CUT ARIGHT! A WORD OF CHRISTMAS ENCOURAGEMENT FOR PREACHERS AND TEACHERS

Years ago I heard RC Sproul say that Christmas can be a time of anxiety for pastors/teachers. Teachers and preachers deal with the same stressors as everyone else, but are also tasked with teaching on an incredibly familiar story. Because of its familiarity, teachers can overthink it and get too fancy with it instead of simply letting the biblical story speak for itself. This anxiety can even be worse for teachers who’ve been in the same church for many years.

It’s a little crazy that Christmas can cause this angst, but it does. I know because I’ve experienced it myself.

In light of this, I want to share some words, first from John Calvin, and then a few of my personal thoughts to help those of you who may be dealing with this anxiety right now.

In 2 Timothy 2:15, where Paul tells Timothy to “rightly divide” the Word, John Calvin explains that Paul,

“…advises Timothy to ‘cut aright,’ lest, when he is employed in cutting the surface, as unskillful people are wont to do, he leave the pith and marrow untouched. Yet by this term I understand generally, an allotment of the word which is judicious, and which is well suited for the profit of the hearers. Some mutilate it, others tear it, others torture it, others break it in pieces, others, keeping by the outside never come to the soul of the doctrine. To all these faults he (Paul) contrasts the ‘dividing aright,’ that is, the manner of explaining which is adapted for edification; for that is the rule by which we must try all interpretation of scripture.” 

Said simply, teachers should aim to teach the Word to edify the listeners. The seasonal task, then, is to build our listeners up with the great truths of Christmas.

Here a a few suggestions to keep anxiety down and yourself on track this Advent season:

  1. FOCUS: Commit extra time to be quiet for prayer, study and worship. This season is so filled with Christmas “stuff” that you can end up filled with the stuff of Christmas and not filled with the Holy Spirit. The people you influence need YOU to be a stabilizing reminder that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus.
  2. SIMPLIFY: Instead of preaching or teaching to other teachers or to find a new angle on an old story for people who’ve heard the Christmas story for decades, speak in simple terms about Jesus and why His birth STILL matters. It’s the greatest story the world has ever heard and it’s interwoven with the story of every individual in the room. 
  3. ENCOURAGE: Statistically, the holiday season has a higher rate of depression than any other. It’s impossible to understand everyone’s pain, but you can encourage them that we have a Savior who does and who will one day wipe away every tear. His first coming should encourage every heart to remember that the Gospel promises He’s coming again.

Believing Him for You,

7 REASONS TO BRING BACK THE INVITATION

I believe an invitation for people to respond to the preacher’s message should be given every time the Word is preached in a corporate gathering.

From personal observation and from what I’m reading lately, it seems to me that a growing number of pastors disagree with me. Here’s a recent blog that exemplifies this ongoing conversation. I think this is a good, healthy conversation.

To be clear, while I am advocating for consistent invitations, I’m not suggesting that pastors extend a heavy, evangelistic, “walk-the-aisle” invitation every service. Invitations can and should be about more than just conversion.

I’m also not suggesting that “come forward to the altar” invitations are the only acceptable method. Many churches use response cards effectively as a means of responding. Others invite people go to a designated area, like a welcome center or a prayer tent. Lots of churches dismiss the congregation and then have prayer counselors placed in various locations throughout the worship center to pray with people before they leave.

Many ways exist for people to respond other than the “come forward to the altar” method. But my argument is this – pastors should prepare every single public worship service and sermon with an invitation for people to receive Christ or draw closer to Him and His plan. This should be more than occasional and should certainly not be neglected or rejected. If life change is the point of our preaching and worship, then we ought to help them along on their next steps.

Here are seven reasons why I believe pastors should give consistent invitations:

  1. Because biblically speaking, God called people to make decisions about what to do with His word over and over in the Bible. Some messages are against sin and for God. In those moments I believe invitations are very helpful. Many messages are less dramatic, of course, but calling people to live obediently by faith and to receive His grace afresh is always a good call.
  2. Because the invitation is itself an opportunity for pastors to model for members how to have a humble, spiritual conversation with people. It transitions from teaching to specific application.
  3. Because when people respond it gives intercessors the opportunity to pray with people who need prayer now! People should be able to leave church prayed for, not just preached to.
  4. Because the response to the invitation gives shepherds/counselors an opportunity to care for people who need help.
  5. Because by preparing a message with an invitation to respond in mind, the preacher remembers to preach with clarity and for transformation.
  6. Because in our fast-paced, digital world people need some old-fashioned personal interaction. A call to respond in some way is a nudge in that direction.
  7. Lastly, because it’s rude not to give people the opportunity to taste and see that the Lord is good. For someone to come to church and hear a message about the glories of Christ and not be told how to experience His goodness is just bad form. If you invite someone over for dinner, you don’t invite them to smell, listen and look at the good food – you invite them to eat!

FIVE PREACHING SINS

For those who have a high view of scripture and take seriously the call to preach and teach the Word, we are standing on a sure foundation.  However, there are still some of what I call “preacher sins” that are way too common and MUST be avoided:

1. LAZINESS

“Those of us who are preachers have an awesome and solemn responsibility to bring the Word of God to the people of God and to those who are not yet the people of God. We have to avoid laziness, cheap soundbites, pietistic truisms, living in the past and personal obsessions. Instead we must wrestle with what we and our people are experiencing and, without shying away from the hard things, we must bring the comfort and truth of the beauty of Christ to all.”

David Robertson

“All day long I do nothing but write letters… I preach at the monastery, I am a lector during mealtimes, I am asked daily to preach in the city church, I have to supervise the program of study… I lecture on Paul and I am still collecting material on the Psalms… See what a lazy man I am!”

Martin Luther

2. HYPOCRISY

“If a preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.”

John Calvin

3. BORING OUR LISTENERS

“…to depart from the abstract and uncover the concrete in the difficult and sometimes treacherous realities of self, other, and world – is the most rigorous of homiletical tasks. The preacher must travel an intellectual ‘second mile’ to create illustrations that fulfill their potential. It is not a mark of intellectual capitulation to use illustrations. It may well be a sign of intellectual sloth and communication resignation not to use them.”     

Bryan Chapell

4. TEACHING WITHOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT’S POWER

“Above all, feed the flame with intimate fellowship with Christ…I never met with a half-hearted preacher who was much in communion with the Lord Jesus.”

Charles Spurgeon

“A living Christ is the warrant for preaching; an ascended Christ is the inspiration for preaching; the gospel must be the matter for preaching; the Lord co-working is the power of preaching.”

Archibald Brown

5. NOT PROVIDING CLEAR NEXT STEPS

“Observation and interpretation without application is abortion!  Let the baby go full term!”

Howard Hendricks

Praying for you this weekend and looking forward to our conference together!

Eddie

PREACHING THAT MISSES THE POINT

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But Dr. Abe Kuruvilla sure is trying.

That’s how it felt for some of us last week as we gathered together in Princeton Junction at Windsor Chapel for our Preaching Refresher. 

64 of our pastors and preachers-in-training signed up to be a part of this gathering. Not everyone made it due to a brief snowstorm, but it was worth the effort for those who made the trek. We had a good representation of preachers who’ve preached for decades, as well as a handful of preachers in their twenty’s just getting started.   

Dr. Kuruvilla challenged us about how we prepare messages. As an expert in his field, he knows that many of us were taught with what is widely known as “Big Idea” preaching, made popular by Haddon Robinson. Others have been heavily influenced by what is called “Christ-Centered” preaching, most notably by Bryan Chappel. 

What he encouraged us to do was to let the inspired author’s intent determine the theme of every message. For example, he said we should not just ask, “What is the author saying in this text?” and then move to determine application based on what we want to say about the passage. Instead, we should wrestle with the text until we can answer the question, “What is the author doing with what he is saying?”  The answer to that question should be the application for the sermon. The answer to that question is what bridges hermeneutics (Bible study) with homiletics (preaching).

Using humor, he advocated avoiding the preacher’s temptation to provide too many fascinating but unnecessary details and miss the point of the pericope (section) of the Bible we are preaching.

To illustrate, he used a situation where one person sat down beside another and accidentally sat their chair on the foot of the other. The one who has had the chair placed on his foot says, “Your chair is on my foot.” But the point of what’s being said is not just to state the chair’s location, but to say, “Move the chair off my foot!”   

Preachers may be tempted to give glorious detail about the wonders of the foot (after all, it is amazing), but the message here is clear – move the chair off my foot!

Praying for you and your churches,

Revival in the Pulpit

There was a season in human history where public speaking fell on hard times, not for lack of talent, but specifically because of the negative consequences of what happens when highly talented speakers who possess low moral character end up with too much influence. 

In ancient Greece, there was a group known as Sophists who valued rhetoric and oratory above truth. They used their abilities as speakers to increase their position in society. They charged high fees to argue either side of a legal or political debate, as well as to teach pupils who sought to increase their livelihoods. They were broadly known for minimizing truth and prioritizing success above all. They were well known and influential for awhile. 

The influence of men like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato helped expose the flimsiness of their approach. Aristotle emphasized the importance of character in the speaker. To Aristotle, a speaker worth listening to must be trustworthy. The speaker must have intelligence (believe what he’s presenting is true); character (know what’s being presented works); and have good will (must be making a presentation for the good of the listener).

Amen, Aristotle.

Of all the places people receive messages from in our world today, there remains one place they should be able to go with high trust in the speaker. People in our churches and in our communities need to know when they come to church that the person speaking from the platform is not like an old sophist, speaking for personal gain, but is trustworthy.

revival

I wonder if our churches pass the test of trustworthiness, according to Aristotle.

Intelligence: Are people hearing the truth from God’s Word, which is the Truth? 

Character: Does the life of the speaker prove the truth being presented? Listeners receive a message much better when the person speaking has a life that testifies to the truth being proclaimed. Nothing is more compelling than hearing a recent testimony of God’s power at work in a person’s life.

Good will: Is there selfless love and compassion in the preacher? After all, the person is delivering a message that declares there is a God and he has sent His Son to save sinners. Listeners to our messages need to hear even the most severe truths spoken with clarity. There is a just and righteous God who is sovereign and will one day judge and rule the world in righteousness. This can be communicated and must be in love.

I’m praying that our pulpits are filled with preachers who are nothing like the old sophists, but are increasingly like Jesus and the apostles who spoke the truth of God’s kingdom with courage and compassion, resulting in transformed lives.

Would you pray with me that God would set the fires of revival in our churches this year?

With the love of Christ,

eddie