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Leadership is a buzz word these days.

You only need to type the word into the search engine at Amazon.co.uk and you will be deluged with enough books to keep even the most veracious reader busy for a decade or two.

It has also become a high-profile issue in the Christian church. There are conferences, seminars, and yes, loads of books.  Today you’re expected to set the strategy, define the values, identify your style, and of course you must have a vision and communicate it. Leadership is the name-of-the-game. Or is it? Do our Baptist Churches need leaders? Do they even want them?

I used to joke that the average Baptist Church liked its Pastor to give a clear, strong lead, so that the Church Members’ Meeting has something definite to disagree with!

An old friend of mine had an even stronger view. He claimed the typical scenario went like this: “when you are called to a church, lots of people will say ‘this place needs strong leadership’. You very soon discover that what they actually mean is ‘this place needs a leader who agrees with me.’ After you’ve been there for a while and start taking the church in the direction you believe is right, those very same people are the first to say ‘this guy’s a total dictator.’”

Interestingly, there isn’t a huge amount about leaders or leadership as such in the New Testament. Yes, obviously there are “leaders” of sorts, but I can’t help but feel that they were very different to what the world today usually means by ‘leaders’. I offer the following brief observations.

1. The main task of leaders in the NT seems to be to preach and teach the Scriptures to people, especially the gospel.

There is virtually nothing about ‘developing the vision’, but huge amounts about proclaiming the Word. As Calvin said, the Pastor leads the church by preaching the Word from the pulpit.

2. Paul’s main concern with choosing new leaders for the churches under his care is character, not gifting.

In today’s church it sometimes seems the other way round. All to often, Christian leaders come off-the-rails because their gifting carries them to places that their character cannot sustain them.

3. Paul’s letters to Timothy are full of advice that Timothy should make his own personal growth as a godly Christian and as a Pastor of integrity, his number one concern.

This is because Pastors are not supposed to model a commitment to endless meetings and ever-busy programs. Rather they are to be examples to the flock of true godliness worked-out in the midst of every day life.

4. Modern leadership is full of talk of ‘servant leaders’, often with a favourable nod towards Jesus of Nazareth.

However, what they mean is if you serve others by helping them get the company’s job done, you will be a successful leader (and get promoted). But Jesus didn’t say that serving was the pathway to greatness; He said serving was greatness. In that little difference of words is all the difference between the World and the Kingdom.

In short, the NT doesn’t seem overly concerned about charismatic leaders sharing the vision and achieving goals. It seems far more focused on godly men and woman who make it their business to help others become godly men and women.

So…do our churches need leaders?

Yes, I believe they do. But we must rethink our understanding of leadership along Biblical lines.

There is far too much today of the ‘christening’ of secular ideas. I am not against learning from the world, but we must be ultra careful in applying the world’s ideas on leadership, to God’s Church, which He purchased with His own blood.

In this series of articles, aimed at young and emerging leaders in the church (whatever their title may or may not be), I want to explore what leadership means from a Biblical perspective, and how we might grow into more godly, effective leaders.

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Long term readers of this blog (for whom professional counselling may be advisable) will know that I have been struggling to mention Jesus of late.

The reason for my dilemma was Jonah 1. What does one do if one’s exegesis does not naturally lead to Jesus or the gospel?

You may remember that I explained the tension in terms of

         The Grammatical-Historical Method of Interpretation    (text means what it meant in its original context to its original hearers)

vs

       The Christo-centric/Theological Method of Interpretation       (the text being viewed in the light of the whole Bible & especially Jesus)

I made the point that it isn’t always easy to cover both approaches in the same message. Indeed, it might make for a rather confusing double message.

Well I still haven’t resolved the issue definitively, but I am thankful to the Puritans and Jim Packer for at least helping me out with Jonah 1.

I heard J.I. Packer back in 1993 at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London. He did two masterly talks on preaching. In one of them he spoke of a simple template that the Puritans often used in examining Scripture. They said that each text should be searched for three different elements:

  • Law
  • Gospel
  • Example 

Every text had at least one of these, if not all three. As Packer explains:

Law: is anything that convicts us of sin, shows us that we are under God’s judgement, and points us towards our need of salvation. So under this head might come such things as God’s righteousness, His glory, His laws and commands, as well as our sinfulness.

Gospel: is anything that speaks of God’s saving provision. So here would come His grace, mercy, faithfulness, as well as the obvious gospel matters of  Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and so on.

Example: are stories and/or people that illustrate the above.

Jonah 1 is a wonderful passage as it contains all 3! So I was able to show this simple framework to my flock and then explain how the first message had been about Law shown through Jonah’s Example–the disobedient, runaway prophet being described as causing the same kind of evil as God had condemned Nineveh for!

But now, in the second message, we were going to see Gospel worked out despite Jonah’s Example, as God is able not only to discipline and turn-around his way-wood servant, but also cause the salvation of a ship load of pagan sailors in the process. Such a message speaks hope and encouragement to us in our fallenness, as we see God’s power to fulfill His purposes and His grace to transform people and situations.

Even I could get to Jesus from there!!

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I’m Getting Really Worried Now.

Just to talk about a sermon that does not explicitly talk about Christ or the Cross or the Gospel just….well….just feels wrong. I’ve decided to give-up trying to be clever about all this, and simply think-out-loud and see where it leads me.

Firstly, there are other things that make a sermon distinctively ‘Christian’. If I preach on the Fatherhood of God, on our adoption as His Children, or on the difference between being a son of a God and a child of God, then these are distinctively Christian messages. If I focus on the Holy Spirit, His personhood, His deity, His ministry, these are also distinctively Christian. Likewise, the classic framework of Creation–Fall–Redemption–Consummation that gives the Bible its metanarrative, would make for a distinctively Christian message.

Now it might be objected that none of these can be preached without reference to Christ. For example, how are we adopted as God’s children? Through Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross. However, one could also contend that no Christ-centered truth can be fully preached without reference to the Father or the Spirit. For instance, can we fully preach the Cross without reference to the Father’s role? Or the resurrection without reference to the Holy Spirit’s working?

So perhaps true Christian preaching is not so much Christo-centric, but Trinitarian?

This is to me and interesting thought. The old joke about preaching says “what shall I preach about?” To which the answer is “about God and about 20 minutes!”  Perhaps a more accurate version would be “about the Trinitarian God and about 20 minutes.”

[More to follow…]

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(This is a follow-on from my previous post “What I Learned About Preaching THIS Sunday – Oct 27th”)

OK, when I put it like that, it seems terrible!…Doesn’t it?

To me this raises two important and related issues:

I. What Makes a Sermon a Christian Sermon?

II. What Does One Do If One’s Exegesis Doesn’t Get One to Jesus

Let me deal with these, over several posts,  one at a time.

I. What Makes a Christian Sermon a Christian Sermon?

There is a line of thinking that says that Jesus must be the focus and subject of every sermon.

I have heard this put in various ways…

“Whatever the text is, make a bee-line from it to the Cross” (after CH Spurgeon)

“If you preach a sermon from the Old Testament that a Jewish person would preach, then you have preached it wrong.”

“Every sermon should reveal the gospel.”

I am sympathetic to these approaches. If a preacher is proclaiming a text and  there is no mention of Jesus or the Cross or the Gospel, one may well wonder if that is indeed a Christian message. But… I am also uneasy.

The underlying principle here seems to be that every true Christian sermon will take a text and then show how it fits in to the wider, broader, Christio-centric meaning of Scripture as a whole. Now that is surely a good thing, a right thing, a necessary thing. But,

  • EVERY message, on
  • EVERY text

1. Is this preaching or theology?

This seems to be more a practice of biblical or even systematic theology. What about actual exegesis? What about what the text actually says? What about what it actually meant in its original context?

I accept that no Biblical text can be viewed in its original context alone. If we hold to a high view of Scripture, then every text began originally in the heart of God, where Christ has dwelt since before eternity. Therefore from God’s perspective, every text’s original context was in some way Christ.

2. Do we take context seriously enough?

However, God also chose to unveil His full revelation slowly and in stages. He chose to reveal Himself in and through history–real people and real events in specific historical and cultural contexts. Therefore, if preaching a text without placing it in its wider gospel/Christ context is to not fully preach the text, then to preach its Christ dimension without also preaching its specific historical and cultural context is to not fully preach the text as well.

To take my dilemma as an example, Jonah chapter 1 meant something specific to its original audience, not just in the light of Christ. To fully understand and expound the text, I must do both. I must show how it fits into the Christ context, but also how it fits into it’s specific ‘there and then’ context too.

3. From Christian sermon to Christian series?

The thing is, I’m not convinced you can always do that in one sermon. If you have 50 minutes, maybe. But 20 or 25? And what about the idea of each sermon having one specific proposition or thesis? (This is the idea that one of the things that makes a sermon a sermon, as opposed to a talk or a lecture, is that it has a very focused message and purpose. It is like a nail or an arrow, a singular message designed to penetrate a specific target.) What does one do if one finds one dominant theme or message from the Christo-centric context, and a different one from its specific historical/cultural context?

In other words, one sermon may not be enough to legitimately expound the different meanings of a text, and not every one of those meanings may explicitly be Jesus. Hence, a sermon that is not explicitly about Jesus or the Cross.

Perhaps we need to say that a sermon series may or may not be fully Christian, given its overall emphasis of different truths. But that within any given series, individual messages may not talk about the Cross or the Gospel.

[…to be continued.]

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A heavy cold and cough threatened disaster. My voice nearly gave out during the prayers. So I had to improvise a little. It was the first in a new series on the Book of Jonah, and “stand-up & preach” had to become “sit-down & talk”. Here’s what I think I learned….

1. Sometimes a Change is As Good As a Change!

What do I mean? My church normally gets a change by me being away and a different preacher takes the pulpit. A different voice, a different style, it’s refreshing for them. They appreciate the quest speaker, and they appreciate having me back too. Well it seems that a radical change of presentation by the same preacher can work just as well.

I sat down on a stool, rather than standing behind the pulpit.

I spoke much more conversationally, rather than a preaching/declaration style

I shared something of my thought processes of how I had explored the text, not just the conclusions/points arising from that thinking.

All in all, it made for a very different sermon experience. People found it a refreshing change.

I would not do it every week. But it has made me wonder whether I need to be a bit more deliberate and varied in choosing my preaching style. I have a preferred style. But it is not my only one.  Selecting a different option at least once a month might be a good idea.

2. I Didn’t Preach All My Material

I had four points. The first two seemed to go really well. I had already preached for 25 min. So maybe more is less…and less is more. I stopped at two points. Had I gone on, I may have finished my material, but lessened my impact. As John Maxwell would say, “it’s just a thought…”

3. I Didn’t Mention Jesus.

Wha-? Really? Yes, really. And as someone who believes in a (gentle) Christocentric approach to the interpretation of Scripture, that bothers me. But, Jonah chapter 1 didn’t seem to lead naturally to Jesus. Should I force a link when I honestly can’t see one? That would have bothered me too. My exegesis may have been weak, but is that any excuse for isagesis? Ummm…another post for another day I think.

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[Every so often I want to offer a brief Biblical or theological reflection on ministry. Here is one of them…]

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. – The Apostle Paul (Acts 20 v28)

Ever wondered what on earth it is we’re actually supposed to be doing?

Every so often, amidst all the meetings and appointments and emails and complaints and problems and admin, you suddenly get one of those “why am I doing this?” moments.  At least, I do.

 

Searching the Epistles for Answers

Many years ago I did an extensive study of the Pastoral Epistles. I asked myself one basic question, what exactly did Paul expect Timothy and Titus to do?

The conclusion I came to was this–Paul expected his younger understudies to do two things:

  • Keep the flock together in unity
  • Help each individual towards Christ-like maturity.

Unity and Maturity…that was it.

 

Learning from the First Church

Recently I have been preaching on Acts 2.  I noted how, in the Greek text, the  key promise in Peter’s final appeal was not so much the forgiveness of sins, but rather the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus the Acts 2 Church is presented as very much The Community of the Holy Spirit.

One of the key features of that first community was its deep unity. For example, they were devoted to

  • the prayers’ –implying praying in common, together
  • the fellowship’–suggesting that they weren’t so much committed to just fellowship (having a few mates in the church) as THE fellowship (being part of one, united body).

As I explained to the Church, this should not surprise us. The Holy Spirit’s vertical ministry, as it were, is to connect us through Christ to the Father, so that we may grow in intimacy with Him and also experience more of the salvation that Christ has won for us.

Thus we may say that He seeks to give us greater oneness with the Father and the Son, that we may grow in maturity.

In the same way, the Spirit’s horizontal ministry is to bind us every more fully into a oneness of community, around Christ. That is, to help us experience ever more deeply the unity that we have as Christ’s body.

Unity and Maturity.

So it seems to me, that although we are under-shepherds of Christ, we are also overseers by the Holy Spirit, and as such our ministry reflects and draws upon His ministry–that ministry of bringing people to greater maturity in Christ and greater unity in Christ.

 

Making It Personal

More than some vaguely interesting (or not) point of theology, this makes me realize that ALL true pastoral ministry must be profoundly Holy Spirit based, Holy Spirit lead, and Holy Spirit enabled. I can begin to understand why Paul Yongi-Cho referred to the Holy Spirit as “My Senior Pastor”.

It makes me ask myself how much my own ministry is founded upon a true dependence on the Holy Spirit.

I can hear the words of Bob Roxborough ringing in my ears “there is all the difference in the world between professional ministry and a life empowered by the Spirit.”

That’s why we are here, to promote Unity and Maturity, just as the Holy Spirit who appointed us seeks to do Himself.

And we either work for Him, and under Him, or we don’t work at all.

 

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I probably learned more about preaching after Bible College, than I did while I was at College.

My College time taught me a lot about how to interpret the Bible, but not necessarily about how to communicate it. Shortly after I’d graduated, however, two things happened that changed my preaching forever;

#1 I heard Dr Jim Packer give some masterly talks on preaching at the 1987 Evangelical Ministry Assembly.

#2 I read John Stott’s “I Believe in Preaching”.

I will talk about Dr Packer at a later date. For now, I want to reflect briefly on John Stott’s excellent book.

Here are three things that I learnt from it. They have stood me in good stead down the years.

1. Preachers Must Have a Theological Understanding of What They Are Really Doing?

In other words, you must have a theology of preaching.

When I was a young Christian, a sermon seemed to equal three points from a Bible passage, preferably all beginning with the same letter. Such a practice probably owed more to the academic class room than to a robust theological understanding of preaching.

Preaching is not delivering a lecture; nor is it giving “a talk”. Many people who criticize preaching rightly point out some of the modern trends that make our task difficult. But they often seem to be confusing preaching with something else, such as giving an educational lecture. There seems little theological understanding of preaching in some of their comments. This worries me.

In “I Believe in Preaching”, Stott lays out some Biblical and theological foundations for understanding preaching and the preaching ministry. They are a useful starting point for developing one’s own theology of this vital ministry.

So what is your theology of preaching? (Do you have one??)

 

2. The Essence of a Good Sermon is Being Able to Summarize Your Message in a Single Sentence.

For me, this drives at the heart of the difference between teaching and preaching.

In teaching one might be explaining a doctrine, or showing various different truths to be found in a passage. The emphasis is on imparting information, and helping people understand and (hopefully) apply it. But preaching is much more singular. In preaching one has a message. Or one has a single truth and a particular application of that truth. And the emphasis in preaching is on response, on getting people to repent and believe, to change by the power of God. As such, Stott said, one should be able to summarize this message in a single, sharp sentence.

I guess you could say, every sermon should have its own mission statement!

As I looked back on my preaching, I had to acknowledge Stott was right. All my best sermons had that quality about them–there was a focus, a unity of purpose, a single and obvious key point. My poorer sermons were much more muddled and meandering.

So here’s a question to ask (and perhaps a habit to develop too):

Could I summarize the message of my sermon in a 140 character tweet?

 

3. A Preacher Must Be Disciplined and Intentional in Their Study Habits.

I think I read Stott’s chapter on “Study” more times than any chapter in any other book. It seared into my mind and soul.

Stott outlines the need both for dedicated study of the Word of God, alongside related reading such as theology, and also equally dedicated study of the world around us. This is in order “to bring the Word to the World”, to use a favourite phrase of his.

He outlines several practical guidelines for such study, and I have endeavored to learn and apply his principles. One of the simplest, most helpful, and also most challenging is this; the effective preacher should aim to study,

* an hour a day

*an afternoon a week

*a day a month

*a week a year

As Stott points out, this adds up to some 400 hours a year!

So if you haven’t read “I Believe in Preaching” (or “Between Two Worlds” in the USA) may I recommend it as a positive investment in your preaching ministry.

Until next time, let me close with a final question.

In terms of study, have you found any particular patterns that work? Or any particular habits that have proved useful? If so, why not share them with us?

Please leave your comments below.

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