Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Spiritual Discipline of Conversation, Part 3

As we continue to look at how respectful, honest, and fair conversation can be used to help us learn and grow as disciples of Christ, but with those who share our faith and those who do not, I wanted to revisit a post I did back in Febuary and the conversation that flowed from it. My conversation partner was j razz, a dear brother in Christ and a fellow blogger. The first half of our conversation is posted below.

As an intro, here is the basic content of the post. I was thinking about preaching and what my philosophies are on the topic, and wrote the following article.

____________________________________

1. Preach From the Bible

I had a professor that once told my class to always read, quote, and paraphrase the Bible in sermons as much as possible. "That way, when you are done, you know you said something inspired." Well said, Dr. Nunnally. I don't believe every sermon (or even most sermons) needs to be verse by verse expository preaching, but scripture should always be used. How can we get by with not using it?

2. Keep it Practical

My currect senior pastor holds to the idea that sermons should all be very practical. I agree. In a service like ours where we expect to have at least a handfull of newcomers present every week, we should keep it to something they can understand. They don't want hear about why we should boil goats in their mother's milk, but things like parenting, conflict, influencing culture, God's plan for marriage etc. they tend to care about because it speaks to their lives. There is a place for the esoteric studies of fairly insignificant bits of scripture, but that is not a Sunday morning. Another word for this would be relevance. People need something that is going to pertain to their lives.

3. Use Humor/Entertainment

Erwin McManus was once challenged by someone who accused his church of trying too hard to entertain people. His response, in my own words, was basically that to entertain someone was simply keeping their attention. Some people are entertained by hymns, or organ music, or expository preaching, or drama, or humor etc. I think he makes a great point. We are all trying to communicate a timeless message in new, creative ways. Whatever form that communication takes should depend on the audience. In LiveWire Student Ministries we use lots of humor, video, movement etc., because young people (actually, all people) learn in multi-sensory ways. This is not diluting the message, but rather, becoming better at communicating it. Jesus used stories, object lessons, humor etc. in his teaching, so why are we afraid to?

I must say though, that this, like all things, can easily go too far. Making jokes at a time that needs to be serious can lose a crownd quickly. Also, when the goal becomes entertainment, rather than communicating the message, it has gone too far.

4. Be Semi-Normal

Weirdness is not a spiritual gift; neither is it admirable. Some preachers seem to get off on using "insider language" or "preacher voices." Is there anything more annoying? This is the whole problem with the Christian Subculture that has been created. By pulling back and secluding, we have lost the right and the opportunity to speak into the culture. I am going to a conference in 2 weeks where Donald Miller will be giving a talk called "How to Share the Gospel Without Weirding People Out." I think that is a great point.

Now, I say semi-normal, because it is not entirely normal to lay down one's life for a dead criminal, or to simulate eating his body and drinking his blood or lots of other things for that matter. There is a level of percieved weirdness that all outsiders might have for Christians that involve core doctrines that just come with the territorry. But people need a real person. They are very good at spotting the phony.

5. Talk about Jesus

I tend to think that no matter what topic a person is preaching on, they should involve Jesus in the process. It shouldn't be hard, for he is all over the Bible, even in the Old Testament. It seems that the "model" from the book of Acts is just to tell about Jesus and what he did. That seemed to work pretty well. Therefore, we would do well to involve Jesus in our message every time, and to tell the story of the cross regularly.

There it is. It is certainly not perfect nor is it comprehensive, but I have my thoughts down. Feel free to critique, disagree, and call me a heretic if you must, but may we never give up the journey of becoming better communicators of the most important message in the world.

____________________________________________
Here is the conversation that followed from this post.

j razz said...

In a service like ours where we expect to have at least a handfull of newcomers present every week, we should keep it to something they can understand.

Nick,

Not picking I promise.

With this statement, why would it be beneficial to dumb down the message for a handful, when you have a faithful majority (or at least those who would claim to be Christians) that needs to move on from the milk to the meat as the author of Hebrews would say?

Would the corporate worship time not be better suited for building up and encouraging the believer with the truths of scripture no matter how hard? The whole of scripture was given to us so that we may learn from it and the examples within. The non-believers only need to hear the gospel to be saved. The believer needs to hear the whole counsel of God to grow in sanctification. If your Sunday morning services are to be geared towards those who would claim no allegiance to Christ, why then use anything other than the gospel- the good news? After all, scripture does state that the gospel is the only means under Heaven by which a man can be saved.
It really seems out of place that preaching to the non-believers would be the primary focus of a Sunday morning service. If it is though, when do the saints gather together and fellowship fulfill Col. 3.16? I will stop there.

Just some questions for you Nick. I hope you have a great weekend buddy.

j razz


_______________________________________


Nick said...

Thanks for the input, J razz.

I dont mean "to dumb it down", I just mean to make the sermons applicable. Many sermons in churches are about things that the average seeker (or person for that matter) doesnt give 2 craps about. We can preach a sermon that is applicable to a person who isn't "in" yet, as well as move the "faithful majority" as you say, "from milk to meat." We really can dp both. Our Senior pastor just finished a series on conflict...something everyone deals with and could get better at dealing with, but also talked about Christ and how he has called us to handle it and what our responsibility is etc. I think the miskate is when we think we have to sacrifice one for the other.

That being said, we do have other times of more intensive Bible study and small group time where christians have the opportunity to dig deeper.

The other thing is that we need to avoid insider language, like christianity is a club. I dont think you were referring to that here, though.

Just to clarify, preaching to the non-believers is NOT the primary focus of a Sunday morning service, but we do make ourselves aware that some will be present (we hope and pray).


________________________________________

j razz said...

I dont mean to dumb it down, i just mean to make the sermons applicable. Many sermons in churches are about things that the average seeker (or person for that matter) doesnt give 2 craps about.

I think that we would differ on the ideology behind this statement whereas I would say that the Bible is very applicable and sermons should seek to be faithful to the text. 1. I would say that to be anything other than faithful to the text would be arrogant in that we are saying we know better than God in how to reach others for His Kingdom. 2. The original authors who were inspired by God wrote with purpose when composing the New and Old Testaments. Their message meant something then and it means something now. I would say it is the preacher’s responsibility to show what the text meant, what it means and how it is relevant today. After all, the prophets and apostles were not writing for the joy of it. 3. Relevance is not something that man can place on scripture- it is something that God has instilled within it. If people do not understand the weightiness of scripture & the relevance thereof would it not be beneficial for them to sit under teaching which expounds it and points to the urgency to respond to it?

Preaching is not barred by scripture from using any other method than this, but I would dare say that examples are bountiful where this method (expositing/applying) is used over and over again in scripture. If we look at the New Testament’s Pauline epistles and letters, we mainly see instruction/explanation given to the local church dealing with doctrinal issues that leads into application. Paul addresses his readers from truth’s sturdy foundation and then he builds a structure of ethics/application. I think this structure can be found in most any of Paul’s writings, and if he is any example by which we are to learn from, then where is the irrelevance? Paul did not come to the local churches and say to them, “Because you are still drinking milk it is there you will stay”. No, Paul pushed them to move on as did Christ, as did the author of Hebrews, as did John. It would seem that if the authors of scripture inspired by the Author of scripture wrote the way they did, it was because that is how God deemed it to be so. If we can learn anything from examples, I think it would be their example we would learn most from as I do not know any other men that have been inspired by God to perform the task of building up the church at its very foundation.

I think the miskate is when we think we have to sacrifice one (preaching to unbelievers) for the other(preaching to believers).

Here again, I think that we would differ on the ideology behind this statement as I would agree with the statement on face-value but disagree with some methods of carrying it out. I would say that to make a sermon relevant for non-believers/seekers/atheist/agnostics/pagans, etc. we should look to the examples set forth in scripture. God says in His word that there is no other means under Heaven by which a man can be saved than by hearing and responding accordingly to the gospel. This is relevant to a non-believer. This is also relevant to a believer as we need to be reminded of the gospel regularly. When Paul spoke in the market place to the Greeks, he told them of Christ in a way that they would understand. He went out to them and spoke to them where they were at. But, when Paul wrote letters to the local churches of Philippi, Galatia, Ephesus, etc., he did not make provisions in his letters that spoke to the unbelievers in their mist. He spoke to the church and the local church at that.

Now, if we have unbelievers among us when we worship and hopefully we do, they should be presented with the truth of the gospel message. That truth being: if you do not repent and believe an eternity of Hell awaits you. Christ has already conquered Satan, Sin, and Death and it is just a matter of time before He comes to claim what is rightfully His. It would seem that if a preacher was faithful to the text- preached through its original meaning, its meaning to today’s believers and its application, one application would always be that if you do not repent and believe and obey Christ, then Hell awaits you. This is how I see the prophets worked: God is passing judgment, if you repent that judgment will pass over you, if you do not then you will face that judgment. That is how I see the Gospel message as working: Jesus has done what Adam could not do. Because of this, those who believe on Him for salvation will escape judgment while those who do not will be forced to face judgment for all eternity.

Now, with all that being said, the Bible does not state that a church service must consist of _____. I would be a legalist if I said it did. The Bible does not give us commands as to what is to be done or said, but again, the Bible does give us examples which we can follow. Now whether you follow those examples or not are up to you.

Good conversation Nick, I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to dialogue with me. I hope you have a great week. By the way, I have never heard the phrase 2 craps before, but I laughed hard when I read it…. The whole visual thing.


____________________________________________

Nick said...

Thanks again J razz. This is a fun dialogue.

I would say that to be anything other than faithful to the text would be arrogant in that we are saying we know better than God in how to reach others for His Kingdom

I agree, and notice that my #1 point was to use scripture. Context is equally important.

Relevance is not something that man can place on scripture- it is something that God has instilled within it

I think this is easy to say, and hard to disagree with, but reality is that it is difficult. Communicating this timeless message in a way that is relevant to an ever changing culture is hard. Is scripture relevant? Yes. But we are separated by 2000 years of time and culture (at best), so the job becomes increasingly difficult to communicate the message in a relevant way. I could pick a number of scriptures to speak on, for example, "Bury your refuse with a stick" from Deut, but that is not relevant to the unchurched guy in 2007 whose life is falling apart. Communicating that verse in a way he can understand is hard, and I think we would agree that it is not very relevant or effective. That is an extreme example, of course, but some churches are not far from that, and they never see any new people and they don’t grow as a result. Again, I think we need to consider our effectiveness in every step of this, but never to compromise.

If people do not understand the weightiness of scripture & the relevance thereof would it not be beneficial for them to sit under teaching which expounds it and points to the urgency to respond to it?

The problem is, like I mentioned, they don’t give 2 craps about it and so they don’t "sit under it." If it is touching them and ministering to them, meeting them where they are at, great; then the scripture will change their life. If not, they won’t be around long.

Paul did not come to the local churches and say to them, “Because you are still drinking milk it is there you will stay”. No, Paul pushed them to move on as did Christ, as did the author of Hebrews, as did John.

If by saying this you are insinuating that we don’t "push people to move on as Christ did" you are wrong. We are actually very effective (I think) at moving seekers from the outside, to repentance and entrance to the family of God, to deep discipleship and growth, to ministry/leadership etc. Not all of that happens on Sunday morning, though. We have many other programs that help facilitate this growth. But to say we keep people at a certain entry level is inaccurate.


I would say that to make a sermon relevant for non-believers/seekers/atheist/agnostics/pagans, etc. we should look to the examples set forth in scripture. God says in His word that there is no other means under Heaven by which a man can be saved than by hearing and responding accordingly to the gospel. This is relevant to a non-believer.

Again, by this are you insinuating that we don’t preach the Gospel? If you are, it is incorrect. We share the Gospel regularly, nearly every Sunday. It seems like this argument is assuming a lot of things to be true that are not. Willow Creek gets a lot of flack for supposedly "watering down" the Gospel by critics who have never been to a service there. The truth is that they give a clearer and better communicated presentation of the Gospel that the majority of churches out there. You are right, the gospel is relevant to both the believer and the non-believer. That is one of the reasons we share it so often (that and the whole obedience thing).

That truth being: if you do not repent and believe an eternity of Hell awaits you.

This is true, but we choose to take a bit of a different route. We don’t make Hell the focus, but the love of God and what he did for us. I think one could make a strong biblical case to back this up. For one, we don’t see Jesus using Hell as a scare tactic to get people to follow him (the one exception is the virgins/talents/sheep and the goats stories, but it seems he was talking to his disciples, per 24:3, where his disciples come to him privately). Rather, he used love, but did not compromise his demands. We also see the disciples in the book of Acts focusing on what Jesus had done, not on Hell. The prophets in the OT are a bit of a different animal. I would argue that they were talking primarily to Jews, who were very religious already, and were just not living out what they knew, which is perhaps different than speaking to unbelievers. Nonetheless, it seems that the early church would be a better comparison to our churches today than the days of the prophets.

However, the reason I choose to share the love message before the Hell message is because I think love is a better motivator than fear. Fear comes close to coercion, whereas love is an invitation. Again, this is an opinion, and a bit off topic, but worth mentioning. This is not to say we don’t believe in Hell or that we don’t talk about it, only that we don’t use it in evangelism.

By the way, I have never heard the phrase 2 craps before, but I laughed hard when I read it…. The whole visual thing.

Use it well and often my friend.

Thanks again J razz. I appreciate you challenging me like this. I think it helps us both.

Have a great week and I look forward to your response.


__________________________________________

j razz said...

"Bury your refuse with a stick" from Deut, but that is not relevant to the unchurched guy in 2007 whose life is falling apart.

It is funny that you should mention this as I wrote a paper on it back in University: Deuteronomy 23.12-13. I did go through and find application to modern day man… with that being said, I understand your point but I still think we can find intended relevance.

The problem is, like I mentioned, they don’t give 2 craps about it and so they don’t "sit under it." If it is touching them and ministering to them, meeting them where they are at, great; then the scripture will change their life. If not, they won’t be around long.

I see your point in what you are saying and I see where you are coming from, but I would have to disagree with the premise. I see that as being a man-centered approach to church, evangelism and the gospel. While I would see myself more in the camp of a God-centered approach. Instead of what can God do for me and how can the gospel benefit me with man’s benefit being the end goal, I would say that scripture is more concerned with glorifying God by glorifying the Son, and that salvation is a welcomed byproduct of Him seeking to glorify Himself. I am not saying that salvation is not intentional; I am saying though that it is not the primary goal of God.
As it relates to them not being around long, I would respond by saying that God has made it clear He is sovereign. In light of that, if someone is to be saved they will be saved. Now, what I am not saying is that we can just all go about and never share the gospel because God will save who He wills. By no means! I am saying that God has given man a tool (the gospel) and a command (share the gospel). If we are disobedient and do not do what is commanded of us, we are in sin. If we do not use the means He ordained for us to share with man, the glory of God, through the gospel, then we sin. My point here is that we are dead in our sin… not sick, dead. We need life and without the Holy Spirit giving us a regenerated heart, we can never believe in something we don’t have the heart for. God must grant us ears to hear and a heart to believe before we can ever do either of those. We are natural enemies of God as Paul would say. If we are faithful to present the truth to them (which is our responsibility) then the Holy Spirit will not fail in His duties to bring glory to God. No means, as a means, is considered as good in itself, but only as conducible to a farther end; it is repugnant to the nature of means, as such, to be considered as good in themselves. – John Owen We cannot bring anyone to salvation. We can preach the gospel all day long out of obedience and not see one come to know Christ save for the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the unregenerate that gives them ears to hear and a regenerated heart that willingly accepts the hard truth of the gospel- we are evil and twisted and in need of a perfect redeemer who died and was buried and was raised on the third day.
So, to summarize all that (I know, I am long winded) I would say that a God-centered gospel message is more biblically aligned than a person-centered gospel message (For supporting information on the above see The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen with the introductory essay by J. I. Packer) and a person-centered gospel message tends to lean itself towards a thought of “what does this have in it for me?”

Paul did not come to the local churches and say to them, “Because you are still drinking milk it is there you will stay”. No, Paul pushed them to move on as did Christ, as did the author of Hebrews, as did John.

If by saying this you are insinuating that we don’t "push people to move on as Christ did" you are wrong.


I was not insinuating that at all- just making things clear for others who may stumble upon your blog at some point in the future.

Again, by this are you insinuating that we don’t preach the Gospel? If you are, it is incorrect.

Nope. Again, just making things clear for others. I do not know your church nor do I know what is taught or not taught. It would be arrogant of me to presume certain things as facts when in reality I know nothing of the matter. So, don’t take these comments as attacks against you or your church as I have nothing to attack- we are brothers in Christ and I hope that this dialogue shows how brothers in Christ are to carry on talks concerning differences. I hope that you know my character a little better than that just from reading some of my posts on Tim’s blog.

We don’t make Hell the focus, but the love of God and what he did for us. I think one could make a strong biblical case to back this up.

Luke 16.14 & f.f. especially the last five verses of the chapter: "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' “But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Here Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees and giving them all they need to see the truth of who He is. To them He uses Hell as a tool to make His point (vs.14). I don’t think that Hell has to be used as a scare tactic, but it is reality and truth told plainly is far better than part of the story. I would rather be told that there is a waterfall less than a mile down the river and unless I pull my raft to the bank I will surely die when I tumble over it than having someone to tell me to please pull over to the side of the river as there are many great things to see along the shore. What is more, I would rather be told both if both are true. If I am in eminent danger, I want to know if the Holy Spirit has enabled me to hear that message and respond to it. If not, I will find myself crashing over the waterfall doomed to my own destruction because I chose not to listen and obey. You can sink thousands of dollars into extravagant Sunday morning services and not a one will be effective unless the Holy Spirit has regenerated hearts and opened ears and the gospel is preached.

I would say that speaking the truth concerning Hell is far from a scare tactic, but it is love to the nth degree. What is more loving, to tell someone here is the blatant truth of the matter or to only focus on one aspect of it? God is both loving and wrathful. God is both merciful and judging. With building up certain aspects of God’s character to the detriment of others, we find we have a different God than the God of the Bible. God does not let people go to Hell, He sends them there. He sends them there because they did not believe in His Son and did not glorify Him by believing in the gospel message. Therefore, if we only tell of the good things of believing in Christ, we do it injustice and do not portray the whole of the gospel. (just for clarification Nick, this is not a critique of your theology in that I think you are doing God an injustice by believing only in parts of His character).

Again, it has been good to dialogue with you. Have a good evening buddy. I hope you take this in the manner in which I wrote it, but in the case that you don’t, I don’t give 2 craps :)

j razz


_________________________________________

The rest of the conversation is posted in the next post to save space and to break it up a bit.

2 comments:

rocky said...

hey bro, maybe you and your friends would enjoy reading the new book: Brown Like Coffee..I found it at brownlikecoffee.com

I loved it.

Nick said...

Cool. Thanks for the tip, Rocky.