Seminary Blog

Don’t Judge Me!

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/23/2017 - 09:44

Standing for biblical truth elicits many negative responses from those outside the church as well as from some within. This is not surprising since Jesus told His disciples that they would be hated on account of Him (John 15:18-19, 1 John 3:13). While we may simply shrug this off as part of the reality of life, what is more challenging to navigate is the suggestion that by using the word “sin” for certain activities, we violate Jesus’ command not to judge. In popular sentiment, “do not judge” means that one cannot say any behavior is wrong. This understanding is pervasive, but it is severely flawed.[1]

There are pitfalls of judging that we must avoid, but doing so does not mean we cannot call sin what God has called sin. In fact, if we refuse to do so, we act as God’s judge, claiming that our perspective on the situation trumps His own. Similar to the rejection of God’s testimony in 1 John 1:10 and 5:10, this is tantamount to calling God a liar. We must call sin, sin, but we must also remember that God knows all of the details of the situation. We never will, and we often lack key information. As John 7:24 notes, we must not judge by mere appearances but must make a just judgment. If we wish to do so, we are wise to listen well and listen long, remembering the folly of giving an answer too quickly (Proverbs 18:13).

Jesus frequently identified sins, and Paul did the same. Jesus gave instructions for how to deal with a brother who has sinned against you (Matthew 18), and Paul told the Corinthians that he had already judged the brother who was engaged in sexual sin with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5). Even the Matthew 7 passage most commonly used to prohibit judging includes parameters for identifying sin in someone else’s life.[2] None of these required activities would be possible if identifying something as sin were not permitted. Furthermore, if you cannot rebuke someone else who has wronged you, there is no room even to say, “Don’t judge me.”

In addition to identifying certain behaviors as sinful, believers must judge in at least three other senses: evaluating the merits of a dispute between fellow Christians, evaluating the character of ministry candidates, and evaluating the teachings of those who claim to speak in the name of the Lord.[3] With respect to the first, Paul chides the Corinthians for failing to do so (1 Corinthians 6). Rather than turning to fellow believers to settle a dispute, some went to the courts. In doing so, they guaranteed defeat regardless of the outcome. In the pastoral epistles, Paul lists many qualifications for ministry candidates, primarily focused on character (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).[4] The evaluation of these qualifications requires wise judgment. Third, believers are commanded not to believe every spirit but to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). In addition to the content of the message, understanding the character of the speaker is quite important in this evaluation.

While many activities commonly associated with judging are actually required Christian duties, there are some pitfalls that we must avoid, the first of which is hypocrisy. In Matthew 7, Jesus refers to a person concerned with the speck in a brother’s eye instead of being concerned with the log in his own eye. In Romans 2:1-3, Paul rebukes those who pass judgment on others while they themselves do the same things. Before focusing on others, we must deal with the sin in our own lives. Whether it is the same sin we see in others or something completely different, let the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s conviction address us first. This does not mean that we cannot speak to others about sin until we are completely done with sin (that will never happen), but rather that we have dealt significantly and in an ongoing manner with our own sin.

Another pitfall associated with judging is a condemning attitude.[5] I recently saw a friend who was called out for a mistake. Such was fine, but what came with it was not. In addition to calling out the error, I saw broad-brush insults and an attitude of arrogant superiority. If we are tempted to think that someone is beyond hope or that we are far superior to them, let us remember that most of the heroes in the Bible made extreme mistakes. What is more, all of us are just one bad decision away from a radically different life. Our role is not to condemn. That must be left to God. This, of course, is part of the reason that we must warn about sin. Since sin and the wrath of God are real, we must warn others about the coming judgment. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”

Just as condemnation is not our role, there are times when we are tempted to address a situation that is none of our business. Romans 14-15 help us here. If the matter is something of a preference rather than a biblical mandate, we are told to keep our perspective to ourselves. Two questions may provide assistance. Are we trying to enforce a law that no longer has authority based on the finished work of Christ (clean and unclean foods, for example)? Are we trying to enforce a law that never had biblical authority in the first place? Determining the difference can be challenging, but it is a task that believers can accomplish by the power of the Spirit.

There are contexts in which Christians must judge, but we must judge justly. As we do so, may we remember the manifold grace and mercy of God in our lives and respond to others in a way that affirms not only the seriousness of sin but also the love and forgiveness that God offers through Christ Jesus.

[1]David Croteau addresses misunderstandings about judging in chapter 7 of his helpful book, Urban Legends of the New Testament.
[2]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 38.
[3]In the future, the disciples will take part in judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), and believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
[4]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 183.
[5]Croteau affirms the same with respect to Matthew 7:1-2.

Categories: Seminary Blog

4 Reasons college ministry is a sacrifice worth making

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/23/2017 - 09:16

Can a small church really have an impact on a college campus? Even if it has a tiny staff, lacks modern facilities, and has no coffee bar? The answer is unequivocally yes.

Almost five years ago, my wife and I moved to South Carolina to pastor a church situated just a few blocks from a small college. When I began to ask local pastors about the campus, they joked that it was as spiritually alive as the vast cemetery that bordered it. One church in town had a handful of college students on Sunday. That was it.

So we set to work. And it was rough. College ministry took place during odd hours. Initially, the staff were less than enthusiastic. Most students were at games and practices, studying, or sleeping in on Sunday morning.

I now understand why most churches give up on campus ministry: It’s inefficient and can produce frustrating results. Campus ministry sucks up time, money, and energy that can be easily spent elsewhere. But I want to encourage churches like us to persevere. Ministering to students will cost a church a lot, but it’s worth it for the sake of Christ’s kingdom.

Here are four realities that should drive even small churches to minister to college students.

  1. They need the church more than you need them.

When a small church begins to pour into college ministry, it makes no practical sense any way you slice it. Spending your precious resources to reach penniless young people seems like financial foolishness. Even if they begin to attend or even join your church, they can’t give back in a substantial monetary way.

On top of that, college students bring heavy spiritual burdens to a congregation. Just sit down for lunch with one sometime. They will unload about the inability to afford the next semester, the stress of their parents’ looming divorce, the panic of failure on the field, in the classroom, or in a relationship.

One of my best friends is regularly burdened for the nominally Christian students he tries to mentor throughout the semester. Many of them know they are living in sin. They struggle with guilt and aimlessness. In conversation I’ll ask him, “Are any of these kids going to church?” To which he says, “No.” “Are they reading their Bibles? Are they praying?” He only smiles knowingly. They don’t realize it, but we both do. They need a local church—a body of believers to disciple, challenge, confront, and encourage them week by week.

  1. They have theological and experiential hang-ups.

College ministry often means dealing with the fallout of entertainment-driven youth group. The only contact that many Christian and non-Christian high school graduates have with the church is bounce-off-the-walls retreat weekends, gross out games, and Nerf guns. When they arrive at college, local congregations have the hard, unpleasant task of walking them through the let down of joining “normal” (read boring) church.

They may come to college with a bad taste in their mouth from hypocrisy they witnessed in a home church. Many international students may come to America with a completely secular worldview. I met a student this year who marveled that we had a church building like it was some kind of tourist attraction, saying, “I’ve never been in a church building before!” Churches who reach out to these students must have the patience to share the gospel slowly and intentionally. It will require lots of time, and still many students may disappoint and fall away.

Students can be a bit like theological kayakers. Minor rapids feel like waterfalls and every cultural or personal issue threatens to overturn the boat. What they need are spiritual fathers and mothers who will gently and calmly talk through their real issues and struggles. They need mentors who are willing to listen, willing to ask probing questions, willing to love them as they work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

  1. College ministry is an investment in the future of other churches.

Perhaps the most selfless aspect of college ministry is that you are going to so much effort to pursue and invest in young men and women who will leave in four years or less. This alone seems exhausting. Wouldn’t churches—especially small churches—be wiser to invest in reaching established families in the community?

Campus ministry requires a kingdom perspective. There is a reason why the Lord is gathering students from across the world into your city. It is an opportunity for churches to invest in the future of the capital “C” Church. This is the greatest joy and act of selflessness: training up disciples of Christ and sending them out to serve other local churches. Our ministry among even a small handful of students can have immense kingdom impact as they depart our fellowship and enter the world to become faithful husbands, wives, businessmen, teachers, and church members elsewhere.

  1. You will see mustard seed success stories.

Certainly, college ministry will drain your church. However, you’ll be surprised by how your church comes to love—even need—these students. Our college students have become vital to every aspect of our ministry: music, children’s Sunday school, ushering, outreach, prayer, small groups, the list goes on. Their energy and enthusiasm can inject a church with new life. The Spirit has given them gifts that were meant to build up your church. (And they make dependable babysitters!)

I think you’ll also be surprised how college students come to appreciate the authenticity of “boring” church. Many of them are just looking for honest relationships. So much of college life can be about faking it and hiding insecurities. When a church is comfortable with its uncoolness, it allows students to feel safe to open up and ask questions. Doors for the gospel will swing wide.

Pray about how you and your church—large or small—can begin to engage the student population in your community. Four years is longer than you realize. So much discipleship can happen if churches will see the need for the Gospel on these campuses. Pray and strive for mustard seed-sized success. Success is a small Bible study with three or four young men. Success is two students catching a vision for church membership. Success is a student spending time with an elderly church member.

These small successes will require a vital selflessness from your church. We have to trust that though Christ’s kingdom begins as a mustard seed, it grows to become a large tree (Luke 13:18-19).  May the love of Christ compel us into the sticky lives of these young men and women with patience, mercy, and grace.

 

The post 4 Reasons college ministry is a sacrifice worth making appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students?

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 12:00

How do we make theology engaging and interesting for students? While I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out, and am always looking for some creative and new ideas, here are four lessons I have learned from roughly two decades of teaching and speaking to students on theological issues ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Older Men, Younger Men Need You

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 10:48

There is a sad and wide gulf between older men and younger men today. Generational discrimination and segregation are alive and, well, discouraging.

We have to pass the torch somehow, but so many of the bridges have been burnt. Younger guys need older guys. Older men, by God’s design and grace, there are things we will get from you and no one else. Especially those of us without dads, or Christian dads, or engaged and intentional Christian dads. Yet the decades sadly so rarely seem to play well together.

As a younger man myself, I have tried to identify how exactly older guys can love, exhort, and invest in younger men around them — men like me. On behalf of other younger men, with humility and boldness, we plead with our older brothers for five things.

1. LOVE

Young men are often asking of older men, “Do you care about me? Do you really care?” We can watch YouTube videos for advice, wisdom, and inspiration for life’s complexities. With Christian blogs today, we can access answers to most every life question without even picking up the phone. We should still ask you, but we don’t need older men mainly because they’re smarter.

Young men need steady love, a love that shadows the love of the Father (1 John 2:13-14). We need that, and we are on a journey with monsters on the horizon — monsters deep in our own hearts and all around us. You, the older man, are not necessarily our dad, but you are a “father’s friend” — a “neighbor who is near” (Prov 27:10), who teaches us about “reproach,” “prudence,” “suffering,” “adultery,” and “cursing” (Prov 27:11-14) — how to do (or avoid) all of it. The king says “do not forsake … your father’s friend.” So, we’re here. At least some of us are. Not forsaking. Maybe annoying, but not forsaking.

2. STORIES

Young men need to hear, “Everything’s going to be okay.” Most days we’re pretty sure our lives are an utter failure, a disaster zone even.

We hear: “You’re not a man.” We need: “You are a man. Let’s act like it.” We hear: “You can’t beat this.” We need: “I know that voice. This is how you fight it.” We hear: “She doesn’t love you, so life is worthless.” We need: “This is a season. God knows your needs. Talk to me about it.”

God taught you lessons when you were young. You pray, “From my youth you have taught me,” and, “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Ps 71:17-18). Now, for every gray hair, we want one story of God’s faithfulness, one lesson from years of learning God and his world. One “you’ll be okay” for every silver lock.

Was there a time when you had that same life experience? Tell us about it. We need to hear, “God is faithful in that situation, because I’ve seen it — I have felt it. I don’t know what it will look like for you, but he is with you, and he is faithful. And so am I.” Tell relevant, helpful stories. You can’t see the end of any young man’s story. But you can be a historical anchor for the hope that God is actually involved in this tragic world — in a young man’s tragic life — because sometimes we’re not so sure.

3. PRAYER

It’s hard for most Christians to spend time alone with God. For you to take time with the Father — with your Father — to intercede for us, to pray for our good, and to ask for wisdom for us, means more than you know. With all the brokenness between generations today, it would be an unusual and undeserved blessing to take your prayers for granted.

Paul feared the Ephesians would “lose heart,” so he prayed that God would, “grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit” (Eph 3:13, 16). We often lose heart while we make our own way. We need strength. We’re praying our immature hearts out. Take those ten or fifteen years you have on us and do with them in prayer what we haven’t learned to do yet as unskilled, inexperienced, and scared younger men.

4. SELF-SECURITY

Don’t feel the need to compete with us. We’re not your peers, so don’t measure yourself against us. If we need your more mature, fatherly help, chances are we’re not getting it from our dads. Most guys who have distant or absent fathers feel like they have been competing with other men their whole life — for stats, for affection, approval, and acceptance.

Be a friend in the war of life — a fellow soldier. We need support, friendship, and non-competitive camaraderie like that — we need a person to manifest to us, face to face, God’s disinterest in comparative performance. It’s really hard to “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). But we might just learn how to do it for others through your example.

One of the most practical shapes this takes is in the form of good listening. In listening to a young man talk about himself, you will hear embedded in his words a “plea for grace” (Psalm 86:6), and you will be more equipped to speak “a word fitly spoken,” which is “like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov 25:11).

We also might need help hearing you, because we can be impatient and stubborn and defensive (what do you do with an apple of gold anyway?). God models this humility and patience: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). God is kind because he doesn’t have anything to prove. That security produces amazing results in relationships, and in men in general.

5. VULNERABILITY

Be patient. We are slow. Don’t feel like you need to yell at us. We’ve been yelled at. Be firm if we need it. We need to be able to ask you anything — and get an honest, non-judgmental answer. This includes wisdom for Christian growth in general — in fighting sin. We need to feel, “We’re in this together,” not, “You’re such a failure.”

Most men already feel like failures. Be original, and be with us. Is 1 Cor 10:13 really true? “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” Help us to learn to practice the tension of that verse: that it is “common” — not weird or stigmatized or something to keep in the dark — and to embrace the call to “endure it,” which is nearly impossible without community. We need a place — a man — that challenges us to grow, but also makes it safe for us to confess.

EVERY BOY WANTS TO BE A MAN

This was not written for the courtroom, fathers. These “needs” are not a condemnation of you. No, they are meant for your veneration. “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who has been from the beginning” (1 John 2:13). Young men have failed older men in many ways — through incompetence and inconsistency, through shortcomings and shameful acts, through critiquing everyone else and coddling ourselves — our lives our fraught with failure. It’s true.

No matter what the young, stubborn punk in your life says, we want to mature; we want the skilled, heavy, healing hand of corrective (not punitive) discipline; we want to be told we’re wrong; we want to grow. Every young man wants to be a man who can receive the love of Christ, and out of that, become a skilled lover of God, a helpful lover of friends, and a serving lover of a woman.

We want to be like you inasmuch as you are like Christ (1 Cor 11:1).

 

This article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org. Used by permission.

The post Older Men, Younger Men Need You appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why I Don’t Want to Raise an Obedient Child

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 10:06

It’s funny the things people will ask me when they discover I have fifteen children. Most times, the questions are a barrage of “How do you do it?” and “Don’t you know what causes that?” Sometimes the questions are heartfelt — “How did you get to adopt four children?” or “Why have so many?”

But one of the most important questions that rarely gets asked is “What’s the most important thing I can teach my children?”

Of course the most vital thing to teach any child is the redemptive power that faith in Jesus gives us. But past this, most parents just tend to focus on raising well-behaved kids.

As if being well-behaved is the end-all goal of Christianity. Be good. If I have “good” kids then I am a good parent. If my kids know all the rules and follow them then I have done my job. An added bonus may include a college education or an exemplary skill of some sort, but truly it just boils down to their behavior, right?

Wrong.

I can see how we easily fall into this trap … and yes, it’s a trap. When the children are small we are basically relegated to making sure the child survives the day — no matter how many times they try and self-destruct between jumping off the couch, climbing out of their crib, and swallowing everything possible to block their windpipe. We begin to think to ourselves that if we could ever just get through a meal at a restaurant without being humiliated, make it through Publix without the three-year-old having a total meltdown, if we could just get them to listen to us and do what we say, we will have done it. Done our jobs. Get those little wee beasties tamed and they may even manage to make us as moms and dads look pretty good in the process.

I am in no way saying that obedience itself is not important. It is. In fact, your child’s life may very well depend on them stopping when you ask them to thereby avoiding being run over in the street. We must teach our children to listen to us and obey, but this is something that is rarely accomplished completely at a very young age and I have my sneaking suspicions that’s why the Lord gave us a solid sixteen-to-twenty years with our children under our wings.

But while my short term goal may be obedience, I do not want an obedient twenty-one year old. I want a young adult who knows the rules and when to break them. “No fighting in school,” may be the rule, but I want a teenager who knows when to stick up for a friend and get a bump or bruise in the process. “Live peaceably with all men,” say the scriptures, but I want my child to know it is alright to not be “peaceable” when someone is trash talking another classmate. Playing to win may be the unspoken rule, but when my child chooses all the school “losers” to be on her team for dodge ball and they get creamed, my child just won at the game of life.

You see, without watching ourselves, we can accidentally raise a child who is just obedient and not resourceful or full of initiative. We could raise a child who knows the rules and not the guiding principles, so they never weigh out which is the greater need. And I have two really good examples of this.

Fourteen years ago, I was heavily pregnant with my fourth child. I had taken my three daughters, then six, four, and three years old to play on the beach while my friend and I talked. The girls were skimming along in the waves in barely a foot of water when the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Prompted by what I can only describe as a “Holy Warning,” I yelled “Get out now!” to the children in a voice that screamed terror. The girls sprinted out of the water and ran 30 feet up to the dune. They then turned around and asked, “Why, Mama?”

Thank God they ran before they asked. A tiger shark began rapidly approaching as they sprinted out of the water and I saw it heading straight for where the girls were playing. Surely a tragedy had been avoided because they listened quickly. Shaken, I gathered them up and left the beach that day thanking God for their safety and ever since that day, “shark” has been the buzzword around our house we use when someone doesn’t listen and obey quickly.

Fast forward about ten years. A four-year-old cousin is having a surf party at the beach. About twenty five children are playing in the waves, trying out surfboards and enjoying a fun day in the ocean. One of the dads who is a local surfing legend leans over to me and says, “Shark. Get the kids out.” In my “do-it-or-else-you’ll-be-sorry” voice I promptly tell every kid to get out of the water immediately. Out of the twenty five kids, five decide they would rather play than listen. I tell them there’s a shark in the water and those stinkers start arguing with me that since they don’t see it I must be wrong. And guess who’s still in the water between all these five-to-eight year old arguers? My sixteen-year-old daughter. Daly Kay had become quite a swimmer and reasoned that since she was a strong swimmer she would rather stay in the water and gather up these yahoos to get them out of the water than leave them in there defenseless. Even as she disobeyed the clear commands to leave the water, she was pulling them out to safety. She broke the rules. She disobeyed. But she did the greater thing. She saved these kids from their own foolishness.

My kids aren’t perfect and you can be guaranteed that I’m not either. There have been plenty of times that we’ve had to learn the hard way to obey. But at the end of the journey, I don’t just want an obedient adult. I want a faith-filled bold individual that knows the rules and when to break them. I want my children to be so full of his Word, favor, and grace that they walk in confidence knowing their Heavenly Father loves them and their parents have their back. If we only focus on the short term goal of teaching our children obedience, rather than the long term goal of boldness through faith in Christ (and what his sacrifice bought us: favor, grace, and good standing with our heavenly Father), we will have missed our opportunity as parents to raise up a generation of world-changers.

Originally posted on www.believewithme.com by Lyette Reback. Used by permission.

The post Why I Don’t Want to Raise an Obedient Child appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Recommended Resources

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 05/19/2017 - 12:00

Dear Dr. Craig,

I became a believer last year after one of your books helped remove an obstacle to my faith. I’ve studied the Bible on and off for roughly 10 years, but I now have a renewed sense of urgency and desire for diving deeper into scripture and theology. But I don’t know where to start with theology (apart from Defenders). I was raised in a non-religious family and have little background knowledge on the different denominations and theological schools of thought in Christendom.

The huge number of theology books available make it seem impossible to know what to choose. Do you have any suggestions for systematic theology texts (and anything else you might think helpful)? ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why do we gather for corporate worship? Five essential reasons

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/19/2017 - 08:56

Modern technology provides many benefits. Information can be exchanged at an unprecedented rate. The level of productivity can be astounding. Face-to-face conversations can be had with people halfway around the world. But there are also dark sides to this technology. We as Christians are very aware of the many common snares of this modern technology, not least of which is the ease of access to pornography. For Christians who are trying to walk in purity and holiness, the challenge begins with the confrontation of lurid images and tempting captions on seemingly innocuous websites such as Facebook and news outlets.

There is, however, a more subtle snare lurking in this world of immediate access to information that affects Christians in a unique way: the temptation of allowing online sermons to displace one’s commitment to hearing God’s Word preached in person alongside fellow covenant members at the place and time where their local church gathers. Don’t misunderstand: listening to sermons online is generally a good thing. But when it takes the place of gathering with God’s people to hear God’s Word in person from the appointed shepherd of your soul, much of what God intended for our growth as followers of Jesus gets lost.

Here are five important reasons why it is essential that every Christian gather with other Christians in the same local church weekly to hear the preaching of God’s Word from the undershepherds of that congregation.

  1. A Christian’s faith is fueled by hearing God’s Word

    The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome and plainly said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). This has implications for not just the unbeliever, but for the believer also. We will be most inclined to listen and engage with preaching by being present where it is preached alongside others who have also come for the express purpose of hearing and submitting to God’s Word proclaimed. This is clearly one of the reasons the author of Hebrews commands that Christians not neglect regularly gathering together (Heb. 10:25).

  1. Hearing God’s Word from your own shepherd is unique to every other encounter with God’s proclaimed Word

    It is one thing to hear your favorite preacher expound God’s Word to his church or to a random conference crowd. It is an entirely different experience to sit in person and hear God’s Word expounded and applied directly to you from your pastor, the man who knows your struggles, difficulties, and doubts, and who will give an account for your soul (Heb. 13:17).

  1. Never underestimate the power of personal connection

    I like talking to my wife on the phone, but a phone conversation can never match the powerful impact of sitting across from her, face-to-face, and talking with her as I look into her eyes. Likewise, there is a powerful connection made between a shepherd and his flock when he preaches God’s Word to those he has been thinking about and praying for as he prepared. The Holy Spirit uniquely uses eye contact, facial expressions, and body language in both the preacher and his hearers to create a powerful connection between them during a sermon. A pastor feeds off the visible reaction of his hearers. A congregation is moved by the pastor’s burden over their souls conveyed in the sermon.

  1. Spiritual fruit comes from hearing with others

    When the church gathers, the Holy Spirit works in unique and powerful ways that are missing in private gatherings (1 Cor. 14). When a congregation collectively sits under the preached Word, a level of accountability is established and nourished among the hearers to urge each other to go and apply that sermon. A greater obligation to “do something” with the Word preached and to rely on one another for help and strength to obey it exists in this kind of community life that is not present when we listen in isolation or hop churches depending upon who is preaching that week.

  1. Public sermons lead to corporate discipleship

    Some form of one-on-one discipleship in a local church is essential for our personal growth as Christians. But while personal discipleship is a wonderful complement to the proclamation of God’s Word to the communal gathering of saints, it can never replace it, for it is one of the necessary marks of the church (Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.9). When the whole church hears God’s Word proclaimed, that Word then becomes the basis for further conversation and growth in the one-on-one discipleship conversations that follow. The sermon gets everyone on the same page; personal discipleship expands on the details of that page.

There is much about modern technology that can be redeemed for God’s purposes and glory, but what technology cannot do is replace God’s design for us to grow spiritually and to receive care for our souls. God has powerful and unique purposes for every Christian in the local church. So many of those purposes are fueled when a group of God’s redeemed people covenant together to gather in person with one another weekly to hear from God through his preached Word.

 

This article was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

When God Moves Your Heart

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 05/18/2017 - 12:00

Where does inspiration come from? Where does the motivation to use one’s gifts and passions to make a difference begin? Jane Goodall said, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Are we the source of action or does that spark come from something else? I would like to propose God is the beginning of movements that bring change; history is the record of mankind’s response to the divine prompting ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Bible Reading in the Marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 16:17

On Sunday evening, March 18, 1855, Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) looked to his Bible and declared in his sermon: “If these words were written by a man, we might reject them; but O let me think the solemn thought, that this book is God’s handwriting — that these words are God’s!”[1] For Spurgeon it was beyond the pale of sound reasoning for anyone to reject God’s words. He was not alone in those convictions; his wife Susannah (1832 – 1903) also believed in the divine authorship of Scripture. Reflecting on John 14:27, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,”[2] Susannah asserted that those “tender words” were words of “Jesus Christ himself, my gracious Lord and Master, who thus speaks, and I shall do well to ponder every weighty sentence as I listen to his loving voice.”[3] For Susannah, the words of Scripture were “the loving voice” of Jesus Christ. Hearing Scripture as the very voice of God formed the foundation of Charles and Susannah’s marriage.

Charles Spurgeon’s views about the Bible and marriage were cultivated in him from childhood by his grandparents and parents. Susannah Thompson was also raised in a Christian home and regularly heard biblical preaching at London’s prominent Baptist congregation, New Park Street Chapel. While attending a special service at the nearby Poultry Chapel, Susannah was converted. She described her conversion as, “the dawning of the true light of my soul.”[4] Following that experience, however, she fell into a season of spiritual decline.

Shortly after Charles began his London ministry in the spring of 1854, he learned of Susannah’s spiritual struggles, and he took a pastoral interest in her. He provided her with a copy of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as an aid to her spiritual growth.[5] He inscribed the book: “Miss Thompson, with desires for her progress in the blessed pilgrimage.”[6] Charles and Susannah’s friendship deepened and on August 2, 1854, they were engaged. Susannah “knelt before God and praised and thanked Him … for His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man.”[7] 

As Charles busied himself with ministry, he also facilitated Susannah’s spiritual growth. One example is evident in his enlistment of her to read from the writings of the Puritan Thomas Brooks and to note salient quotes. Susannah’s findings were compiled for Spurgeon’s book, Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks. Susannah wrote that behind the compilation of Smooth Stones is a “sweet love-story” that “hides between the pages.”[8] 

Spurgeon also recognized the gift of Susannah to his own spiritual development as indicated by his requests for her prayers. He believed that her prayers would promote his “usefulness, and holiness, and happiness.”[9] Charles and Susannah were married on January 8, 1856 in a wedding ceremony that reflected their deepest convictions, rich in Scripture readings and proclamation.

The New Park Street Chapel was inadequate to hold the crowds who flocked to hear Spurgeon preach. Therefore, until larger more permanent facilities were secured, church leaders leased the nearby Surrey Gardens Music Hall for worship services. At the first service, (October 19, 1856) with thousands crowding the hall, seven people were trampled to death as mischief-makers cried “fire, fire.” A deacon rushed to Spurgeon’s home to deliver the tragic news to Susannah. Later, describing the experience, Susannah wrote: “I wanted to be alone, that I might cry to God in this hour of darkness and death.”[10] Charles was deeply shaken by the tragedy. However, his recovery was precipitated while reflecting on Scripture during a walk with Susannah. Turning to his wife he urged, “Oh, Wifey, I see it all now! Praise the Lord with me.”[11] Insightfully, Susannah framed a print of Matthew 5:11 and hung it on their bedroom wall for her husband’s daily reading and encouragement.[12] Susannah’s godliness helped Charles to weather the storm.

Charles Spurgeon’s philosophy of Bible reading provides the reasoning for how he and Susannah employed Scripture intake and prayer in their marriage. Spurgeon believed that the Bible should be read carefully, meditatively, and prayerfully. Though Spurgeon urged his congregation to read the Bible directly he also encouraged the use of study aids to assist in their understanding of Scripture. For Spurgeon, it was of utmost importance to see the relation between every passage and Christ. Spurgeon referred to this as finding the “spiritual meaning of the text.”[13] 

On January 31, 1892, at 11:05 p.m., Charles Spurgeon died in his room at the Hotel Beau Rivage in Mentone, France.[14] Susannah, his wife of thirty-six years, was by his bedside. She bowed her head and “thanked the Lord for the precious treasure so long lent to her, and sought, at the throne of grace, strength and guidance for the future.”[15] 

For Charles and Susannah Spurgeon, Bible intake and prayer characterized the beginning of their marriage and supported them through a lifetime of challenges. Their marriage, grounded in Scripture, faithful in prayer, was, in every way, “a spiritual partnership.”[16] 

ENDNOTES

[1] C.H. Spurgeon. “The Bible.” In The New Park Street Pulpit, Pilgrim ed. reprint Vol. 1. (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 111.

[2] Susannah quoted from The King James Version.

[3] Susannah Spurgeon and Charles Ray. Free Grace and Dying Love: Morning Devotions. (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 64. Included in the Banner of Truth edition is The Life of Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray. When citing the second part of the book, it will be noted simply as, Life.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife, and His Private Secretary, Reprint in 2 vols. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 2:6.

[5] Bunyan lived from 1628 – 1688. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress; published in 1678. Spurgeon’s initial reading of The Pilgrim’s Progress was around age six and he continued to read Bunyan’s masterpiece throughout his life, totaling some 100 times before he died.

[6] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:6-7.

[7] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:9.

[8] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:19.

[9] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:26.

[10] Charles Ray, Life, 164-66.

[11] Charles Ray, Life, 167.

[12] Charles Ray, Life, 168-9.

[13] This paragraph is deduced from Spurgeon’s sermon, “How to Read the Bible” from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim ed. Vol. xxv. (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1980), 625-636.

[14] Spurgeon often retreated to this hotel in Mentone seeking physical recovery and rest.

[15] C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 4:371.

[16] Ernest W. Bacon, Spurgeon: Heir of the Puritans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1968), 45.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

One Man and One Woman: The Created Order and the Problem of Same-Sex Marriage

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 15:29

The debate and tension over homosexuality has reached new levels in our modern society. After decades of work by activists, the governmental approval of same-sex marriage looks to be in the near future, and many feel will soon become a constitutional right for the homosexual community. Unfortunately, the Church itself has lost some in the winds of cultural change, and appears will lose many more if same-sex marriage becomes a constitutional right. With so much cultural change occurring, it has forced us to ask the hard question: is same-sex marriage wrong?

Same-sex marriage is fallacious based on its inability to fulfill the three main purposes of marriage as revealed in the created order. In looking at a small selection of verses from Genesis 1 and 2, we see that God designed marriage for one man and one woman to join together in a union for the purposes of procreation, complementarity, and reflection of the image of God. Though many on the other side of the debate may be dismissive of any argument constructed mostly from the Bible, Christians should uphold the priority of the biblical witness in this debate. We must also remember that simply because unbelievers discredit our use of the Bible as a foundation for our view, this does not invalidate the foundation of Scripture as a platform for argumentation. As one author puts it, “If Scripture is the norm that is not normed by any other norm, then we cannot set homosexuality aside as an issue of moral indifference.”

MARRIAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROCREATION

From the beginning of Genesis, we see that God had an intended purpose for his creation. He wasn’t like a child playing with Play- Doh, molding the clay based on a creative whim; he was the omnipotent Creator who had very specific reasons and purposes for his Creation, especially for the human race. We see in Genesis 1:27-28, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” It is evident that one major purpose of marriage is procreation. God made man and woman to join in marriage in order to carry out this goal. Kevin DeYoung rightly asserts, “[Only] two persons of the opposite sex can fulfill the procreative purposes of marriage.” Same-sex couples cannot fulfill this procreative purpose given by God.

Even though procreation is an important purpose of marriage it is not the only purpose. Sam Allberry writes, “Procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage (those unable to have children are no less married because of that), but it is clear that procreation is intended to be rooted in marriage.” Elevating procreation as the sole purpose actually harms marriages, making the validity of marriage based solely on the ability to have children. Stephen F. Noll writes, “It was an error of earlier ‘natural law’ teaching to see procreation as the obvious essence of marriage, thus making the marital relationship and act instrumental to the end of procreation.” While it is important to remember that procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage, it is a core facet. There is no refuting the fact that — biologically speaking — men and women are hard-wired for procreation through heterosexual marriages. However, if evangelicals wield the “procreation argument” as their primary argument, they must practice it in their own marriages.

MARRIAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF COMPLEMENTARITY

The second purpose of marriage established in the creative order is the complementarity of a man and a woman. Thomas Schmidt asserts, “[Male] and female are necessary counterparts.” In Genesis 2:18 reveals, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” When God created woman, he created another human who would complement the man in many ways. Schmidt writes, “The Genesis narrative affirms that male and female are different in correspondence to one another such that their union constitutes a completion.” This complementarity is not merely physical, but can only be achieved by humbling seeking union with one’s spouse (of the opposite gender).

In a discussion regarding the complementary nature of heterosexual marriage, one must address the reciprocal sexual desire that men have for women and that women have for men. Our sexual desire was created by God — more specifically — it was created to be enjoyed and expressed in a heterosexual relationship. In Genesis 2:23-24, the man saw his wife and desired her because she was different from the animals and different than he; there was a clear desire for a being that was a complement to him. This sexual desire between a man and a woman is what bonds them together and connects them intimately together to form one union. DeYoung calls this is a “reunion.” It is a reunion because the woman was made from man to be his complement. Sexuality and sexual union between a man and a woman is more than just fulfillment of sexual desire, it is something that unites us with our spouse and with God. Kathy Rudy writes, “Undergirding complementarity is the idea that God intends men and women to unite sexually, and that such sexual unions bring the couple into a sense of wholeness and closeness to God.” Rudy goes on to say, “Complementarity also leads to direct criticism of homosexuality. If male and female together signifies relationship with God and salvation, homosexuality becomes a symbol of everything the Christian is not.”

MARRIAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF REFLECTING THE IMAGE OF GOD

Finally, we can see from the created order that God designed man and woman to be joined together in marriage with the purpose of reflecting His image. Genesis 1:27-28a says, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them.” Man and woman were created to join together in marriage to mirror the Triune God. Erwin Lutzer writes, “Marriage brings a unity that is unlike anything else on this earth; indeed, it represents a unity found only in heaven — in God Himself !” The Trinitarian God of the Bible, who has revealed Himself as three persons in one being, is the God who created man and woman to bear offspring. This familial unit, created by God, is the only way to express the profundity of the Trinity in a creaturely way. A same-sex marriage does not have the capability to reflect the unity and diversity inherent in the Trinity. A same-sex marriage would simply model a reflection of a unitarian God — a God of unity in similarity. Only in a heterosexual marriage can the purpose of reflecting the image of the Trinitarian God be fulfilled.

CONCLUSION

Same-sex marriage violates the created order intended by God in the creation accounts of Genesis. For that reason, those wishing to affirm the veracity and consistency of Scripture, can only logically affirm marriage defined as between one man and one woman. Various texts from Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that God created marriage as an institution of a man and a woman to fulfill the purposes of procreation, complementarity, and reflecting the image of the Triune God. First, we saw that from a biological standpoint God created marriage for the purpose of procreation. Same-sex marriages are incapable of producing children on their own, which leads us to reject this union between two people of the same sex. Secondly, complementarity should be considered as a primary facet of marriage. The creation account shows that God intended to create Eve as a “suitable helper” for Adam. This simple declaration of God reveals that the animals were not “suitable” and another man was not “suitable” for Adam. Both of these together reveal that there is some sort of fulfillment that belongs to the role of women, not just in the physical sense, but in all senses, and vice versa. The final purpose of marriage, as it was originally created, is to reflect the image of the Triune God. Same-sex marriage cannot reflect the unity in diversity of the Trinity, which means that it cannot properly fulfill its purpose of reflecting the image of God. This can only be done through the creation of the familial unit of a husband, a wife, and their offspring.

Though the winds of culture are drastically tossing about many in the Church, no matter what the courts rule, we must stand firm in our defense of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. This was God’s original design and purpose, and we should humbly reflect that design and purpose in the life of the Church.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 15:21

A declaration from a coalition of evangelical leaders assembled by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, June 26, 2015

As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.

The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revela- tion, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.

Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.

The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • Teach the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • Affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including lgbt persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • Love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • Live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • Cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper. 

The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.

The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Goodness Is Good for Us

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 12:00

One summer, I drove from my parent’s home in New Jersey to where I was working in Minnesota. Somewhere in Indiana, I saw the all too familiar flashing lights of a state trooper. I was speeding, and I knew it. I was going sixty-eight in a fifty-five zone. I had a pit in my stomach. I hated the fact that I was caught. Not only does the speeding ticket cost money, but my ego took a hit as well. I was resentful. I don’t like being in the wrong. More than that, I hate being held accountable when I am wrong ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Muslim Worldview

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 11:12
The Detroit 10/40 Conference is being held this Thursday and Friday in Hamtramck, MI. I had a chance during the pre-conference this week to give a talk addressing the importance of recognizing and evaluating worldviews when sharing the gospel and offering some thoughts specifically on the Muslim worldview. Often we struggle with communicating the gospel... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 15:29

“It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.” That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity: an impatience with the Word of God.

The sentence above comes from Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today in an essay entitled, “Yawning at the Word.” In just a few hundred words, he captures the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible. We may wince when we read him relate his recent experiences, but we also recognize the ring of truth.

Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. “You’ll lose people,” the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses “would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.”

As Galli reflected, “Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality.”

Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.

As Mark Galli notes:

It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.

And Galli continues:

It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.

The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time—if not worse.

Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . . ourselves?

One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8 (ESV):

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Ezra and his companions stood on a platform before the congregation. They read the scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand: the Bible was read and explained and received.

As Hughes Oliphant Old comments, “This account of the reading of the Law indicates that already at the time of the writing of this text there was a considerable amount of ceremonial framing of the public reading of Scripture. This ceremonial framing is a witness to the authority of the Bible.” The reading and exposition took place in a context of worship as the people listened to the Word of God. The point of the sermon was simple: “to make clear the reading of the Scriptures.”

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation such that God’s people—young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well—hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word—not by congregational self-study.

In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We all, both individually and congregationally, neglect God’s Word to our own ruin.

As Jesus himself declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 

This article originally appeared at AlbertMohler.com. Used by permission.

Mark Galli, “Yawning at the Word,” Christianity Today [online edition], posted November 5, 2009. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/novemberweb-only/144-41.0.html

Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 1: The Biblical Period (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2007).

 

 

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Bring the Bible Home to Your Heart

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 15:17

We all want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

Who wants to feel the failure or share in the shame of being pegged like one “who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror . . . and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23–24)? It would seem like Bible application is an essential spiritual discipline to consciously pursue every time we encounter God’s word — but that depends on how we define “application.”

The key question we need to answer is what effect should regular Bible intake have on our hearts and lives — and how does it happen?

God’s Word Is for You

For starters, we should be clear that aiming to apply God’s words to our lives is grounded in the good instinct that the Bible is for us. Optimism about life application makes good on these amazing claims that all the Scriptures are for Christians:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. . . . [T]hey were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

The whole Bible is for the whole church. We have good Scriptural warrant to come to God’s words expecting them to be understandable and applicable. We should make good on Puritan preacher Thomas Watson’s counsel,

Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied. (Spiritual Disciplines, 57)

Yes, take every word as spoken to yourself, with this essential anchor in place: Seek to understand first how God’s words fell on the original hearers, and how it relates to Jesus’s person and work, and then bring them home to yourself. Expect application to your life as God speaks to us today through the Spirit-illumined understanding of what the inspired human author said to his original readers in the biblical text.

Specific Applications for Every Day?

So then, is it right to think of “application” as an everyday means of God’s grace? Is this a spiritual discipline to be pursued with every Bible encounter? The answer is yes and no, depending on what we mean by application.

Some good teachers have claimed that every encounter with God’s word should include at least one specific application to our lives — some particular addition, however small, to our daily to-do list. There is a wise intention in this: pressing ourselves not just to be hearers of God’s word, but doers. But such a simplistic approach to application overlooks the more complex nature of the Christian life — and how true and lasting change happens in a less straightforward way than we may be prone to think.

It helps to acknowledge that the vast majority of our lives are lived spontaneously. More than 99% of our daily decisions about this and that happen without any immediate reflection. We just act. Our lives flow from the kind of person we are — the kind of person we have become — rather than some succession of timeouts for reflection.

And this is precisely the line along which the apostle prays for his converts. He asks not that God give us simple obedience to a clear to-do list of commands, but that he give us wisdom to discern his will as we encounter life’s many choices coming at us without pause. Paul prays

  • that we would be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
  • that our love may “abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:9–10).
  • that we “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9–10).

Rather than dictating specific actions, he wants to see us formed into the kind of persons who are able to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).

God’s Word Is for Seeing

And so, as John Piper says, “A godly life is lived out of an astonished heart — a heart that is astonished at grace. We go to the Bible to be astonished, to be amazed at God and Christ and the cross and grace and the gospel.” The kind of application most important to pursue in encountering God’s word is such astonishment. Press the Scriptures to your soul. Pray for the awakening of your affections. Bring the Bible home to your heart.

As we’re freshly captivated by the grandeur of our God and his gospel, we become what we behold: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And so we come away from our Bible intake with a more satisfied soul. Which imparts a flavor and demeanor to our lives and decision-making that affects everything.

Meditating on God’s words shapes our soul. Sometimes it yields immediate and specific points of applications — embrace them when they come. But be careful not to let the drive for specific actions alter the focus of our devotions from astonishment and seeking, as George Mueller did, “to have my soul happy in the Lord.” Coming to the Scriptures to see can make for a drastically different approach than primarily coming to do.

The Bible is gloriously for us, but it is not mainly about us. We come most deeply because of who we will see, not for what we must do. “Become a kind of person,” counsels Piper, “don’t amass a long list.”

The Blessing of Bringing It Home

This is the pathway to flourishing we catch a glimpse of in the old covenant in Joshua 1:8 — meditation, then application, then blessing:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

When Bible reading first aims at astonishment (meditation and worship), it works first on our hearts and changes our person, which then prepares us for application, and application to God’s blessing: “your way [will be] prosperous, and then you will have good success.” So applying God’s words to our lives is not only an effect of his grace to us, but also a means of his ongoing grace.

Jesus says in John 13:17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” So also James 1:25 promises that someone who is not a hearer only but “a doer who acts . . . will be blessed in his doing.”

When we bring God’s words home to our hearts, and then apply them to our lives through an amazed and changed heart, it is a great means of his grace to us. He loves to bless the true application of his word to our lives.

The post Bring the Bible Home to Your Heart appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 14:51

“Should I tell my wife?”

Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her?

What would you tell Daniel?

SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Because every couple is different, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some couples are totally transparent with each other, while others find it best to allow accountability to be handled by trusted friends. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, it is important for husbands and wives to develop a plan to help each other fight sexual temptation.

What follows are seven principles to help you and your spouse wade through this sensitive area together.

  1. Help each other make it to heaven.

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

My chief calling as a husband is to help my wife love Jesus more. My wife has the same responsibility toward me. In fact, I would suggest that the most weighty and wonderful responsibilities in marriage is to help our spouse make it to heaven. One of the ways to make this happen is by doing whatever we can to help them fight off temptation, including sexual temptation (Heb. 12:1-2; James 5:19-20). We are to be each other’s greatest allies in the journey toward the heavenly city (Rev. 21-22).

Satan will oppose your efforts with all he’s got, but you must not lose sight of this fact: your greatest responsibility as a couple is to help each other home by leaning upon the strength of your Savior. Let the mantra of our marriages be the same as the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3). This will be painful at times, but it is eternally worth it.

  1. Cultivate an atmosphere of intimate trust.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her…” Proverbs 31:11

After God brought Adam and Eve together in the first marriage, we are told, “the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). They had nothing to cover up in those days. There were no deleted search histories in Eden. There were no shameful compromises or weeping wounds from unfaithfulness.

Intimacy and trust are still possible outside of Eden, but they don’t happen by accident. They must be cultivated. As 1 John 1:7 promises, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” There is no better way to deepen trust in marriage than walking honestly and openly together.

Do you hide things from your spouse?

I believe there should be no secrets in marriage. Surprises? Yes. Secrets? No.

Wisdom and discernment is certainly needed on this point. For instance, it is unwise to share every thought that comes in your head or every conflict you have at work or the details of other people’s lives that have been shared with you. We aren’t talking about those kinds of issues. This is a challenge to not intentionally hide sins from your spouse. Death and deceit breed in the darkness. A husband and wife should always be honest with each other about the condition of their souls.

If our goal is to build trust, it probably seems counter-productive to reveal trust-breaking sins. But the fact is, nothing builds trust like seeing your spouse trying to delight in God more than anything else. Honesty and humble transparency, over time, produce intimate trust in your marriage. Walk in the light together.

  1. Consider the Basics of Accountability.

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…” James 5:16

At some level, husbands and wives should be each other’s accountability partners. Confessing sin to each other should be a normal part of your life together. Because each couple is different, you need to have a conversation about what this will look like in your own marriage.

Here are a few basic ideas:

Talk. If you’ve never had a conversation with your spouse about your struggles with sexual sin, you should have one. Your spouse needs to know to whom they are married. I strongly encourage you to allow your pastor to help you think through how to have this difficult initial discussion.

Plan. Husbands and wives should work together to make an accountability plan (see #4 below). Because your body is not your own (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:4) they have the right and responsibility to talk through this with you. Husbands should lead by taking the initiative in this discussion (Eph. 5:22-25) and wives should give husbands the much-needed help they require (Gen. 2:18). Regardless of which spouse is struggling, you need to help each other. Again, it may be wise to involve a pastor or other mature Christian friends in this process.

Ask. Part of the plan should be that your spouse reserves the right to ask you at any time how you are doing in your fight against temptation—and expect to get an honest answer from you.

I would also suggest that you should always have at least one other person, of the same sex, to whom you are accountable, not just about sexual sin. Sin thrives in the darkness. Making regular and honest confession to another believer is one of your best defenses against sin’s power.

  1. Agree on Your Approach to Accountability.

I have spoken to dozens of people about this subject and every couple does things differently. What follows are two categories on the opposite ends of the accountability spectrum.

Some couples are very open about sexual temptations. Some couples agree it is best to tell each other when they feel tempted, if they find someone else attractive, if they compromise at all on the internet, if they give into self-gratification, and just about everything else. Couples who take this approach say that complete transparency helps both of them to stay honest and vigilant in the battle against sin.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Make sure your motives are good. Sometimes seeing the pain that our sin inflicts on the ones we love can be a deterrent to sin, but don’t use your spouse just to unload your guilt and make you feel better.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to respond well to your sin. Your confession may devastate them. Don’t get all self-righteous because you’re being vulnerable. You’ve sinned against them. Don’t get defensive when they ask questions. Nothing ruins a confession like making excuses. Give them a chance to grieve, process, and go to God. Give them permission to talk to a trusted friend about what has happened if they need to.
  • If you’ve agreed to a plan, honor it. If you’ve sinned in a way your spouse would expect you to tell them, follow through with being honest. It will be tempting to find a way out and rationalize a million excuses why you don’t need to tell them (I won’t do it again, I don’t want to hurt them, and so on).
  • Be willing to switch your plan if it seems wise. Insecurities can flourish in unexpected and unnecessary ways in these conversations. I have godly friends who have tried going with the “total transparency” option and found it to be way too much for their spouses to handle. There is no shame in making changes to the plan if necessary.
  • If your spouse confesses sin to you, you will be tempted to be most worried about how the sin affects you. It is normal to be hurt by sin, but ask God to help you be even more concerned about the way your spouse has strayed from him. None of us can do this perfectly, but plead with God to keep your heart postured in that direction.

Some couples don’t talk about this area in detail unless a certain level of sin occurs. Some couples agree it is best for their spouse to confess struggles with lust to a mutually trusted Christian friend, not to them. They humbly realize they would be too hurt by their spouse’s straying heart or that they feel the struggle is too foreign to them to be able to know how to help them.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Have an agreed-upon type of sin at which you agree to talk to your spouse. Purity is a heart issue (Matt. 5:28, 15:19), but it is fine for couples to set agreed-upon conversational mile markers. This may be habitually looking at porn, giving in to masturbation, or crossing certain lines with someone of the opposite sex. Pray for God to give you wisdom in this discussion.
  • Don’t use this approach as a deceptive cover for your sin. Romans 13:14 says “make no provision for the flesh to gratify its lusts.” The well-trusted accountability partner should know what these mile markers are and be willing to inform the spouse if sin were to ever get out of control.
  • Don’t avoid the discussion just because it hurts. As one wife said to me, “out of love for him, I would want to be a part of the solution, but it would be really difficult.” That’s a good perspective. Growing in holiness and helping others to do the same is hard and painful work. It is humble to know your limitations, but it is also humble to accept your responsibilities. Pray for God to give you wisdom to know the balance.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this subject. Some spouses will be able to hear about your struggle, be hurt by it, but recover in the grace of God. Others will be devastated by the fact that you’d even be tempted, even if you didn’t yield to the temptation. We need to live with our spouses in an understanding way and be willing to humbly and graciously build a plan together (1 Pet. 3:7).

  1. Ask Each Other Important Questions

As you begin this process together, here are a few questions to help you begin the conversation.

  • How are we helping each other love God more? How can we do this better?
  • How can I help you fight against temptation? Who else can help you?
  • Do you fear talking to me about these things? How can we make our marriage a safe place to have these talks?
  • Do you have any sins in your life that no one knows about?

For many of us, having this kind of conversation can be terrifying. Some of us don’t want to know what our spouse is struggling with, and some of us don’t want our spouse to know what we’re struggling with. But because God’s glory and the salvation of souls are at stake (Heb. 3:12-14), we must be willing to have tough conversations.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I talked through this article with a couple of close friends. God used that discussion to help them pray and discuss how they could better serve each other in this area. They said the conversation was difficult at times, but in the end God used it to draw them closer than they had been before.

If you want to do this, but don’t know how, I’d encourage you to share this article with your pastor or another mature Christian couple and ask them to help you begin this journey together.

  1. Go Make Love

“Do not deprive one another…come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you…” 1 Corinthians 7:5

Much could be said here, but believe this: making love should be a priority in your marriage. God has given sexual intimacy for many reasons, one of which is to help each other fight against sexual sin. Husbands and wives need to be committed to regularly engaging in sexual intimacy.

Some of you may be tempted to feel like a mere outlet for your spouse’s physical desires. Guard your heart from this distortion. As my wife told a friend, “As a wife, you have the great responsibility of protecting your marriage by serving your husband through sex. It’s one of God’s divinely ordained means to help his heart not be as easily tempted by lust. Sex is sometimes a sweet dying to self.” The same truth goes for husbands. Serve your wife through sexual intimacy, through non-sexual affection, and through regular, intentional, attentive conversations. God can use that to help guard her heart from wandering.

For some of you, this encouragement to make love to your spouse brings up a slew of painful emotions. Maybe you have been sinned against gravely by your spouse and the thought of giving yourself to them intimately is almost inconceivable. Maybe you’re facing physiological problems that hinder you from being able to make love. Maybe it’s one of countless other reasons that make sex with your spouse difficult.

If you and your spouse are one of the many who feel this way, please don’t give up. Prayerfully plan and begin working through these issues with your pastor, a gospel-centered counselor, or capable doctor. Be patient with each other in this process and trust that the Lord is able to do more than you can imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).

  1. Keep the Gospel Central in Your Marriage.

Husbands and wives sin against each other every day. This is part of marriage in a fallen world. But there is something unique about sexual sin that seems to hurt in a distinctly deep way. And even if they haven’t sinned but are being tempted to do so, the sting of knowing that your beloved’s heart is being tempted to stray can be painful.

So if your spouse comes to you with the weight of sinning against you and the Lord on their back, it will be difficult, but remember that Galatians 6:2 says we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Lead them to the cross where they, and you, will both be refreshed and restored by the Lord who daily bears our burdens (Ps. 55:22, 68:19). Plead with the Lord to cover your pain with his grace and you do all you can to cover your spouse’s shame with the truths of the gospel.

Remind each other that the Jesus who spoke severely about sexual sin (Matt. 5:28-30) is the same Jesus who died for those sins and rose victorious over them (Rom. 4:25). He is patient with sinners of all sorts, and promises forgiveness for all who turn from their sin and follow after him (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:8-9). He promises to intercede for us and provide grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16) while also providing power to help us war against our unrelenting foe (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:17).

Moments like these are where the gospel feels most real and most needed. They are also when the power of the gospel can most transform your marriage. God will help you forgive and work through the process of restoration. So don’t lose heart with each other, or with yourself. God’s grace is sufficient, even for what you and your spouse face.

Help each other to heaven. Talk about these things. Cultivate intimate trust. Make a plan. Make love. Cast yourselves upon the grace of God. And do this all with your hope fixed on the glory that is to be revealed. We will be home with Jesus soon, so help each other toward that Day.

For Further Consideration
  • Heath Lambert’s excellent book Finally Free (ch. 5) discusses how spouses should talk about sexual sin.
  • Remember that temptation is not sin. This article by Kevin DeYoung may be helpful to read together. (http://bit.ly/1uARUOa)
  • Dr. Russell Moore answers a man who asks if should confess an affair that happened years ago. (http://bit.ly/1rWAeuf)
  • John Piper also addresses whether your spouse’s struggle with porn is worthy of divorce.(http://bit.ly/1sZEgkI)
  • What should you do if your spouse confesses that they have committed adultery or is living a secret life of sin? A good article by John MacArthur helps you think through forgiveness, but you must involve the elders of your church in this discussion. (http://bit.ly/1pPXvuA)

Author’s Note: Thank you to my wife, Zach Schlegel, Jason Seville, Shai Linne, Brian Davis, and the many other brothers and sisters who helped me think through this important topic.

The post Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

What Works for us (and might work for you) in Family Worship

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 14:31

Are you a parent?

Then you need to know that your kids are going to learn primarily what you teach them.

You might sometimes wish that you could delegate the spiritual training of your kids, but you are the one who is responsible to teach, train, and disciple your kids. This is not something to be outsourced to Sunday School teachers or youth pastors as past generations have sometimes done.

Over my fifteen years of parenting, my wife and I have continuously attempted to teach our kids what is true and call them to live in light of the truth of who God is and what he has done. We have read the Psalms and Proverbs as a family several times. When we do this, we have each of our kids (who is old enough to read) read a verse until we are finished with a chapter. After reading a chapter we have a discussion about what we learn in the chapter about who God is, what He is done, and how He relates to us. Then we finish by praying together.

We have read through The Jesus Storybook Bible several times. We have also had seasons where we felt like complete failures at family worship. But we have never given up. In light of what we have learned over the years, here are four words of advice to help you press forward in family worship:

  1. You are by far the primary spiritual influence in the life of your kids.

Consider how Moses instructs the Israelites in the book of Deuteronomy concerning God’s ways:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV)

The Scriptures make it clear that parents are to teach their kids God’s truths. But what about teenagers?

Recently I read a summary of the writing of researcher, Christian Smith, who asserts that our assumptions about American teenagers are often incorrect. He says:

In U.S. culture, the very ideas of “teenager” and “rebellion” are virtually synonymous…But that impression is fundamentally wrong. What we learned from interviewing hundreds of different kinds of teenagers all around the country is that the vast majority of American teenagers are exceedingly conventional in their religious identity and practices. Very few are restless, alienated, or rebellious; rather the majority of U.S. teenagers seem basically content to follow the faith of their families with little questioning.

Contrary to what many people think, you are the primary spiritual influence in the life of your kids. Wayne Rice, one of the pioneers of American youth ministry, argues this compellingly in his book, Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). Knowing that we have a large influence on our children’s lives is both comforting and scary.

  1.  Doing something for family worship is far better than doing nothing.

My friend Josh McPherson, pastor of Grace City Church in Wenatchee, Washington recently told me, “A good plan today is far better than a perfect plan next week.” Perfection can be the enemy of progress. Read a verse and talk about it. Pray together. Get a book and go through it. But do something. Perfection has never worked for us. We have never, not even a single time, done family worship 7 nights in a row. Our goal is to pull it off somewhere around 4 nights a week. We have to work around high school basketball games, gymnastics, music lessons, dinner with neighbors, and the like But we keep at it knowing that something is far better than nothing.

  1. Don’t quit when you get discouraged. 

The best way to save money, unless you are super rich, is not normally to make a one time deposit. The best way to save money is to put some away every month. Eventually, in most cases, your consistent savings will amount to a large savings account. This same principle of consistency is true with family worship. There will be times when a fight breaks out during family worship or when you feel like yelling at everyone. Come back to it tomorrow night. Don’t get discouraged and quit when your kids don’t vow to spend their lives on the mission field in Africa. Stay with it for years. Don’t quit.

  1. What we are doing now for family worship.

A few weeks ago I called my friend, Chad Vegas, who pastors Sovereign Grace Church in Bakersfield, CA. I asked him for some insight into what might be effective for us to do in family worship now that we have two teenagers. Chad recommended that we take our family through the New City Catechism (www.newcitycatechism.com). We started this a few weeks ago and love it. Here is how it works for us:

  • We have dinner as a family 4-5 nights per week.
  • Before we get up from the dinner table we have a time of family worship.
  • We focus on one catechism question per week. (There are 52 total)
  • I printed 6 copies of the questions so each person has a copy. We keep them next to the dinner table.
  • There is an iPad and iPhone app for the New City Catechism. I have this open when I am leading.
  • By the end of the week, our kids have the catechism question and answer memorized.
  • There are accompanying Scriptures that go along with the question of the week.
  • Chandra (my wife) and I talk through with our kids the implications of the question and the Scripture that we read.
  • We pray together.

It’s not rocket science.

Here is my final challenge: No matter what, start having family worship this week.

The post What Works for us (and might work for you) in Family Worship appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Two Questions that May Greatly Improve Your Church’s Ministry

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 14:19

I’m no management consultant, leadership expert, or church growth guru. But if you love your church and want to see it as effective as possible–for the sake of evangelism, education, exaltation, and whatever other E’s you may have in your mission statement–try asking these two questions. One is from the pastor for his leaders, and the other is from the leaders for his pastor.

Question #1 – Pastor to Leaders: “How can I improve my preaching?”

Most pastors have no mechanism for regular, thoughtful feedback on their preaching. Those laboring on larger church staffs may have a built-in worship review, but most pastors in the country don’t enjoy such a luxury. And even if they do, it would be wise to solicit feedback from lay leaders in the church–the kind that are mature in the faith, have demonstrated longstanding commitment, but don’t live and breath the details of planning and evaluating worship services. I have my annual evaluation coming up in the next month. I plan on asking our elder vice-president how I can improve my preaching.

If preaching is the most important thing we do in ministry, why not be more deliberate about trying to develop new skills, weed out bad habits, and get some much needed fine tuning? For most of us, the feedback on our preaching consists of “Good job, pastor” or “Nice sermon, pastor” as people file out after the service. And when we get criticism it often comes from cranky church members who aren’t happy with much of anything. I think most church members love their pastor and are normally pleased with the preaching (or they wouldn’t stick around). But I also know that every pastor can get better. If Timothy was told to fan into flames the gift he had, shouldn’t we–I’m talking to my fellow pastors–look for ways to blow fresh wind across faint coals?

Obviously, this first question is not one you ask of just anyone. We aren’t looking to poll-test our latest sermon series. We aren’t trying to scratch itching ears. Parishoners may want more of what isn’t good for them in their weekly preaching diet. And yet, your best leaders should be able to give the pastor honest, thoughtful, affirming, constructive feedback. I know it can be scary to even ask the question. But the spread of the gospel and the good of our people are more important than our sensitive psyches.

Over the years I can think of lots of helpful feedback I’ve gotten on my preaching:

Your introductions are too long. Don’t be afraid to dive right into the text.

Your sermons could be five minutes shorter without losing anything.

You seem rushed when you get to your conclusion. That’s often the best, most important part. Think about trimming back earlier in the sermon so you can slow down at the end.

Your content is great, but it can be too much.

Just be yourself.

Maybe, brother pastor, you need more illustrations, or fewer. Maybe you are going over people’s heads, or leaving the people a bit famished. Maybe you’ve developed a distracting mannerism, gesture, or expression. Maybe you’ve gotten into a rut. Maybe you are trying too hard to be creative. Who knows? Why not ask?

Question #2 – Leaders to Pastor: “How can we better support you and your family?”

Like the first question, this one is dangerous. Pastors can be unrealistic. They can be selfish. They can be lazy. They can be greedy. There is no sin you struggle with that we can’t struggle with too. And yet, just like most churches love their pastor, I believe most pastors love their church. Very likely, your pastor is working hard, doing the best he can, trying to be a faithful preacher, leader, discipler, evangelist, spiritual caregiver, and family man. So why not ask how you can help him?

I can raise this issue because my church cares for me and my family very well. I’m not trying to send subtle hints and suggestions. In fact, it’s because I am treated so well that I’m jealous for my fellow pastors to be cared for equally well. If asked how you can support him and his family, here are some of things you might hear from your pastor.

“My wife feels alone.” Our elders formed “Team Trisha” a few years ago to care for my wife. It’s a few other women in the church who meet with her regularly to hear how she’s doing and find ways to help (especially when I’m busy or out of town).

“I could use more vacation time.” I know most people in the church work hard at their jobs, sometimes for little pay and with little vacation. But your bad experience doesn’t have to be the standard for everyone else. For the life of me I don’t know how some pastors survive on two weeks vacation per year. I recommend three weeks as a minimum, preferably four. In Britain, I’m told, six weeks is quite normal. One of the surest ways to decrease the effectiveness of your church’s ministry is to get a burnt out pastor. When churches are sticklers with their pastor’s vacation, they hurt themselves as much as anyone.

“I don’t have enough money for books.” Even a modest book allowance would be a tremendous blessing, and could pay big dividends.

“I’d like to attend a conference, but it’s far away and kind of expensive.” Find a way to make it happen. There are dozens of good conferences. Your pastors can’t (and shouldn’t) go to all of them, but it would serve his soul and serve your church if he could go to a couple–maybe a smaller local conference each year and one of the big national conferences. These conferences are only partly about the content. They are just as much for the fellowship, the friendships, the road trip, and the time away. Not to mention the free books.

“I could use more study time.” This may mean making adjustments to the weekly grind so your pastor can devote himself more fully to the word of God and prayer. This may mean helping your pastor manage his own time better. This may also mean adding one or two weeks of study time to your already generous vacation package. If the pastor actually uses the time to read, write, and reflect, I can’t imagine a church regretting this sort of allowance.

“We are barely making ends meet.” That’s a tricky one. At least hear him out. Do what you can to make his service a joy and not a burden.

“Pray for me.” Pray for your pastor in private. Pray for him if you have the opportunity to lead in prayer in church. Take time once in awhile to pray for him during your elders’ meeting. See if he’d like a group to regularly meet with him for prayer.

Ministry is hard work. For all of us–pastors, elders, church members, for every Christian. But let’s not make it harder, or less joyful or less effective, than it has to be. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your church is the simplest thing: just ask the right questions. These two are a good place to start.

The post Two Questions that May Greatly Improve Your Church’s Ministry appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

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