Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

Situations Vacant

November 14, 2012

There is a desperate need for men to fulfill a certain vital role.  There are many vacancies in Christian work, of course, but the ones I have in mind are rarely recognized as a special need.  The role I have in mind is that of mender of broken churches.  It is not an easy job, and usually requires a measure of experience.  All around the country are churches that are declining, dying or dead.  We read in the media about business men who have the skill and know-how to turn around failing businesses.  We need ministers who have the experience and know-how to turn around dying churches.  Here I am not speaking of revival.  In revival things are taken out of the hands of men.  God takes the field and thousands are converted in a short time.  Hundreds of churches are planted very rapidly.  But while we pray and wait on God for revival, we must continue to work.  And there is no greater need than mending broken churches.  This is not an attractive task for most men.  Most ministers would, understandably, rather go to a thriving church or one with obvious potential.  Or they would rather plant a new church, and there is a great need for that ministry, too.  It is an attractive, though difficult task to start a new church in the present spiritual climate.  But it is attractive because one can start with a clean sheet, as it were, with no old die-hard traditions to overcome.  At least that is the case if the church is formed with new converts.  A church formed with malcontents from other churches is likely to get off to a crippled start.  But to take on a church that is at a low ebb and turn it round, that is the great need today.  Why? Because there are thousands of such churches, and few men to take them on.  It is often easier to start from scratch.  So some churches do need to be shut down, others closed temporarily and then re-started.  But many, with the right leadership can be brought to life again.

What qualities are desirable for this task?  Well, first of all, the qualities listed in my previous blog, The Call to the Ministry.  In other words, it is preferable that the minister has some experience.  It is by no means impossible for a new minister just launching out to be used to turn around his first church, but normally experience is required.  So there are additional qualities required, or existing qualities to be re-emphasized.  Here are the ones that come to me.  Other people may have other suggestions.

  1. Stickability, or willingness to persist in the face of difficulties and opposition.  An outstanding example is Charles Simeon, who experienced vicious and persistent opposition and persecution in Cambridge for ten or so years, before he saw victory and great blessing.  Read Derek Prime’s new book on Simeon to learn from that.
  2. Along with persistence is patience.  This is almost the same thing, but not quite.  Such a task is not achieved overnight.  Even where there is no strong opposition, patience is needed to see fruit.  Only last week a retired minister who had seen great blessing in his thirteen year ministry in a certain  church, and is chiefly remembered for the blessing, told me himself, that for the first six years,  there was, to use his own word – nothing.  No blessing for six years, then after that the tide turned and blessing ensued.
  3. Agape love.  This is something we do not have naturally.  Some men are naturally affable and outgoing.  Others are not.  But we all need to grow in grace and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  We must love the sheep even if we cannot naturally like some recalcitrant old ewes!  (I Cor. 13; John 13:34, 35).
  4. Much prayer.  This is a truism and as such is easily overlooked.  All ministers must pray regularly and earnestly or they are hypocrites, but special prayer is more than ever needed in a dead or dying church.  Read the biographies of men greatly used of God and without exception you will find they prayed much.  If possible, gather a few prayerful folk to pray together at times apart from the regular services.  Our Lord took Peter and James and John further than the others in prayer.  Power Through Prayer by E. M. Bounds never fails to challenge and inspire me.
  5. Stand firm for principles, biblical principles not prejudices, but be flexible on non-essentials.  And move gently, carefully and steadily.  Avoid giving unnecessary offence by avoiding scolding, sarcasm or harsh words.  A Christian couple started attending  a certain church and after some weeks the minister made reference briefly to the Jews in a sermon.  Afterwards this couple asked him about his views on the Jews.  He gave a blunt no-compromising answer on the spot.  They never came again.  He would have been better to have said something like, well, this is a big question; may I come and talk to you about this some time?  I made similar mistake.  After I retired a lady at the church we attended for a time asked me if I was a Calvinist.  Yes, I replied.  I could tell that she did not approve, though she did not leave!  On reflection I realized that I should have said something like, well, it all depends on what you mean by Calvinism.  I say this because not only are there several shades of Calvinism, but also because many people have a complete misunderstanding of what Calvinism is.
  6. Distinguish between teaching and preaching.  We read of our Lord that he went around teaching and preaching.  This is not a tautology. It is not meaningless repetition.  Although there is a measure of overlap and some teaching takes place in preaching, many ministers fail to take advantage of the difference.  Preaching is declaration as a herald with no necessary feedback or immediate response from the congregation.  Teaching, however, takes many forms and allows for feedback, or discussion, and encourages it.  Jesus asked questions of his hearers and answered questions they asked him.  One of the great advantages of flexible teaching is that the teacher can clear up misunderstandings, and also find out where the hearers are, what they believe, what they understand or misunderstand.  In any case, valuable insights and useful contributions may be made by members of the congregation.  A great opportunity is missed if not only the Sunday services but also the mid-week meetings consist only of preaching or lectures.  Both teaching and preaching should be made relevant by loving application.  All-Age Bible School or Sunday School has proved invaluable, not only because there is then no cut-off point where teenagers leave because they have reached the top class, but also because it causes adults to engage in serious Bible Study.
  7. Engage in discipling.  We are to make disciples not converts (Matt. 28:19, 20).    The words Christian and believer are rarely used in the New Testament.  The regular word is disciple, and a disciple is a disciplined learner. Spending time discipling new Christians will pay dividends in the long run.  There are excellent books available on this subject, such as Discipleship by Alan Hadidian.
  8. Introduce training of leaders and preachers.  These two are not identical.  Good leaders are not all good preachers.  How inconsistent it is to expect pastors to be trained but not elders or deacons.  Good preachers may not necessarily be good leaders though, of course, many are.  J. Oswald Sanders’s classic, Spiritual Leadership, is well worth reading several times over. We should aim to pass on to others what we have learned. (2 Timothy 2:2).
  9. Never stop learning.  No one ever has known it all, nor ever will.  When a person stops learning they nearly always stop teaching, or at least cease to remain fresh.  To assume that you know it all is not only false, but it is a manifestation of pride, the basic sin.  That means being open to suggestions and correction.  This does not mean that you accept every suggestion or attempted correction, but that you are willing to consider what others say without rejecting them out of hand.
  10. Maintain your own close walk with the Lord.  This is essential, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of the flock.  You need to be a clean channel so that the living water may flow freely.  This includes being careful to shepherd your own family (if you have one) for they are your primary concern as a shepherd.  An itinerant preacher once stated that when he visited a church he looked at the minister’s wife, and if she seemed to have been baptized in lemon juice he knew there was a problem!

In all our work we must proclaim Christ crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit.  After all, we are exhorted to go on being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and the Spirit testifies of Christ.  This is best done by the careful, lively, relevant exposition of the Word of God, for it is the Word of grace that builds up a church (2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 20:32).

Where are such men to come from?  The Lord Jesus Christ gave the answer when he said, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest (Matthew 9:36-38).

Preaching and Leadership

January 11, 2010

When I mentioned to a retired minister that I was starting another leadership training course he asked me if I was going to teach them to preach.  I replied that I was not.  Preaching (in the modern sense) is a separate subject.  Ideally, I suppose, all leaders should be preachers and all preachers should be leaders, but it does not always work out like that.  Spiritual leadership is a separate subject from preaching techniques.

According to the New Testament records Jesus never taught his apostleshow to preach.  Likewise, although Paul exhorted Timothy to ‘preach the word’, he seems not to have instructed him in homiletics.

In the New Testament there are about ten different words translated ‘preach’ in various forms, such as ‘preached’, ‘preaching’ , and so on.  One of them is the ordinary word ‘to talk’ (laleo).  Nowadays when we discuss preaching we more often than not have a formal discourse from a pulpit or platform in mind.  For this activity a measure of skill and normally some training is expected.  But in the days of the early church, for at least a couple of centuries, there were no church pulpits.  In any case, our Lord did not seem to have that kind of preaching in mind when he told the apostles to go out and tell people the good news.  No training in public speaking was required for that.

From time to time one hears of preaching courses being held, and that raises a question in my mind.  Why?  Because I am afraid that the emphasis will be upon techniques and know-how rather than on the quality of the preachers life, his character.  For example, one excellent Christian missionary charity specializes in training third-world men to preach.  Those who attend such a course will be given a small library of basic books.  On the surface this seems to be very commendable.  If the men concerned are truly converted, called of God, consecrated, prayerful, living godly lives, separate from worldliness and Spirit-filled, that can only be good.  But if they are not so qualified, not prepared in those qualities, they may be simply learning techniques which may result in seeking status and position, and end up being blind leaders of the blind.  This applies equally in the West, of course.

E. M. Bounds, in Power Through Prayer, wrote, ‘The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.’   He also wrote that it takes twenty years to make a sermon because it takes twenty years to make a preacher.  The saintly Robert Murray McCheyne remarked that his people’s greatest need was his own holiness.  On the same theme, Professor James S. Stewart, in his book on preaching quoted a certain bishop Quayle as asking and answering this question: ‘Preaching is the art of making a sermon and delivering it?  Why, no, that is not preaching.  Preaching is the art of making a preacher and delivering that.  It is no trouble to preach, but a vast trouble to construct a preacher.’

The point I am driving at should be clear by now.  Emphasis on techniques alone may result in producing doctrinally weak, unspiritual, or even unconverted, men in the pulpit.  It need hardly be pointed out that there are many men in secular life who are fine, compelling, even brilliant public speakers, who are not preachers of the gospel.   So, for a preacher, while technique may be helpful, and in formal public services, very desirable, the primary emphasis for a preacher must be upon character, godliness, sincerity, prayerfulness, living the life.  This is why men need to grow in grace and if possible, learn the principles of spiritual leadership.  It is surely most significant that in that classic by J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, which every minister and Christian leader should read often, there is no chapter on preaching.

This is why, when considering a possible preacher such as when calling a pastor, we should be concerned with his character, his spirituality, his lifestyle, his godliness, and whether he is a man of prayer, not just his pulpit skills.  This is also why we must aim, not just at converts, but disciples.  But that is another story.

Call to the Ministry

November 22, 2009

Call to the Ministry

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land that I should not destroy it, but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22:30).
“He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor…” (Isaiah 59:16a).
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,  ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.'” (Matthew 9:36-38).

Some months ago I was in conversation with a former President of a major denomination about the difficulty of finding a suitable pastor for a vacant pulpit. We agreed that there is a dire shortage of suitable men. There are some men available, but not enough to fill all the vacant pastorates. Besides, not all the men are suitable, for one reason or another. The few excellent men available are quickly settled into a pastorate Some of the men who have made themselves available are already in a pastorate but want to move. Either they want to leave or have been asked to leave their present position. Some of those men may be very able and sound and have good reasons for wanting to move. In the case of others it raises a question in the minds of those responsible for finding a pastor. The Scriptures cited above suggest that, in a sense, God Himself is looking for men suitable for His service. In considering this shortage it is worth asking the question, what are the necessary and the desirable qualities in ministers of the Gospel? This is how I see these matters.

1 A definite call from God.
Some would deny this. A few months ago when I mentioned in a discussion this need for a call a prominent evangelical minister retorted that “there is no difference at all between the call to be a minister and the call to be a dentist”. Another evangelical minister said to me, “The only call in the New Testament is the call to be a Christian. There is no such thing as a specific call to the ministry.” Now granted that we use the word ‘calling’ in a general way to describe any person’s job, and therefore every person has, in that sense, his or her ‘calling’, is there really no difference? The Scripture does use the word ‘calling’ in that general sense in 1 Corinthians 7:20. But is there no difference between the sacred ministry and any other calling? Surely the vast majority of people in what we may term ‘secular’ employment actually choose their vocation. While in school or college they consider the various options and select the one that most appeals to them. In some cases they may have had that goal in mind from childhood, perhaps following in a parent’s footsteps. It is certainly possible that in a very few cases their particular vocation was impressed upon them by God, but that is surely rare. It is certainly possible that a person may feel that God has specifically called them to be a dentist or a dustman, a farmer or a fisherman, but the impression one gets is that most people choose their vocation. Please note that to be doing one’s job as to the Lord and serving Him in one’s chosen calling is not the same thing as to be called by God in the first place to do it. But for a man to choose the Christian ministry as his option without any sense of it being God’s will would seem to fly in the face of biblical teaching. Normally the ministry chooses the man, or the Lord does! Let me stress that I am not seeking to deny that a person may strongly feel that God led them into a particular secular employment, but merely seeking to make clear that the call to the ministry is a definite and distinct calling, different from other callings.  Consider the Biblical evidence.
In the first place, we are told quite clearly in Hebrews 5:4 concerning the Old Testament priesthood that “no man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God.”  John the Baptist was “a man sent from God” (John 1:6), and Jesus said to the apostles “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” (John 15:16). Again, in Ephesians chapter four we read that the ascended Christ “gave gifts unto men” and “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”  In Acts chapter Thirteen we read that  “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’.”   Clearly that was not the call to salvation, but a distinct and definite call to ministry. Of course there are several ‘callings’  in Scripture which are common to all Christians, such as the call to salvation, the call to holiness, etc (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:1-9). But the calling to an Ephesians four ministry is not common to all Christians, for Ephesians 4:11 states that it is only some that are so called. This calling may not come in a dramatic way. In fact one of the striking features about those called to ministry in the Bible is that each call to ministry seems to have been distinct; Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul. Only the fishermen friends and brothers seem to have been called in a common way to be Christ’s apostles.
Now if it is being taught that there is ‘no difference at all’  between the call to be a dentist (or any other work) and the call to be a minister, which means in effect that you can choose to be a minister if you like, is it any wonder that there are men in the ministry without a sense of definite call from God? And is it any wonder that, if the idea of a distinct call from God to the ministry is denigrated, men do not expect to hear it or, if there are a stirring within them from God, His voice is ignored as being an erroneous suggestion?
Jesus looked with compassion on the multitudes and said to the disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37,38). Surely that passage implies that labourers are specifically sent by God into the harvest?  But why bother God with such prayers if there is no definite and distinct call into the ministry?  Why not spend our energy in persuading men that they should choose that vocation?  The answer to the dearth of ministers is to earnestly beseech God to send forth labourers, and to expound the Scriptures so that God may use such preaching to call men.
James M. George in his chapter on The Call to Pastoral Ministry writes:

The call of God to vocational ministry is different from God’s call to salvation and His call to service issued to all Christians. It is a call to selected men to serve as leaders in the church. To serve in such leadership capacities, recipients of this call must have assurance that God has so selected them. A realization of this assurance rests on four criteria, the first of which is a confirmation of the call by others and by God through the circumstances of providing a place of ministry. The second criterion is the possession of abilities necessary to serve in leadership capacities. The third consists of a deep longing to serve in the ministry. The final qualification is a lifestyle characterized by moral integrity. A man who fulfils these four qualifications can rest in the assurance that God has called him to vocational Christian leadership. [Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, John MacArthur, et al, Word Publishing, 1995, p. 102].

2. A Knowledge of the Bible.
This may seem obvious, but, alas! It cannot be taken for granted today. Many men coming from Bible Colleges and University Theological departments just do not know their Bibles. A minister showed me a letter from an officer of one of the largest city missions in this country, in which he gave examples of five candidates for posts as city missionaries who, in a fairly simple and straightforward Bible examination, revealed an appalling ignorance of Scripture. Three of those applicants had degrees in theology from British Theological colleges. A graduate of Oxford University told me that a lecturer in Theology there complained that he found it extremely difficult to get theological students to study their Bibles. When he set them a passage to study they went straight to the commentaries and quoted them, rather than studying the passage itself. This may be a reflection on the churches from which those students came, but sadly one hears of supposedly evangelical churches where drama, testimonies, family services have replaced the reading and exposition of the Word of God. And how many churches have dropped their Bible Study meetings? A minister must know his Bible.

3. Doctrinal Integrity.
If there is a lack of Bible knowledge in the churches today there is certainly also an ignorance of basic doctrine, or at least woolliness about fundamental truths. A man must be sound in doctrine if he is to be a preacher of the Gospel. A leading evangelical minister stated recently that every evangelical minister ought to be able to preach on the doctrines of grace without any notes. In other words, he should know basic doctrines so well that he could preach on them extempore.

4. Preaching ability.
It goes without saying that if a man is to be a preacher he should be able to communicate truth in a clear and compelling fashion. This ability will grow, however, if someone is called. This alone, however, is not enough. Even non-Christians can be eloquent speakers, and many liberal ministers are able communicators.

5. A man of prayer.
The apostles refused to take on other tasks because they insisted that they must give themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” Notice the order, prayer first. Notice also that they were to ‘give themselves continually’ to these matters. It is a sad reflection on our churches that few candidates for the ministry today seem to have experienced spending a day, a half-night or a whole night in prayer, still less done this with any regularity. What is even more alarming is that some will confess that they do not have a daily time of prayer and meditation on the Word. Some pour scorn on the term ‘Quiet Time’ but cannot suggest a better name for it. It is usually reckoned to be wisdom not to destroy something good until you are ready to replace it with something better, and the danger is that publicly denigrating the title of a ‘Quiet Time’ may result in the practice of it suffering as a side effect.

6. Consecration.
The ministry should be their all-absorbing passion. Like Paul they should be able to say “this one thing I do…”   They may, of course have other interests. It is good for a man to have a hobby, a means of relaxation. But if the hobby, the sport, television, or whatever it is, looms too large in his life so that at times the ministry takes second place, the balance is wrong. Some men today are so obsessed with sport that the ministry seems like an avocation and the sport is what they live for. The hymn, Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee must be a reality in a minister’s experience.

7. Separation.
This is a contentious issue, and standards and opinions vary widely among evangelicals today in a way that they did not fifty years ago. Worldliness is an increasing problem in Western churches at the present time. But let us take an issue which is very clear; our use of time. It is surely incontrovertible that before the advent of television no man of God would have spent as long in the cinema each week as some ministers today spend in front of the television. Oh yes, we all know that some programmes are informative and interesting, but the vast bulk of television is distinctly unedifying, and much of it is degrading and depraved. It seems to me that one application of Romans 1:31 is that to ‘have pleasure’  (AV) in those who do wicked and depraved things could include being entertained by watching people enact them. That would rule out all the ‘soaps’.  But let us assume that a godly minister will not allow himself to be entertained by watching evil perpetrated on the screen. Let us simply draw attention to the amount of time spent watching TV. A recent survey revealed that many ministers spend very little time reading. It is a question of priorities. There are many other smaller issues one could mention such as dress, demeanour, general attitude, behaviour of children, attitude of wife, use of money, etc, which in themselves might not debar a man from ministry, but when added to the more serious matters turn a congregation off, or even more seriously, lead a congregation into worldly ways.  By way of illustration, think about buying a second-hand car. If you are getting it for a good price then one small defect that can easily be remedied, such as one cracked wing mirror, or one worn tyre, might not put you off. But if there were many such ‘small’ defects you would almost certainly look elsewhere. It is just the same with ministers. One small defect such as a fondness for television, keenness on sport or a less than tidy appearance, might not deter some churches. But if the candidate watches a lot of TV, is very keen on, say, football, is untidy in appearance, his wife uncooperative, his children undisciplined, etc, a church would have to be either very undiscerning or desperate, or both, to call such a man.

8. Willingness to sacrifice.
It is deplorable how some churches treat their ministers. But entering the ministry is for most men a sacrifice in that they could earn more money and live more comfortably in secular employment. A man may have to go to a church that can afford only a small stipend at first, until God has blessed the work and the church has grown. Indeed he may have to take a part-time job as well as the pastorate to support himself, as the apostle Paul did.

9. Godliness.
Godliness is a general term for a way of life that is God obsessed. Some years ago the writer was at a conference and sitting next to the Principal of a well-know Bible College. In conversation it came out that we were seeking to train men for the ministry in the church I was pastoring at the time. I remarked that my aim was to produce men of God. To my astonishment the Principal remarked. “Oh, that’s impossible in Bible College. The students are so bolshy, wanting their rights, and so on.”  What are things coming to?

10. A stable home life.
In the qualifications for an overseer in I Timothy 3, two out of the seven verses refer to the candidates family life. A minister has to set an example in this and in other areas of life (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-3).

These are some of the issues the present writer considers essential for a call to the ministry.