way. If we want the blessing, we must accept the covenantal responsibilities that go with the birthright. 

7. Preaching Revival Without Reformation.

No-transformation Christianity. We are called to be salt and light, to impact individuals and cultures, families and nations. The gospel is supposed to be transformational.

I have certainly been guilty of all of above at different times in my life as a preacher. As I have matured, hopefully, I’m being more and more faithful to preaching the WHOLE WILL OF GOD. How about you? 

Scriptures: 1 Corinthians, 1 Kings 12:6-8, Acts 20, Acts 20:26, Philippians 3:18

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/steve-murrell-seven-deadly-sins-in-the-pulpit-1309

Legalism And Preaching

By Peter Mead on Feb 4, 2021

Defining legalism carefully is vitally important. It is important for each follower of Christ. It is a serious business to discount a restriction as legalism when it actually is displeasing to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Legalism is an easy word to throw around, but a challenging term to define. For many of us, legalism seems to refer to whatever restrictions others might feel that I personally do not feel. But defining legalism carefully is vitally important. 

It is important for each follower of Christ. It is a serious business to discount a restriction as legalism when it actually is displeasing to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Equally it can be stifling to the life He has given us to overlay unnecessary restrictions and thereby misrepresent Him to ourselves and others. 

The issue of representing Christ to others means that defining legalism accurately should be a concern for every preacher. People look to us for guidance, both in clarification of the Gospel and in instruction for living. Every preacher treads a minefield in every sermon – preach legalism, or preach license, and damage will be done. 

However, many of us never really think about the definition of legalism. I think part of the reason for this is that we have been lulled into a false sense of security by an inadequate definition. 

Many definitions are essentially similar to this: “Legalism is about trying to merit salvation by obedience.” 

But there is a significant problem with this definition. Too easily we will hear this to be referring to the heresy of salvation by works. That is, the idea that we have to behave in order to be saved. And the problem with that understanding of legalism is that once we are saved (by grace, not works), then we are effectively immune from any charge of legalism. After all, doesn’t every born again believer in Jesus know that salvation is based on grace, not works? 

Surely a definition of legalism that rules out any Christian from being a legalist must be flawed.  It concerns me because I am sure I have met a few legalists.  I have probably been one too. 

So perhaps it would be better to define legalism as “trying to merit God’s favour by obedience.” After all, God’s favour is not just about getting into the family in the first place, we also value God’s favour in our ongoing relationship with Him. 

Next time I would like to wrestle with this idea more and identify one big reason why believers can fall into legalism so easily.

Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/peter-mead-legalism-and-preaching-2441

VIDEO Piper: What’s The Best Tone For Your Preaching? Authority For Preaching?

“The question I have for preachers is: What tone should you aim at in preaching? This is an urgent question because, if you don’t answer it, your listeners will answer it for you.”

By Sermoncentral on Mar 18, 2020

Phillips Brooks who died in 1893—and who along with Jesus, Paul, John Stott, Dick Lucas, and other preachers never married—most famously said that preaching is “truth through personality.”

This personality factor raises the question of preaching tone. What should a preacher aim at in the tone of his preaching?

By “tone” I mean the feel that it has. The spirit it emits. The emotional quality. The affectional tenor. The mood.

Personalities Are Like Faces

Every personality has a more or less characteristic tone. That is part of what personality is. Some personalities play a small repertoire of emotional instruments, while others play a larger repertoire. Nevertheless, whether a personality plays a two-piece band or a symphony of emotional tones, there is a typical tone. A kind of default tone for each personality.

This has a huge effect on peaching. And there is no escaping it. Preachers have personalities, like they have faces. They can smile, and they can frown. But they have one face. It was given to them.

The question I have for preachers is: What tone should you aim at in preaching? This is an urgent question because, if you don’t answer it, your listeners will answer it for you.

The Tone of the Text

Over my 31 years in the pulpit, I have received a fairly steady stream of affirmation and criticism related to the tone of my preaching. The very same sermon can elicit opposite pleas. “More of that, pastor!” “No, we already get too much of that.”

This is totally understandable. Listeners have personalities too. Which means they have default tonal desires. They have preferences. They know what makes them feel loved. Or encouraged. Or hopeful. Or challenged. And some people feel challenged by the very tone that makes another feel angered or discouraged.

So I ask again: What tone should you aim at in preaching?

My answer is: Pursue the tone of the text. But let it be informed, not muted, by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles and by the gospel of grace.

Ten explanatory comments:

  1. Texts have meaning, and texts have tone. Consider the tonal difference between, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden . . .” and “Woe to you, blind guides . . .You blind fools!” The preacher should embody, not mute, these tones.
  2. Nevertheless, just as the meanings of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by larger biblical themes, and by the gospel of grace, so also the tones of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by these realities. A totally dark jigsaw-puzzle piece may, in the big picture, be a part of the pupil of a bright and shining eye.
  3. The grace of God in the gospel turns everything into hope for those who believe. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that . . . we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). Therefore, all the various tones of texts (let them resound!) resolve into the infinitely varied tones of hope, for those who believe in Jesus.
  4. If there is a danger of not hearing the tone of gospel hope, emerging from the thunder and lightening of Scripture, there is also a danger of being so fixed on what we think hope sounds like, that we mute the emotional symphony of a thousand texts. Don’t do it. Let the tone grip you. Let it carry you. Embody the tone of the text and the gospel dénouement.
  5. But it’s not just the gospel of grace that should inform how we embody the tone of texts. We are all prone to insert our own personalities at this point and assume that our hopeful tone is the hopeful tone. We think our tender is the tender. Our warmth is the warmth.This is why I said our capturing of the tone of the text should be informed by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. We may simply be wrong about the way we think tenderness and hope and warmth and courage and firmness sound. We do well to marinate our tone-producing hearts in the overall tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles.
  6. Tonal variation is determined in part by the nature and needs of the audience. We may well shout at the drowning man that there is a life preserver behind him. But we would not shout at a man on the edge of a precipice, lest we startle him into losing his balance. Jesus’ tone was different toward the proud Pharisee and the broken sinner.
  7. But audiences are usually mixed with one person susceptible to one tone and one susceptible to another. This is one reason why being in the pulpit week in and week out for years is a good thing. The biblical symphony of tones can be played more fully over time. The tone one week may hurt. The next it may help.
  8. There is a call on preachers to think of cultural impact and not just personal impact. In some ways our culture may be losing the ability to feel some biblical tones that are crucial in feeling the greatness of God and the glory of the gospel. The gospel brings together transcendent, terrible, horrific, ghastly, tender, sweet, quiet, intimate, personal realities, that for many may seem utterly inimical. Our calling is to seek ways of saying and embodying these clashing tones in a way that they sound like the compelling music.
  9. In the end, when a preacher expresses a fitting tone, it is the work of God; and when a listener receives his tone as proper and compelling, it is another work of God.
  10. So we pray. O Lord, come and shape our hearts and minds with the truth and the tone of every text. Let every text have its true tone in preaching. Shape the tone by the gospel climax. Shape it by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. But don’t let it be muted. Let the symphony of your fullness be felt.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/sermoncentral-piper-what-s-the-best-tone-for-your-preaching-955


 “What Bible passages do you use to base your claims about how we should preach?”

2 Timothy 3:16-4:2


 

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