All of us who follow Christ realize that there are certain foundational, irreducible facts one must accept in order to be counted “in the faith” or not (see 2 Corinthians 13:5). To cite an obvious instance the writer of Hebrews makes it clear that, “...without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV) To put it another way, belief that God exists is not an option, it’s a requirement.
The Case of the Reluctant Leader
A friend once told me why he declined when asked to become an Elder in the church. He said it was because he lacked the first requirement. He didn’t desire to become one. He was referring, of course, to Paul’s statement in 1st Timothy 3:1, “...If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (NIV) Other translations say, “...If anyone aspires to the office...” (ESV) or “...If a man desires the position...” (NKJ). Since my friend didn’t aspire to or desire to or have his heart set on becoming an Elder, he figured that put him out of the running.
In another of these ramblings I opined that telling a compelling story will often more than compensate for any “sins” of presentation. That is, if our story is good enough, people are willing to overlook “poor” writing, suspect grammar and stilted wording. I went on to suggest that we could improve our expository speaking and teaching by using elements of story in it. In my opinion, doing so would certainly make it a lot more interesting.
About the time I wrote that my wife and I had dinner with some long-time friends. During our conversation they mentioned that they missed hearing expository sermons. At the church they attend expository speaking is unknown – everything is topical.
I’ve recently come across three different congregations which are facing the same problem. All of them are located in small-town, rural America. All of them are relatively small. All of them have members who are quite affluent. All three have recently lost their preachers. The question is what to do about it.
In the case of church 1, the preacher died. He was very up-front about his preexisting disease when the church brought him on. If I heard correctly, he lived longer than the doctors expected but was only able to serve for a few years. In spite of his brief ministry, he was able to unite the church and restore its reputation in the community. Outreach he began is still being carried forward. He is deeply missed and remembered with fondness.
I stared in amazed consternation at the contents of the Communion tray. It contained those commercial Communion wafers – the kind that look like, have the consistency of and taste like recycled Styrofoam.
After the service I asked the missionaries who were hosting me about it. The wife explained: “The preacher asks us to bring them in from the States for him.”
“But why?! Why not use local ingredients? Communion bread is easy enough to make.”
“Well, the preacher insists on preparing Communion himself each week. There’s no way he could make the bread.”
“It seems to me,” I said, “that preparing Communion would be something to delegate. It would be an excellent way to get others involved in ministry.”
“Oh, there are plenty of people who would be delighted to do it. The problem is the preacher won’t give anyone a key to the building.”
We often don't realized just how blest we are until we remember the "Good Old Days!" I wrote the following tale back in 1992. As you shall see, communication was not as simple back then as it is now.
THE MYTH OF THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
I'LL SELL YOU A HOMOGENIZED MODEM
(If I like your face!)
I try hard not to be cynical. I really do. But every time I read an article that claims that a computer user can now exchange data with everyone else in the world, I tend to wonder which cloud the author's head is in. Perhaps their definition of the world is different than what "the rest of us" have to deal with. To be fair, maybe you can communicate to anyplace in the world if you are a Fortune Five Hundred company or you have mega-bucks to fling at the problem. However, the outfit I work for doesn't qualify on either count - and herein lies a tale of what trying to communicate with the rest of the world is really like.
As I left the podium someone in the audience called out, “You did not disappoint.” Though the remark gratified, it sort of rolled off me. However, his remark became more meaningful a few minutes later when I asked my wife how the previous speaker had done. I didn’t have the opportunity to hear him as I was teaching the youth at the time.
“It was a total bomb!” she said. The vehemence of her reply rocked me back on my heels as she is normally so gracious and quick to point out the positive. It seems that the speaker – a young man, newly married, without children, just starting out in ministry – declared to his incredulous audience that from that moment forward they could live their lives without sinning. (Please note that I do not hold those attributes against the man. I only mention them to point out his lack of experience and seasoning.)
Several years ago I prepared and taught a course on New Testament History. The course was well-received. So, after some updating and revising, I've published the lessons in book form. You can get the both paper and electronic versions from my author page at Amazon. I hope the book blesses you as much as it did me while I was writing it!
Here’s the book description:
I’m a fan of expository speaking. Lest someone misunderstand, I fully agree that there is a time and place for topical sermons. Generally, however, I think the church is far better served by a steady diet of consistent, systematic explanation of the biblical text. There are lots of advantages to the expository approach. For one thing, it helps counteract the tendency of preachers to ride their favorite hobby horses. It forces you to talk about the subjects actually in the text rather than the enthusiasm of the day. Similarly, systematic expository speaking forces you to deal with the difficult and hard subjects you’d rather avoid. For example, it may not be politically correct to talk about adultery and divorce. But, if you’re doing an expository series on the “Sermon on the Mount,” you can’t sweep under the rug what Jesus had to say on the subject – regardless of whether it happens to offend somebody.
It’s not often I have the urge to answer the idiocy I encounter on the Internet. There seems little point. Such “discussions” generally produce more heat than light. I’ve got better things to do than contribute to some flame war. I can understand if you feel differently about this than I do. After all, if nobody calls people on the idiotic things they say about the church and the Bible, then it is only those idiotic things which will remain in the public view. “Answer a fool according to his folly,” Solomon said, “or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5 NIV)