Monthly Archives: April 2012

What we ought to be preaching to a hurting and needy world

I’m writing this post 5 hours after the doctors had administered a paralysis drug into mother-in-law just minutes before they were to switch off her life support.  Shocking, I know!  However, 5 hours ago, I was writing a sermon and pondering the kind of sermon ought we be preaching to our church.  The problem is that today’s preachers are just torn in trying to work out how and what to preach.  Everyone has an opinon about what’s wrong with our preaching!  For example, when you read some of the Christian luminaries, they say things like:

“… at the end of the day people are not asking about the five points of Calvinism, the trichotomy or dichotomy of the Spirit or the peccability/impeccability of Christ!  They are asking “why is my life falling apart?”  Or, “how do I get past the fact that I was sexually molested when I was eight?”  Or, “how do I, as a single mom, lead and provide for my family?” (Perry Noble from his blog)

And 5 hours ago, before the phone call, I tended to agree, to an extent. We live in a world racked by sin and death and decay.  We live in a world where we and the people we love suffer, grieve and are victims of other barbaric and violent sinful humans.  But now after 5 hours of reflection and prayer and crying out to God in pain, I dare suggest (and with the greatest of respect for Perry Noble and co) that to preach a needs centred, how-do-i-cope-with-life message to God’s church is a cop out.  And I say this not because I am some expert in preaching or some guru in solving the world-wide church’s problems, but as we’re currently going through a crisis, here is what I want to hear:

I want to hear of a God who is mightier, stronger, more loving, more majestic, more gracious than anything or anyone I could ever wish for or imagine.  I want to hear of the the God who is holy, holy, holy (Isa 6). I want to get to know the God who is all powerful, omni-potent, omni-prescent, eternal, unchanging .  I want to hear of the God who is the divine and soveriegn King of unrivalled power, holiness, love and glory.

This God is the one who doesn’t owe us, is not manipulated by our demands or instructions, and is not dependent on us in any way.  This God is the one “who made the world and everything in it and doesn’t live in temples made by humans, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17).  This is the God who freely gives salvation by sending His Son Jesus to die for us.  This the God who if is for us then no one and nothing could stand against us (Romans 8).

Unfortuately if our preaching is not grounded in this God then all the psycho-analysis and all the useful life-skills and all the world’s wisdom just seems trite and limp and lame and even pathetic.

I want to know how to make sense of people being struck down in their prime.  I want to help people whom Perry Noble is speaking of.  But the answers to our problems are not sociological or pschycological … instead our answers are theological as they lie in turning back to God and every fibre of our being putting our trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. Our preaching must as it’s primary focus be bringing the church into the presence of God.  For it is only when we are God-centrered and knowing God who has revealed himself to us in Christ, will we truly find God-centred and God-honouring solutions to the most dificult of our life’s problems.

I’m sorry for my rant.  But I hope this helps!  Also my sincerest thanks to all who have been supporting Viv and myself over the last few weeks, and especially the last 5 hours.  My mother-in-law has had a miraculous late rally, but the doctors still don’t think she’ll make the night.  Thankfully, God is in control and in his loving-kindness he will do what is best for her.

A note on ministry strategy

Since Viv’s mum has been sick in hospital, I have had a lot of time to not only sit in the ICU waiting room, but also think about ministry strategy.  In particular, I’ve been thinking about how we can better be the body of Christ (this is loosely based in thinking around 1 Corinthians 12 – although Paul there is specifically talking about different members of the body being gifted people, I think the idea still stands!).

(1) Operational Effectiveness is important but insufficient to be the effective body of Christ.  The idea of “operational effectiveness” (OE) in a ministry environment is for each ministry area to strive for  a best possible “performance”.  For example, the usual gammit of ministries in most churches include a youth ministry, children’s ministry, school’s ministry, men’s ministry, overseas mission etc.  If each were nominally a different part of the body, pursuing OE means that we strive for the best possible youth ministry, children’s ministry, men’s etc – ie striving for strong arms, legs, feet, eyes, etc.  However, just because some or even every part is strong, does not mean that the whole body is strong!  For the body is more than the sum of it’s parts.

Moreover, the reality of nearly every church is that given the limited resources of any given church (especially one where I’m a minister at) means that we must make difficult decisions about where and how we allocate resources to do the best we can for God’s kingdom.  This usually means that we’ll focus on one or two areas and pursue OE in those areas in particular.  In the case of SPCH, we have a particularly strong and effective youth and music ministry.  However, one or two strong areas in the body does not mean the body is strong by any means!

(2) Strategic Fit becomes important when thinking about the effective body of Christ.  “Strategic fit” is reliant upon the thinking which says that discrete minsitry activities within the church (like youth ministry, children’s ministry, etc) often affect one another.  For example. if the children’s ministry is growing, then generally so are the Sunday services.  Moreover, if the children’s ministry is growing, then as children mature, they will naturally progress to youth ministry.  If the youth ministry is going well then so do young adults and so on.  Thus for a church to be an effective body of Christ, we must constantly be thinking about a whole system of ministry activities and not just a collection of ministry parts.

So the idea of “strategic fit” helps us strengthen the ministry in our church in the following ways:

(a) We need consistency between each ministry – this is just saying that all ministries must align with an overall strategy.  This means that all ministries (parts of the body) have a single-mindedness that not only ensures we are working for the same cause, but also actively seeks to reinforce and strengthen the other parts of the body.  At SPCH, we have a broad strategy of “Bring, Build, Send” – Bring people to Jesus, Build people in Jesus and Send people out for Jesus.  Consistency means that all our ministries work together for Bring-Build-Send, but also all our ministries need to be working with the other ministries by constantly thinking about how their areas are eroding or reinforcing ministries around them.

(b) Ministries must optimise effort.  This idea goes beyond consistency and reinforcement.  For it is the idea that each area works together in such a way as to optimise effort.

The simplest example would be the co-ordination and sharing of information across different ministries in order to eliminate redundancy and wasted effort.  For example, one area may create a really efficient conference management solution – eg online registration and payment,etc.  It would be optimise effort if this information were shared to all other ministries that ran conferences.

Another example may be in the allocation of resources – especially people resources.  Some ministries find it much easier to attract and recruit volunteers into their area of ministry.  Others will prayerfully try and try and try and never get more than a handful (thus often having to work off the smell of an oily rag and regularly seeing volunteers “burn out” and hence wasting effort as the ministry ultimately fails).  Each ministry ought to be concerned about other ministries and in particular those which cannot find adequate resourcing (cf 1 Cor 12:25).  If we recognise that all parts of the body are important and together serve Christ, then we will be more willing to allocate (or reallocate) resources so that the body as a whole may optimise effort.

Well I’m know expert on corporate or ministry strategy, but I do know that if any member of the body suffers then all suffer, and if any member is honored then all members rejoice with it (1 Cor 12:26)

When words have gone missing from the Bible …

Today’s Old Testament REAP reading is fascinating because it is an interesting example of missing words in the bible.  When you read 1 Samuel 13:1, you will notice from the footnotes and if you dig around textual criticism books, that there are some missing words. In the Hebrew Masoretic Text (the most original Hebrew text as scholars see it), we find the original says:

Saul was a son of a year in his reigning

and two years he reigned over Israel

(MT of 1 Sam 13:1)

Now this is a problem because :

  1. Saul was not one year old when he became king – we know his was a full grown adult (1 Samuel 9), and
  2. he reigned more than two years – especially when viewed against Acts 13:21.

Normally, scholars can handle these kinds of problems quite easily. Scholars normally  detect the error in the text, then work to find out how it came about, and consult other manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible for the solution. But in the case of 1 Samuel 13:1, there are no other reliable manuscript readings. ie all other manuscripts we have come later than the Masoretic Text and so we can only assume they would have tried to smooth over and fix the presenting problem.  In fact in later editions of the LXX (the greek version of the hebrew OT) they drop verse 1 out altogether!  We just have to make do with the reality that today,  the words are just lost. We just don’t have any manuscript evidence for the coherent and plain reading.

As a result, different translations have tried to deal with this issue differently:

  1. ESV “Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned … and two years over Israel.”
  2. HCSB “Saul was 30 years old when he became king, and he reigned 42 years over Israel.”
  3. NIVSaul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty– two years.”

So what does this all mean?

  1. I believe that there was an original 1 Samuel 13 without these errors which was coherent and whole.  That was produced by a process of God’s inspiration to the writer and was perfect and complete.  However, since that time, transmission of the text was left to human beings, and now we have a missing word or words.
  2. When we come across this kind of textual issue (and there are not many of this kind of super difficult ones), we can also rely on the coherency of the Bible as a whole – we can trust the inspiration and inerrancy of the whole Bible.  For example in this case, Acts 13:21 and 2 Samuel 5:4 are used by scholars to reconstruct the reality of what is now “missing”.  Whilst this point seems a little circular, it’s reasonable to live with.
  3. Finally, when we come across this textual issue, we will find that although they call into question the legitimacy of our received texts (by showing there is a textual problem).  However, you will find that the words that are in question do not actually change the flow and message of the whole bible.  What I am saying is that although this problem could be a possible show-stopper for some kinds of scholars (and people who love throwing the baby out with the bathwater), the reality is that the overall message of the Bible is unaffected.