Russell Moore: Good News for Bad Preachers

Russell Moore gives some great insight and encouragement for young ministers who, when starting out, will preach terrible sermons. He encourages you in how to proceed. Good stuff!

Should Preaching Persuade or Merely Inform?

I’ve been pondering the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian of late,  Worship at MBEBC especially after preaching recently on Romans 15:14-24 (“Is God’s Mission our Ambition?”).  Twice in that passage, we see the role of the Holy Spirit.  Paul sought to offer the Gentiles as an acceptable offering, “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v. 16).  He sought, in a parallel thought, to “bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (v. 18-19). 

As an offshoot of this passage, I revisited the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching.  I have sat under preachers who believed it was simply their role to inform as to the content.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to take that informative message and apply it to the listener’s heart for personal living.  Few (if any) illustrations and even fewer application narratives made for a sermon all about content—but ruggedly absent in connection.

As a reactive (or maybe corrective) measure, the pendulum has swung the other way in that the Holy Spirit must be living and active in preparation as well as the presentation; along with this, He must move in the presentation along with the persuasion!  In this mindset, its advocates note that we are working both on a rational and an existential/experiential level.  A sermon should be content + compulsion—or as some would put this, “Preaching that’s from the heart!” 

As a follower of Christ, my calling and ultimately my passion is preaching and teaching people the Word of God!  My bookshelves in my office are lined with preaching books from various authors from varying backgrounds advocating expositional over topical (or vice versa), strong structure over fluidity and conversational approaches (or vice versa).  One book suggests preaching with notes, another preaching without notes.  One book is titled “Spirit-Led Preaching,” another “Spirit-Empowered Preaching“,” another “Biblical Preaching,” still another, “Christ-Centered Preaching,” still another, “Anointed Expository Preaching,” and yet another “The Supremacy of God in Preaching.”  The most provocative one is entitled, “Why Johnny Can’t Preach.”

Needless to say, it’s encouraging to see so many interact with this crucial topic.  Yet, we must get back to the issue of this:  should preaching be persuasive or merely inform?

If we are to look at the snippets of sermons found in the Scriptures, we see that they are not simply informative theological diatribes and treatises.  In Ezra 7:10, we see that Ezra the priest’s heart was to “set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (ESV).  Yet, Ezra was also persuasive when it came to teaching, to such a degree that he tore his garment and cloak and pulled hair from his head and his beard and sat appalled (Ezra 9:3). 

Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) contains numerous imperatives:

  • Do not be angry against your brother, but be reconciled to your brother and come to terms quickly—else you’ll be guilty of breaking the 6th commandment (Matthew 5:21-26).
  • Do not lust, or you’ll be guilty of breaking the 7th commandment (and this is all forms of sexual lust—including fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia along with pornography).
  • We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).
  • We are to give to the needy, pray, and fast (Matthew 6:1-18).
  • We are to flee from anxiety and seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:25-34).

Chapter seven is chock full of examples as well, but you get the idea.  Jesus wasn’t just informing, he was persuading with a holy authority.

In Acts 2:1-42, the apostle Peter persuaded the Jews to the point that they were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and wanted to know how to respond.  In Acts 17:17-34, the apostle Paul persuaded those on Mars Hill in the Areopagus, where he explained the true Creator who sent His resurrected Son.  He called on them “to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (17:30b-31). 

In each of Paul’s epistles is the thread of walking worthy of Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 3:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5; Titus 3:5-9).  He bolsters these imperatives with the doctrine of the nature and work of God as brought forth in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I close with this passage from one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church:  “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”  He persuades them in the assurance and conviction of what Christ accomplished at the cross, but also what He is accomplishing in His church from heaven through the Holy Spirit!  He then presses everyone to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).  This is the message to which he has been entrusted—and it’s a persuasive command he has laid out by the power of the Spirit.

So preach passionately!  Let me (truly) close with a wonderful quote from Robert Smith, from the foreword of Greg Heisler’s, “Spirit-Led Preaching”:

The contemporary church suffers from the ache of memory that has resulted in pneumatological amputation and absence.  In fact, the Holy Spirit has been demoted to the status of the stepchild of the Trinity, especially in preaching. . . . In these days of unprecedented fear and incomparable tragedies, the Spirit and the Word need to be married together in an inextricable bond so that the hearers of our gospel can be initiated into the faith through the gospel, instructed by the faith through the gospel, and be inspired to keep the faith through the gospel” (xi-xii).

Five Foundations For Children’s Ministry (Tony Kummer)

What are the real essentials in Children’s Ministry? What core values should transcend your curriculum and ministry methods? I am constantly asking these questions to myself. When the children I teach this Sunday turn 30 what will really matter in their lives?

Here are what I consider four essential foundations for all church based ministry to children. Let me know what you think.

1. Children’s Ministry must be God-Centered. This means that in our teaching, we must emphasize the greatness of God. The Bible is first and foremost a book about God. We want our children to see how strong and big and faithful and loving and majestic and smart and satisfying our God is. Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” This is my prayer for you children this year – that they would experience God in such a way as to develop a lifelong desire for him. So when times of trouble come they will take refuge in him.

2. Children’s Ministry must be Bible-saturated. This means that God’s Word must permeate everything that we do. In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul reminds Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Mere human works are not enough to guide our children to God – they need the Bible. Only God’s Word can change hearts.

3. Children’s Ministry must be Gospel-driven. We must be intentional to proclaim the Gospel to children and their families. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This was the command of Christ in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

4. Children’s Ministry must minister to the whole family. We recognize that God has called parents to be the primary faith-nurturers of children. Therefore, our Children’s Ministry must partner with parents to assist them in fulfilling this calling. This means serving the parents as well as the children.

5. Children’s Ministry is about serving kids. At the end of the day, we are working to help and serve the children. Our work is to put their ultimate spiritual needs ahead of our own. Our ministry becomes great as we excel in service. As Jesus says in Mark 9:35, ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.


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Wonderful Book on Visitation to the Sick

Brian Croft has contributed an excellent book entitled Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness (Day One: 2010, 128 pp).   He outlines the biblical, theological, historical, practical and pastoral reasons behind this all-important ministry. 

Don’t skip ahead to the practical advice.  Croft takes the reader through the biblical examples as well as examples from church history from men like Richard Baxter and Charles Spurgeon to show how we can stand on the shoulders of giants in bringing a gospel touch to those who are in great need.

I will use this book for training of upcoming pastoral students and deacons at my church.  Much-needed!

About the Author (from Amazon)

Brian Croft graduated from Indiana University in 1997 with a B. A. in Sociology and did some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served in pastoral ministry in some manner for over 12 years and is currently in his 5th year as Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. He and his wife, Cara, have 4 children: Samuel, Abby, Isabelle and Claire. His hobbies include sports (golf, tennis, racquetball), playing music (piano and guitar), reading (especially biographies and American history), teaching self-defense classes and teaching his children sports and music.

Preaching a Funeral For An Unbeliever

Yes, I am actually posting.   It’s been a long while since I’ve posted–good to be back.

On occasion, I am asked to preach a funeral for one who has died without Christ.  The first time I encountered this difficulty was actually before I became a pastor.  My uncle died as an avowed atheist who had rejected Christ up until the end.  He died unexpectedly.  I remember my parents telling me how sad and hollow the service was, because he had rejected any notion of the afterlife.

For the pastor, a great tension exists.  On the one hand, you have grieving family members and friends who want the funeral to be about the deceased’s earthly life.  On the other hand, the Scriptures are clear about the reality of their eternal life (or death, as the case may be).   How does the minister of the gospel of Christ handle this?

Always acknowledge and validate the deceased’s life. This person is someone’s grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, son, daughter, etc.  In other words, this person was greatly loved and will be missed.   A lifetime of memories are stored on the bookshelves on their minds.  A myriad of pictures may be displayed by the casket representing a lifetime of events and experiences.  These cannot and should not be denied, even in light of their refusal to receive Christ in this life.

Develop a close relationship/friendship with the family of the deceased. Whatever the reason they asked you to do the funeral (such as:  you were the only one to visit them at their home or in the hospital; they looked you up in the phone book; you are the pastor of a relative, etc.), you must take time to get to know the family personally.  Visit them in their home, call them, go to the viewing at the funeral home or church.  Your presence speaks volumes.  You are not to simply arrive and preach your message.  You come alongside them and help share their grief and bear their burdens.  And you will be amazed at how they appreciate your presence and will lean on you for support.  At that point, you are as Christ to them by virtue of your calling into the Gospel ministry.  Which leads me to the next point… .

Remember your ultimate calling as a minister of the gospel of Christ, even in this situation.  In the course of your visits and conversations with the family, you will find yourself tempted to lessen the blow of the deceased’s eternal reality — something which can happen easier that it initially appears.  The family is so grieved and despondent that, even in light of the deceased’s apathy or even outright rejection of Christ, may comfort themselves in thinking that the deceased is in “a better place.”  The alternative of believing someone they loved so dearly is suffering eternal judgment in hell may be too much to bear.

But even so, we have a higher calling.  The funeral is for those in attendance, not just the one in the casket.   Remind those in attendance of this fact, then show them the comfort that may be found.  How?  “Preach Christ crucified!”  The reality of Christ must break through the muddle of thoughts that are settling in their grief-stricken minds.  While they may comfort themselves that many other issues and thoughts, family and friends, and fill in the blank — in reality, the only comfort that may be found in any circumstance or situation is in Christ.  We must not turn away or be ashamed of Christ, even if it means breaking through their sensibilities of what the ‘afterlife.’

I have put out some other posts on preaching a funeral:

Scriptures I Use For Funeral Services

Practical Tips For Preaching a Funeral

Any other thoughts on this matter?

Another Case For Expositional Preaching

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching from Matthew 6:25-34 on the subject of anxiety.  I mentioned that faith cures anxiety, but anxiety kills faith.  This sermon landed on a Sunday when our church will have a Q&A time concerning the possibility of a new building.  As you can imagine, a lot of anxiety comes with that.  Do we have the money?  Is it really necessary?  With the economy the way it is, is it wise?  The questions and concerns can pile up.

This passage, though next in line in the series on the Sermon on the Mount, landed perfectly because of our God’s sovereign providence.  If we seek primarily the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then God will take care of the necessities of our life.

Last week, I preached on Matthew 6:19-24 on a sermon I titled “A Better Economic Plan.”  You see, all that week, we saw the Dow drop, and drop, and drop.  God tells us the futility of laying up our treasures on earth because we allow those treasures to govern who we are and what we do.  I did not change my sermon for the occasion–God knew from eternity that our people would need to hear that message that Christ preached on the Sermon on the Mount.

We may believe we know what our people need to hear, but don’t give up on expositional preaching through the text of Scripture.   The Holy Spirit laid out the Scriptures in a certain way for a certain reason, so it would behoove us as preachers to preach them from that inspired layout.

I hope to post more in the future (been a bit sparse over the last two months).  Thanks to those of you who have inquired about this.  It’s encouraging.

Pray For Me — Leading a Pastor’s Conference in Trinidad

On January 16-17, 2009, I will be leading a pastor’s conference in Trinidad. The theme will be “Stewards of the Gospel” and will march through 1 and 2 Timothy. I am excited about this, but also excited about a possible book that may come from this. Roddie Taylor, pastor of the Mt. Beulah Evangelical Baptist Church in Point Fortin, and I are working on writing a book for Trinidadian/Caribbean pastors in the area of preaching and pastoring biblically. Many pastors are being greatly and harmfully influenced by the TBN model which spreads the heresy that faithfulness means that God will bring material blessing. So we will be talking to a number of pastors and ministers, doing research and leg work for this book.

We would appreciate your prayers!

The Razor’s Edge of Pastoring, Part II

Another razor’s edge of pastoring is that I would shepherd the flock of God willingly!  In other words, pray that I would not see my calling as a pastor simply as a job, as something I do to pay the bills.  Pray that God would grant me and guard in me a hart that is one who desires to love, serve, preach to and shepherd this church.  Pray that nothing would take away the joy found in Jesus!  Pray that I would work willingly, not just being self-motivated but God-motivated, Christ-motivated, Word-motivated.   Pray that computers, phone calls, worry, lack of rest, and a myriad of other issues would not divert me from the crux of my calling: preaching and teaching the Word of God.

(If you would like to read Part I of this series, click here.)

The Razor’s Edge Balance of a Pastor, Part I

Summary: Have the emergent church folks got it right in saying that pastors shouldn’t not exert any type of ecclesiastical authority in the church, or have the more formal churches got it right when they try to separate themselves from their flock? This is the razor’s edge balance that pastors must find.

—————-

First of all, let me say how glad I am to be back. Cindy and I went to Florida to celebrate our 10th anniversary. My sister let us use one of her timeshares at the Ron Jon Cape Caribe Resort in Port Canaveral. Then we went to St. Augustine about two hours north, then we went south to see some old friends in Clewiston. I had the privilege and the honor of preaching at the First Baptist Church of Clewiston where I served as Minister of Music and Youth from 1998-2001.

While down there, I really had an opportunity to revisit the place where God called me into the preaching ministry. I obtained my B.S. in Church Music from Palm Beach Atlantic University in 1994, then went to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to obtain my Master of Church Music, which I received in 1997. I went to FBC-Clewiston right after in March of 1998. I planned on having a long and wonderful ministry among those wonderful people.

God had other plans. A call to preach. Back to seminary. Serving in small churches. Children on the way. Times of joy and times of strain. While in Clewiston, we were financially set and were saving money like crazy. Since, with children and school, finances have been ultra-tight. Yet, being in God’s will has been a tremendous blessing and joy.

As I was pondering this, along with a sermon series I’ll be doing on Church Membership, along with my DMin project which seeks to make the case for the local church to take up the mantle of training preachers, I came across again for the first time (you know what I mean, right?) 1 Peter 5:1-4:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: [2] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; [3] not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (ESV).

I asked the flock at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church here in Lexington, KY, to read this passage and craft it into a prayer for me that I would be able to navigate the razor’s edge of pastoring and preaching.

Pray That I Would Shepherd Diligently

Churches and the people of God are often referred to in the Word of God as a flock of sheep. Wiersbe helped me realize that sheep are clean and tend to flock together (a good thing) but have a tendency to stray, desiring to go their own way. Sheep are defenseless and in need of protection.

As so Jesus as our Great Shepherd has placed undershepherds to serve in shepherding the flock of God.Jesus, as he is in heaven working among the churches (Revelation 1:9-20), initiated his church in such a way that he places pastors (undershepherds) to oversee the people of God. Paul tells young Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:1-2

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. [2] Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.

I would read over this passage and think, “God, no way! Keep me as a music and youth minister, but do not call me as a fellow sinner — and a young fellow sinner at that — to oversee a people.” So for 18 months I wrestled. Yet the Hound of Heaven would not leave me alone! Finally, he brought me to a point where I finally submitted and left Clewiston to return to seminary training and a new area of minister.

Shepherds are not always called on to maintain the peace — sometimes that rod of staff is not just for comfort but for correction! Shepherds of God have a tough balance — pastors are among the sheep as the people of God, but also “over” the flock.

Yet, some pastors swing one way or the other. Some reject having authority, as the emergent church folks tend to do, and say, “It’s not about us having authority, but merely facilitating.” Yet, we are overseers. Hebrews 13:17 addresses this:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As you can see, it takes prayerful study of God’s Word and a high degree of character to find the God-ordained balance he seeks.

(Tomorrow: Part II — Pray That I Would Shepherd Willingly)

When the Delight of Preaching Becomes Routine

Many times, the rigors of ministry make the primacy of our calling as expositors dim. Here what Spurgeon has to say:

Unless we are careful, we shall be likely to say to ourselves, “Monday evening here again, I must give an address at the prayer-meeting. Thursday evening, and I have to preach, although I have not yet a topic! Sunday morning, Sunday evening; I have to preach again! Yes, preach again! Then there are all those extra engagements; it is for ever preach, preach, preach! I am always preaching. What a weariness it is!” Preaching ought to be a joy, yet it becomes a task. Constant preaching should be constant enjoyment, and yet, when the brain is tired, pleasure flies. Like the sick boy in the prophet’s day, we are ready to cry, “My head! My head!” We ask, “How can we keep up our freshness?” It is hard to produce so much with such scant leisure for reading; it is almost as bad as making bricks without straw. Nothing can maintain us in the freshness of our beginnings but the daily anointing of the Spirit” (The All-Round Ministry, Pilgrim Publications, 1973, pp. 134-135.)

I can entirely sympathize with this, but am continually thankful that God continues to replenish and supply. What steps do you take to remain fresh in your preaching ministry?