An Example of Vulnerability and Empowerment

Recently at my church here in Omaha, we had a video presentation from a married couple at our church. It was a very honest and vulnerable story of their marriage — and the brokenness they have experienced in it and the lessons they’ve learned through it.

Here it is:

After the video played there was a definite sense of heaviness that filled the room. I doubt there was a dry eye to speak of. People clapped in appreciation of their transparency and their vulnerability. When the pastor got up on stage afterwards he recognized the sense of heaviness that was present in the room. He appropriately told us to all take a deep breath in, and then a deep breath out.

After the sermon we have communion together as a church. There are about six stations where two people hold a loaf of bread and a cup of wine/grape juice. I noticed that Roger and Denise were at one of the stations. I thought that was a beautiful thing.

I thought it was beautiful because it exemplifies what I believe to be empowerment. They put themselves in a vulnerable spot. They bore the darker moments of their lives with us as a congregation, and now to the world via the internet. Yet, vulnerability is not simply sharing personal, shameful, or embarrassing information about yourself. It is a reaching out for connection while telling such information, not knowing how others might respond. But having Roger and Denise serve communion (a sober celebration and reminder of the death of Jesus Christ and an anticipation of his coming again), it allowed them to serve the people of the church to whom they just bore their souls. It allowed the church to affirm them as our fellow brother and sister despite their messiness. They were empowered as they served communion to others in the church and spoke “this is Christ’s body, broken for you” and “this is the blood of Christ, shed for you” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

A beautiful thing. And an example of what empowerment looks like. The leaders of the church created the environment for this couple to be empowered, and the congregation truly empowered and affirmed them as they came up for communion.

Flight or Fight?

It seems anymore that Christians love to pick fights. It may not be the Crusades, but the battles being fought today still seem to be devastatingly harmful and unfounded (and should be extremely embarrassing for the Church). The rhetoric I hear seems to explain these fights and battles as necessary for the defense of doctrine and good Christian values. Perhaps what is most ridiculous about this, is that it seems that Christians have just as much internal fighting as they do with the secular world.

While some tend to love to always be eager to fight for what they believe, others tend to run from any sort of conflict. In doing this they tend to hide from any challenges to their faith or worldview, refusing to be challenged or questioned.

Both seem to be problematic. When times of high criticism come or when people start putting up their dukes in regards to faith or values, people tend to respond in the adrenaline induced instinct of either fight or flight.

My new pastor, Bill Shereos,  recently said something I thought was pretty profound regarding this topic:

If you find yourself fighting or fleeing, you need to assess your heart and see if you are motivated by faith or fear.”

And that’s the problem today – it seems that most of the fights that I see happening in regards to doctrine or values seem to be motivated by FEAR. It can be a fearful thing to have your beliefs challenged. We live out our lives based on the values that come from our beliefs. If we find out that our values or beliefs are wrong, that means that the very foundation that we build our lives upon is faulty. And that’s a scary place to find oneself. People will go to great lengths to try and deny that their foundation is faulty. They will attack brutally if necessary. They will run far, far away if it suits them. But I’ve said before a number of times on my blog, if we truly believe that all truth is God’s truth, and we work from that foundation, then if we find out a value or belief we once thought was true is actually false, then we can realign ourselves in confidence, not fear, because the Christian journey is one where we are constantly trying to understand God’s truth and live into that truth. It is healthy to recognize that there are different levels of importance when it comes to Christian doctrine. There is dogma – that which minimally defines what Christianity is. There is doctrine – interpretations of Scripture which define the various faith traditions. There is opinion – interpretations and inferences that you or a smaller group of believers hold to that are not clearly defined in Scripture.

Christians will fight seemingly over anything. Churches split over differences of opinion, denominations are born over differences of doctrine, and people over the centuries have been killed because of not aligning themselves with the dogma of the Church. All of these scenarios are lamentable. Christians are supposed to be known by their love for all people and their faith in an merciful, loving God. But it seems like today Christians are known for their fighting, stubbornness, and fear of change.

When we find ourselves getting defensive, or perhaps wanting to just run away from an issue, maybe we should ask ourselves if we are wanting to fight or flee because of fear. Challenges to our faith are not times to fight or flee, they are times to learn and grow. Sometimes that just requires shutting up, remaining humble, and listening with a desire of understanding how we can better live into God’s truth and live loving others better.

Leaving Home

My wife Sarah and I recently made the hard decision to leave our church in the suburbs and start attending a church nearby us in the city. Our church in the suburbs had become very much our home. I started attending this church within a couple weeks of moving up to the Chicagoland area in August of 2009. It has been a wonderful space for me to be healed, stretched, nurtured, serve, and given the opportunity to lead. The relationships that I made there have had an incredible impact in my life. Each year that I spent at that church was quite different. The first year I was there, I was fresh graduate from a fundamentalist college, living with my two of my best friends. The second year I attended there I was recently married, but was over 1000 miles from my wife, who was still in college. The third year, my wife and I were finally together. The fourth year, we had our first son. And this fifth year we moved into the city, and Sarah got pregnant with our second son.

Clearly there were lots of life milestones, changes, and transitions that happened to me while attending that church. As I matured as a believer, I was stretched and encouraged in my faith. When I became a husband, couples befriended me and stepped in to encourage and love on us. When I became a father, the church poured their love and support on Sarah and me, and eventually Micah.

I was given the opportunity to serve this church in a number of capacities, including serving on the elder board and leading the men’s group on Saturdays. The respect and trust I received in these roles was so encouraging, and I have learned some incredible things about leadership because of the people I served alongside of. One of the values that I personally have is that living life together is essential for growth. We can’t get through life on our own. To flourish, grow, and mature we need each other. Being around people with not quite the same beliefs as me was sometimes a challenge, but I am all the better for it. Being around those who are much older than I am and have had many more experiences in life than me has propelled me in my wisdom and worldview. The diversity of ethnic backgrounds that attend this church is a gift because of being so close to Trinity International University. Any opportunity I got to learn from those whose cultures don’t look exactly like mine I tried to learn from. It’s the diversity of beliefs, ages, and cultures that really can create a unity that’s incredibly beautiful. Learning to live and do life alongside people not exactly like yourself — it’s an incredible thing.

People complain about the local church a lot. And there’s probably a lot that might be worthy of complaint. But I’ve always been more of a person wants to help be part of the solution, rather than to sit back and complain about the problems. If something needs to change, then “be the change you want to see” — or however that cliche goes. From what I’ve learned through being a part of a number of churches, people just want to have a place they can feel safe and be real in. The problem is that churches often become places where we put on fake smiles and always answer “fine” to anyone who asks how we are doing. We constantly want to look like everything is going ok, and if not, that our faith in God will pull us through. We’d rather suffer alone in misery than ask someone for help. And I think most churches struggle with this — but it doesn’t take much to change the church’s culture.

In leading the men’s group at my church, I experimented with just being open and honest with everyone. Our men’s group was not the stereotypical group which sits around talking about sports and politics and other things that men supposedly only like to sit around and talk about. We talked about times of pain, weakness, grief, as well as the times of joy and triumph in our lives. It was a safe place that the men could talk about the things without fear of being judged or simply told to “man up” or have more faith. I found this experiment to be very successful, and before long we had a close knit group of men sharing from their hearts, and praying deeply for one another.

Our church was not the type of place where you feel you have to put on a show and act like everything in your life is going swell if it isn’t. And if you opened up to someone about things, people were there to support you, to care for you. That church was made up of our brothers and sisters – it was our family. To leave it was like leaving home.

But here we are now, at a new church with a new family to get to know. We finally decided to make the switch because we are about to have our second son and we wanted to have a good community that could help support us through this time. Our other church is 25 miles away, and it’s just not practical or realistic to expect for them to really be able to help us. Plus, a value of mine is to be involved in a church that is in your own community. I want to be attending the closest decent church I can go to and get involved right away. The church is already taking us in quite well, and there are tons of young families who are able to help us as we welcome our second child into the world. We are excited to call this new church our home and hope make lasting relationships like we did at our former church.

Men, grief, and the typical American church

Sometimes I come across articles about things I wholeheartedly agree with. It’s rare, but refreshing. This article really expresses some of the problems and realities of what it’s like to be a man in the typical American church that I have made a soapbox issue for myself.

A couple quotes that I appreciated specifically:

I’m the one who needed it. I suspect that’s what many men do, and not just in situations such as this. We try and deal with our own pain by making others deal with theirs.

[Men and women in the church] can deal with what they believe to be oppression [abortion], but they can’t deal with a confusing, complex sort of pain [of a miscarriage]. C. S. Lewis’s words still ring true: It’s easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than ‘My heart is broken.’

Have a read for yourself:

Men and Miscarriage, from Christianity Today

Shame, Guilt, and the Church: Part 3 – Shame vs. Guilt

Some of these thoughts are instigated by notes I took during a class on conflict mediation back in 2012. Part of the class the professor discussed certain aspects about shame and guilt, and thus vulnerability as well. Other thoughts come from Brene Brown’s TED talks, which I’ve already posted about below. Although much of what I am about to write about is universal, I am going to be writing from a Christian perspective here, with references to God and the Bible. Even if you are not a Christian, I believe that much of this will still resonate with you.

If there is one thing that is definitely universal for all of us, no matter our faith, it’s shame. We all feel shame, whether we choose to admit it or not. Have you ever thought about what shame is exactly? If someone asked you to explain what shame was, how would you explain it? How would it differ from guilt? Maybe this will help:

Shame is that deep sense of feeling unacceptable. It’s that feeling of being exposed, humiliated.

Shame lies in the shadow of guilt. It is something that is FELT, not a cognitive issue.

Shame is an IDENTITY ATTACK.

Shame continually plays two tapes:

1) “You’re never good enough” and 2) “Who do you think you are?”

Shame is the “swampland of the soul.”

Shame arises in our significant relationships. It arises due to life’s situations and culture’s response.

Shame arises within us because of what we do — our addictions, our sexual behaviors, etc.

Shame attaches itself to those who are made powerless, those who are victimized.

Shame is felt by minorities in the midst of a majority.

Shame causes feelings of being an outcast, exposed, naked, unclean, contaminated, separated, alone.

Shame paralyzes people. It keeps people from being able to move or act.

Shame is NOT simply embarrassment.

Those are some examples of how we can think about shame. But lets remember, guilt and shame are not the same thing. And we here in the U.S. are really bad about knowing the difference.

Guilt lies without, while shame lies within ourselves. Guilt can be acted upon so that you are no longer guilty. With shame, there is no set of redemptive actions that is possible. The self is stuck. It’s immovable until the feelings of shame gradually fade away or are interrupted by other feelings.

Removing shame requires an intervention from someone outside ourselves. For Christians, ultimately shame arises when we are exposed to God’s holiness. But we are not left to wallow in it. Jesus pursues us into the depths of our shame. The church must be a place where people can honestly bring the pain of their shame. For Christians, Christ plays a crucial role in overcoming shame. By taking upon himself and embodying our shame, Jesus, in His suffering and death, overcomes and redefines shame, inaugurating possibilities of respect for self and others, and for praise.

You might struggle with shame if you feel wrong, but you don’t know why. Or if blame just always seems to end up at your doorstep. Or if you still feel the shameful experiences of your past.

When dealing with shame:

1) Embrace it.
2) Expose it.
3) Lament and repent.
4) Forgive self and others.

Dealing with shame is an emotional experience. It’s not simply a cognitive one. It needs to be deeply heartfelt experience, not a decision to just not feel shame anymore.

As we deal with one another, let’s contemplate and be more aware of how we exploit shame. For example, be aware about how you use the word “should” and how you apply it in your relationships. Do you “should” others? The Church itself would do well to evaluate its own use of should language. Overall, the church needs to undertake the big task of de-idealizing itself, one another, and even God.

The church could modify some of its practices to help enhance the possibilities of flourishing and growth. It can focus on ways of making people feel welcome, guarding itself against making people feel alienated, adding to the self-hate and shame of its members and visitors.

An evaluation of how and what is being preached within local churches might do a lot to reduce shame within the church. Jesus didn’t give lists about how to be a better person, leader, or family member. We should evaluate the theological methods and symbols we use, making sure that we are not adding to people’s sense of shame. Churches need to be a place that gives space for pain and provides a safe place for those wanted or needing to expose their shame. If you don’t give space for pain, people will resist.

Lessons from a 12 Step Meeting.

I recently went to a 12 step program as an assignment for an Addictions Counseling class that I am taking. My only exposure to 12 programs have been in television shows and movies, and most of them have been Alcoholics Anonymous. Generally speaking, when you see something medical or psychological being presented on screen, it’s probably not very accurate. It’s the reason my wife, a nurse, gets upset at any show where a doctor or nurse gets involved in any way.

“That’s not how it would happen in real life!”

“I know…”

Recently I have also found this to be true whenever a counselor or therapist is being portrayed. Oftentimes the client is lying down on a long leather couch with the therapist behind the client just listing and scribbling things down on a notepad. Maybe somewhere in the world that is how someone counsels still…but nowhere that I know of.

Anyway, I digress, I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the 12 step meeting. Do people really all say their name and everyone repeats their name back? (Yes.) Do people say that they are an alcoholic, or a sexoholic, or a drug addict? Really? (Yes.) Surely they’ve got to have a table with stale doughnuts and coffee at the back of the room, right? (Nope.)

The group I went to was a bit unique. It was for both genders, and allowed for any addiction. Anyone who feels they have a destructive behavior in their life that they want to overcome is welcome to come. And as we started, the twelve steps were read at a pace for us to think about them in relation to our own lives. And after they had all been read, the leader said that today we’d be going back and focusing on the first step. This was fortunate, considering this was the first meeting I had ever attended.

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable

Here is a description about step one from 12step.org:

Step 1 is the first step to freedom. I admit to myself that something is seriously wrong in my life. I have created messes in my life. Perhaps my whole life is a mess, or maybe just important parts are a mess. I admit this and quit trying to play games with myself anymore. I realize that my life has become unmanageable in many ways. It is not under my control anymore. I do things that I later regret doing and tell myself that I will not do them again. But I do. I keep on doing them, in spite of my regrets, my denials, my vows, my cover-ups and my facades. The addiction has become bigger than I am. The first step is to admit the truth of where I am, that I am really powerless over this addiction and that I need help.

The key here in step one is the admission of powerlessness.

After reading step one, and a few comments from the leader, those in attendance were encouraged to share their stories. The room itself was not some cold tiled-floor room with metal folding chairs with a podium. (I assume these do exist.) The room we were in was like someone’s living room. Couches and nice chairs. Pictures and paintings framed on the wall. A fireplace. It was a warm environment.

People started sharing their stories, starting with their name and then stating their addictions. For most there was more than just one addiction. But the addictions that everyone was mentioning varied. Sex, porn, masturbation, overeating, compulsive eating, video games, and the list goes on. Some people had been working through these addictions for 50 years. But people shared their experiences, from their heart. Not in a “look where I have come from” or “look how hard I have it” way. But in a deeply sincere, honest and humble manner. As people shared my heart was heavy and sober, yet unexpectedly joyful.

This place was fascinating. People were sharing their deepest, darkest secrets and I had met them literally five minutes ago. These people were brave. These people were courageous. I was inspired by them.

Even though we were sitting around in a circle sharing our most shameful behaviors, the ickiest parts of our lives, I thought to myself, “This feels…so…HOLY. This is how the CHURCH should be.” 

I think it was the honesty. The truth behind all that everyone was sharing. These people weren’t hiding behind any excuses. They were admitting they needed help and they were powerless. This sense of honesty and transparency filled the room. Isn’t that core to the understanding of what the Gospel is? We are powerless to overcoming sin on our own. We can try, but we’ll always fail. We all need to humble ourselves and admit that we need God.

————-

The feeling of holiness in that room and my thoughts of how this felt like how the church should be stuck with me. Why doesn’t the church look like this? A number of reasons come to mind:

1. “When I go to church, I just want to escape life, relax, and be encouraged.” People deal with hard and busy days all week. Families, friends, work, bills, health, housework, etc. We’re busy and tired people. Oftentimes the last thing we want to get into at church is having to talk about such things. We want to come to church to escape the week — to just relax and be encouraged for half a second before having to go back into the stressful world.

2. “I don’t want to burden other people with my problems.” We oftentimes only see these people once a week. There’s really not time to get to the honest and hard parts of our life with these people. They’d probably be willing to help, but they’re busy too. The last thing I want to do is burden them with my troubles.

3. “If I share what life is really like, I will be seen as a bad Christian.” Church is not a place to “get real” with each other. It’s a place to be happy, smile, and act like everything is ok. We’re Christians! We’ve got to be joyful! If we admit that we are out of control or that our lives are messy then we might seem like we are not “good Christians.”

4. “If I share what life is really like, people will judge me and I could lose my position in the church.” In the same vein as above, the idea that if I tell or show people what my life is really like people will judge me, and I will lose respect and potentially even my leadership position in the church.

5. “Anytime I have tried to talk about my problems with others, no one takes the time to really see how I’m doing.” Maybe a person has tried to be a bit vulnerable about their problems, or they’ve tried to reach out, and the response they’ve gotten was more of a pat on the back and a “I’ll pray for you.” When this happens there is rarely much followup, and perhaps even an avoidance because we feel awkward about having to deal with an uncomfortable situation with someone else.

I could probably write pages and pages in response to these five thoughts that I’ve just identified. And I am sure there are dozens of more thoughts that keep us from sharing our issues with people at church. Things which keep us from being real and honest.

———–

One of the main reasons that this bugs me so much is because if we do hear about those who are deeply struggling with an addiction or a destructive behavior in their lives, it’s almost always after those people have hit rock bottom or have been caught. When we find out that a person in the church has been addicted to gambling, or pornography, or fill in the blank, it seems that it is almost always after years and years of struggling.

We act surprised. “Wow! Who knew they had been addicted for 20 years!?” When I hear about that, I put part of the blame on the church. If we find out that someone had been struggling with addiction or a particular sin for the entire time they had been a part of our church, part of that is on us. They might have been good about hiding it. Their families might not have even really known. But that just means that we’re not asking the right questions. We’re not willing to get into the real parts of people’s lives. It’s one thing if the person straight up lies to us when we ask the hard questions, but I’m guessing most of the time those hard questions are never asked.

Also, maybe the fear of being judged is a legitimate fear. If they had come out and told people at the church that they were addicted to pornography or alcohol or video games how would the church respond? Would we instantly try to FIX the person? Would we be aghast about their sin, their addiction?

We need to be people who are not surprised by sin. We preach and talk about total depravity and how we are all sinners, and then we are shocked and surprised when someone admits they are sinning. To be Christian does not mean to always give the benefit of the doubt. People struggle with addictions, sins, and our lives are messy because of it. I think I need to be surprised when I found out someone’s life IS NOT like that rather than the other way around. We should assume that people are dealing with something hard in their life. This generates a place of mercy, grace, and empathy in our attitude towards others. I have probably mentioned it in other posts, but I am struck by the quote,

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

It helps orient my attitude toward others. Life is complicated. And we need to learn how to best help others, carry one another’s burdens, and to love well. We are too often focused on being RIGHT. I think we need to focus more on being LOVE.

A Concise Theology of Preaching

PREACHING DEFINED

Preaching is declaring God and His message by opening the Word of God and relying on the Holy Spirit to help clearly explain the truths found therein, so that listeners may clearly understand God’s message in order that God’s glory is seen and that His will may be obeyed.

OUTLINE

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to His Calling

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to God’s Nature.

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to Man’s Nature

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to God’s Work of Salvation

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to the Church

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to Sanctification

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to Inspiration

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to Eschatology

The Responsibility of the Preacher in Response to Cultural Relevance

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO HIS CALLING

The preacher of God’s Word has quite the responsibility. Jesus’ brother James realized this and wrote in James 3:1 that not many should become teachers of God’s word because teachers will be judged with greater strictness. Yet, there is a specific call to preaching. The call to preach is not a personal desire or choice. It is not carrying on the “family business.” It is not a way to gain favor with God. The call to preaching is given by God, and the obedient servant of God will accept His calling. It will be a delight to the redeemed individual called to preach because he understands that even though preaching is foolishness to the perishing, it is the power of God to those who believe (1 Cor 1:18). Preaching is the method that God has chosen to proclaim His message to all the earth (Isa. 34:1). Preaching is the method that pleases God to save those that believe (1 Cor 1:21).

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 that God does not typically give the call to preach to those who are wise according to worldly standards, nor to those that are powerful or of noble birth. God chooses the foolish to confound the wise, the weak to shame the strong, the lowly and despised to bring down those who are high and lofty. He does all this “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (v. 29). The individual called to preach is to respond to God’s calling to preach in humility. He is to realize that he was not chosen for his uniqueness or worth. He was chosen so that he may have the awesome responsibility to proclaim the gospel to the world. This individual is not to boast in his own ministry, for Jesus said that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt 16:18). He does not need the preacher. The call to preach is a privilege and an honor. The preacher has a responsibility to his calling. It is to understand his role in the ministry of God. He is to happily accept his responsibility, and if he is to boast, he is to boast only in the Lord (1 Cor 1:30).

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO GOD’S NATURE

The purpose of preaching is to bring glory to God. Therefore, the preacher has a responsibility in his preaching to explain God in a way that brings out God’s nature and His attributes. The Bible is full of explanations of who God is and how He relates to mankind on a personal level. Because the Bible is full of explanations of who God is, it should not be hard to bring out those aspects in preaching, if the preacher is preaching expositionally. If one is preaching through a certain book of the Bible, one should be careful to address God’s nature and make it applicable to the listeners. For example, when preaching Romans 8, the preacher should not overlook the nature of the Holy Spirit and of Jesus Christ as man’s intercessors. When preaching Genesis 1, the preacher should not fail to show God’s omnipotence and eternality. When preaching Hebrews 4, the preacher should make sure to show the Jesus was sinless, although He was “tempted in all points as we are” (v. 15).

Good preaching will always teach the listener something about the nature of God and about the nature of mankind. When the preacher draws truths about God’s nature expositionally from the text of the Bible, reverence and the fear of the LORD will be natural results, and many times repentance and revival will follow. Also, preaching about God and His nature keeps the preacher from focusing on himself or his own stories. Therefore it is much easier to successfully accomplish the goal of preaching, which is bringing glory to God.

Because the nature of God is so prevalent throughout the Bible, a series of expositional sermons on a specific aspect of God is also a good way of remaining faithful to the purpose of preaching. Discussing God’s nature draws the attentive listener out from his own life and into the realm of the heavenlies. This increases the listener’s appreciation and love for God and how God deals with mankind. Thus, the Christian matures and God receives the glory.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO MAN’S NATURE

While preaching God’s nature, man’s nature will naturally also come to light. Ultimately, for man to repent and turn to God, man’s nature must be addressed. So the preacher has a responsibility to address man’s nature. Just as the Bible is full of explanations about God and His nature, the Bible is also full of explanations about man and his nature. Man is naturally sinful. There is none righteous on their own account (Rom 3:23). The only way to be accepted of God is to be redeemed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-10). Proper preaching will address man’s nature. This will also naturally lead to preaching about the need for a Savior, which is solely found in Jesus Christ. For no other name under heaven given among men can save an individual from his deserved eternal damnation (Acts 4:12).

When preaching about man’s nature and his reliance upon God for salvation, the individual either is humbled before God or grows more hard-hearted toward him. In either case, the preaching of man’s nature brings no glory to man, but gives all glory to God for His gracious dealings with mankind. This fulfills the purpose of bringing the glory to God in preaching. This style of preaching may not be appropriate every week, because it is direct and offensive to the proud, but it must be addressed from time to time because it calls sinners to repentance. This is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of preaching, and when listeners are responding and coming to faith in Jesus Christ it is easy for the preacher to think he is very successful. But it is very important to remember that the preacher is merely a mouthpiece of God, and therefore all glory and credit should be given to Him for His grace and for the power of the Holy Spirit.

Preaching about man’s nature sometimes can be intimidating knowing that it will offend some people. But the preacher is called to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), and this is one aspect that is a necessity of a successful preaching ministry of God.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO GOD’S WORK OF SALVATION

Perhaps the most exciting part and the most crucial aspect of preaching is discussing the redemptive work of Jesus Christ toward mankind. If while preaching about salvation the glory is given to mankind, then the preacher has failed to properly present God’s work of salvation. If a preacher preaches a sermon and the listener hears and thinks that he can be redeemed and can continue to freely sin, the preacher has failed to properly present God’s work of salvation. When preaching about salvation the preacher has a responsibility to make sure that the listener can clearly understand that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and not that of works lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-10). This removes any glory or pride from the individual and gives God the glory He rightfully deserves.

God has chosen preaching as His method of declaring His salvation to mankind. It is not through visions, angels, or mysterious workings in the spiritual realm. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). If Christians are not faithful in declaring God’s work of salvation, not only have the Christians failed to fulfill one of their main purposes of being left as ambassadors in this world, but the world would have no hope of salvation. The world is always one generation away from being completely unregenerate. The preacher has a responsibility to declare the Gospel throughout all the world so that whoever might call on the LORD can be saved (Rom 10:13). Paul asked important questions to the Romans about this very issue in Romans 10:14-15a. He said, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” The preacher has a responsibility to preach about God’s work of salvation, and to do so brings God glory.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO THE CHURCH

The church of God is not a building. The church is a body of believers. Jesus Christ said that He would build His church, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt 16:19). The church is the pillar and ground of truth, and therefore truth must be declared among it (1 Tim 3:15). The church body is built up of individuals who have individual needs. The preacher, most often the pastor, is responsible to address these needs and feed his “sheep.” Therefore, it is many times tempting for the preacher to address certain topics and issues that he feels are relevant to specific sheep within the congregation. This may seem logical at first, but is usually very dangerous.

The preacher has a responsibility to declare all of God’s word. In preaching topically the preacher will more than likely avoid tough passages and is susceptible to “hobby-horse” preaching. Preaching topically also makes it very easy to pick and choose verses which can be pieced together to make a sermon. Doing so often rips the verses from their true context and allows for the Bible to say things it really is not intended to say. Therefore, preaching expositionally is essentially the “safest” way of preaching. It allows for continuity. The Bible is great to take book by book, verse by verse. Doing so allows for the church to grow in knowledge of the Bible and in spiritual maturity. The preacher is not alone in his preaching, for the Holy Spirit is great at taking the passage preached and addressing it to a multitude of personal needs throughout the church. Also, when preaching expositionally it is much easier to address the passages in their original context and be able to correctly apply them to current culture and life issues. Therefore, when keeping the continuity of the Bible as God intended and keeping the verses in context, respect and authority is given to God’s word, not the preacher. It is also easier for the preacher to give the glory to God, rather than give the glory to himself.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO SANCTIFICATION

Sanctification is vital in the preaching ministry. Its importance cannot be overemphasized. The preacher himself has a responsibility to be sanctified out of the world. It is a requirement for the preacher of God’s Word to be blameless (1 Tim 3:2). This allows for the preacher of God to be more “invisible” to the hearers. If the preacher is set apart for the glory of God, God is then able to use him as a mouthpiece to proclaim His word.

Within every sermon there must be a reverence for God. Sunday service is not stand-up comedy hour. The preacher must exemplify the fear of God is both his own demeanor and within his speech. God takes sanctification very seriously. Moses and Aaron were not allowed into the Promised Land because they failed to sanctify God properly before the nation of Israel (Num 20:12). The preacher must exemplify holiness if he expects for his sermon to be taken seriously, and if he expects to be taken seriously himself. God demands holiness (1 Pet 1:15-16, 2 Cor. 6:14-16). Holiness is not a decision the believer makes for himself, it is a decision that has already been made for Him. Therefore, one has a responsibility to preach in a sanctified way.

The Bible is a sanctified book. It is the final authority for all areas in life, and both the content and the delivery should treat the Bible as such. If the preacher is set apart from this world, sanctifies God in his preaching, and treats the Bible as the one-of-a-kind book that it is, then glory will be given to God. Preaching that is done in this way will challenge the congregation to live set apart unto God themselves. Preaching done in this way also leaves little room for the preacher to receive the glory for his labors. It will be obvious to the congregation that he goal is not to be popular, or to get people to laugh, but to give God the proper fear and reverence that He  expects and commands from the whole earth. As Psalm 33:8 says, “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.”

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO INSPIRATION

As already stated, the Bible is the final authority for all people in all aspects in life. The Apostle Paul, toward the end of his own ministry, told young Timothy to “Preach the word. Be instant in season and out of season: reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2). The Word is to be what is preached. The preacher’s message should not come from psychology books, Christian books, or himself. The message preached is from God Himself. “For all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16-17). The preacher does not have to add anything to the Bible to make it more complete. The Bible is sufficient for all people at all times.

When preaching the Bible should be treated for what it is: God’s word. The Bible many times is not clear to the unbeliever. However, it is not the preacher’s job to defend the Bible, but to declare it. The Holy Spirit will draw men unto the truth presented in the Bible. It is the preacher’s job to stay faithful to the Scriptures. The Spirit is able to use a message that remains faithful to the Word of God.

When preaching, one should make sure to take the Bible for what it says. It should not be overly spiritualized. It should not be interpreted in an overly analogous way. It should be interpreted literally, understanding that the Bible was written to a specific people in a specific time period with specific customs and idioms.

Every word of God is powerful and important. The Psalmist said in Psalm 12:6, “The words of God are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” When the preacher has the right view of interpretation and of the Bible’s authority, God is given the glory.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO ESCHATOLOGY

Jesus could return at any moment. The way one preaches should acknowledge this. Preaching is a vital ministry as the church anticipates Christ’s return. The church is to make sure that they are meeting together, and exhorting one another, especially as Christ’s return is anticipated more and more (Heb 10:25). Understanding that the LORD can return at any moment will result in preaching with urgency.

The preacher must have a proper understanding of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this earth. There is a balance that must be established, and this can be done through proper preaching. The preacher should be convinced of the reality that Jesus could come at any moment. This should drive the passion for preaching, and help the preacher understand its importance to relaying the truths of God to the congregation. The preacher is an ambassador in this world (2 Cor 5:20). His sermons should be focused on the eternal future of the souls to whom he is ministering. When he looks at the congregation he should see sheep that need shepherding.

Preaching with a correct understanding of eschatology in preaching will naturally emphasize the urgency for the hearer to either to accept or reject God’s message of grace. No matter how good the preacher is, or how clear his message, there will always be those who are rebellious in heart and reject Christ’s free gift of salvation. This has been the case since the beginning of time, and will even continue through to the end of Christ’s millennial reign on earth (Rev 20:8).  Also, having this urgency in preaching helps keep away the natural tendencies of the preacher to take credit for his work and for his preaching. It draws the attention to God’s coming judgment of sin, and draws men to repentance. Therefore, the preacher has a responsibility to understand eschatology and to make it a way of bringing the glory to God and not to himself.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PREACHER IN RESPONSE TO CULTURAL RELEVANCE

In preaching, one must stay faithful to the word of God. This means that he must understand the context and the historical setting of each passage he preaches. Yet, sermons are not to be merely factual lectures or lessons. Sermons must enable the listener to understand God’s specific will and how to obey it. This requires the ability to apply the material from the setting of a world two-thousand to six-thousand years old to today. This can be a challenge, especially in dealing with books like Leviticus or Numbers. But, it should be done, and can be successfully accomplished without taking things out of context.

The Bible is relevant for today, and God has much to say in response to the day to day lifestyles of all people, whether it be a tribe in Papua New Guinea or to businessmen in Japan. The preacher is to help people understand the relationship between historical Israel and today’s modern world. God is alive. He cares and loves all people and offers salvation to all people (John 3:16). It is the duty of the preacher to proclaim this good news to all people.

The preacher should not overburden himself to try to make everything fit into modern lingo or dialogue. The Holy Spirit is the illuminator of God’s word. The preacher is simply the proclaimer of God’s Word. This is once again so that God receives the glory when one is able to understand and apply the Bible to one’s daily life.

God’s standards have not changed since the foundation of this earth. Salvation by grace through faith has remained a constant since the fall. Although people might think there are new issues, new sins, and new ways of thinking, Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8), and there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9,14). The preacher should not feel pressured to address “new” issues when the issue of sin and man’s responsibility to God still remains an everyday relevant message to be dealt with and preached. To God be the glory.