100 Sermons In

 

I preached my 100th sermon the other day.

I don’t consider myself a great preacher but there’s something about working at preaching that I find satisfaction in.


SP11

I have a spreadsheet which lists every sermon I’ve ever given. It tells me what number I’m up to, the date of delivery, what passage of scripture it’s from, what corny title I’ve given it, and where it was delivered. Due to my missions role there are a few double ups, having given the same sermon in different places.

Some today argue that preaching is a waste of time. That sermons aren’t worth what we think they are. That there is a better way of communicating God’s truth, perhaps in small groups or through one-on-ones or in some form of creative dialogue. These ways of delivering God’s truth are great and there’s no denying there are different ways people receive the Word and understand it. It’s all a matter of communication theory I suppose.

Yet, I still believe that Scripture not only gives us the words to communicate but also shows us the way God seeks his Word to go forth.

The proclamation of scripture is an important aspect to the teaching and receiving of His Word. From the beginning to the end of scripture God speaks and uses preaching as a means of proclamation. These sermons and words are delivered by the person God has gifted in teaching or prophesy, such as, Moses or Ezra or the Prophets or Jesus or Paul or other apostles, just to name a few.

Coming under His Word each week at a gathering of believers is important for my soul. I look forward to the opportunity to continue preaching His Word to anyone, anywhere.

Why Your Church Service Is Awesome

640px-Lancaster_Baptist_Church_Main_Auditorium
Photo: Wiki Commons

In the last 6-9 months I’ve had the opportunity to visit a variety of churches and sit through a number of services “on the other side of the pew”. Since I’m no longer on staff at church I get to observe and participate in services like never before. This experience is great and painful all at the same time.

Today’s post is simply a list of points that have struck me while reflecting on services I’ve been to recently. In other words, it’s a list of points that I think make your service awesome.

  • Your worship or service leader is genuinely interested in welcoming me as a visitor. Because your service leader is so good I now know their name, I know what’s happening in the service, and what to expect in the coming hour. This is very good to know and I appreciate this information.
  • Your time of singing is an appropriate length and there has been thought put into the song choices. The words of the songs and the number of people singing in the service gives a good indication that your “song picker” knows what it means to gather as a church. They evidently know that the words of songs are important and there is a focus on the gospel and the theme of the whole service, particularly the sermon. While I know there are plenty of people who all have different preferences for songs you’ve been able to focus on the essentials in the choosing.
  • Your announcements are given by a real person, who tells me their name and highlights 2-3 points from the bulletin that are important for the church. I appreciate that it’s a real person up the front delivering the important announcements in good time. This shows me that you know it’s important to communicate with the church and also lets me know what I should take note of among all the other newsletter items.
  • Your pastoral prayer is spoken on behalf of the church for believers and non-believers around the world, throughout this country, and also for those within the church. In some ways the pastoral prayer can be a tricky one because there are so many options to pray for. Yet, the person who is praying this in your service has thought deeply about how to pray for people around the world. This gives the impression that your church is focused on the whole world and has a global worldview. Praying for your country and for those within the congregation also allows me to see that you care about your community, both inside and outside the church. It is in this prayer that the focus of the church is most readily shown.
  • You have a bible reading. This is brilliant. Not only do you have a bible reading but the one who speaks these words over the congregation introduces the text in such a way that if I didn’t know where to find the particular passage I am led by the reader to it. This is either through the mentioning of the page number, where it is in the bible (OT or NT), or being directed to the table of contents page at the front of the bible itself. Thank you for taking the time to do this, I know it must feel weird if you’ve always been around a bible but it is helpful to see you thinking about others. With this your reader has also given me ample time to get to the passage and is happy to stay silent while people “page flick” to the right spot.
  • You have a preacher who actually reads, explains, and applies the bible. Your service is awesome when this happens. It is one of the main reasons for gathering together on a Sunday, to hear the Word preached, and your service has a preacher willing to do so. This is excellent. Not only that, but they introduce themselves and seem genuinely concerned with wanting to get across what the bible is teaching. I’m not too concerned about how long your preacher goes for if he’s teaching and applying the bible, it’s just good for them to be doing so.
  • You have people in your congregation willing to talk after the service. To have a welcoming team or people who are on the look out is great. I appreciate that. To have people in your congregation who are willing to turn around and say “hello” off their own bat is even better. This makes your church look like a friendly and welcoming place, somewhere I’d think about coming back to.

So, is your church an awesome church?

Youth Ministry Models

The youth pastor at University Reformed Church has written a post on Kevin DeYoung’s blog giving some advice for youth ministers. It’s worth a read and some comment.

His four points are as follows and are all very good and straightforward:

  1. Relationships matter much more than coolness.
  2. Gaining the trust of the parents is one of the most important parts of the job.
  3. Center your ministry on the Word of God
  4. Give more thought and attention to the above things than to your youth ministry model.

All these points are good points. They should be points that every youth pastor can affirm. Coolness only lasts about 5 minutes and then everyone sees who you really are. Gaining the trust of parents in this role is essential and a high priority in the relationship building of the youth pastor. The Word is to play a central part of it all, guiding, directing, and correcting the young people, the youth pastor, and the church.

It is, however, point four that I find most interesting. While yes, it is important to give thought and attention to the three points above, it’s actually the three points that outline the model for ministry. Focussing on relationships, parents, and the Bible is a model for youth ministry. They are to be priorities and in the course of being priorities they become a model. In giving thought and attention to them you’re therefore giving thought and attention to your youth ministry model.

What’s your youth ministry model? One that focuses on the Word and relationships or one that puts it’s focus elsewhere?

Integrating Youth Ministry Into The Church

How is the youth ministry at your church viewed?

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St Peters Youth Ministry

Quite often young ministry is considered a must but it is also seen as the baby to a lot of the other ministries within the church. Sometimes i get the feeling that as long as there is some sort of youth group happening and there are some people we can call youth leaders then the church can promote itself as looking out for the needs of young people.

This, however, doesn’t capture how youth ministry fits into the whole church. Ideally, a good youth ministry should be able to be integrated into other ministries, where it would be acceptable for young people to participate, help out, and even lead. For example, it should be quite easy for young people to not only attend youth group on a Friday night, but also feel comfortable enough to be attending a service, or a small group or even a whole church event.

Finding and working this culture of integration between ages is hard, yet, it seems to be an ideal way for maturity to occur throughout the age groups of a church.

Afraid To Belong

I think you’re afraid of belonging.

Belonging to something goes against the grain of our culture. We’re meant to be individuals. We’re meant to be concerned purely with the self. We’re meant to do what we like in this day and age. Life is for our own pleasure, our own enjoyment, and our own fun. Why then would we belong to anything?

Despite our individualistic culture there is something about us that wants to belong. Look around, football clubs have members, Facebook has friends, Twitter has followers, wars have armies, politics have parties, institutions have chapters, and beer drinkers (or parma eaters) have locals. With belonging comes a sense of being part of something bigger. There is a feeling of commitment and mutual appreciation. There is a knowledge that other people are like us, they are centred on the same things we are. There is a togetherness, a mate-ship, a team bond.

This might all be well and good but there is also something within us that makes us afraid to belong. Belonging means we have to be investors, investors of time, energy, and emotion. Belonging means we are exposed, vulnerable, and out in the open. Belonging means disappointment, hurt, and heartache. Belonging isn’t easy and that’s why we’re afraid.

When the footy team never makes the eight, when the political party is stuck in opposition, when the family is in turmoil, when colleagues aren’t pulling their weight – situations like these make belonging hard. The same goes for the church, to belong to a local congregation is going to be hard. When 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, when the offering decreases, when the rosters aren’t being filled, when the people won’t turn up, continuing to belong to a church is tough.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about the church being like a body. And in v14-16 he says,

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And, if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.” that would not make it any less part of the body”.

Paul is telling us, whether we like it or not, that there is no excuse for not belonging to the body. While the church may be made up of people with a number of different gifts there is still a responsibility to belong. Not everyone is going to be the preacher or the Sunday school teacher or the offering steward but that doesn’t mean we are excused from belonging.

We like to belong to something but we don’t like to commit. We like to belong in quiet ways. After all, it’s nice to sit up the back and hear pleasant music and words wash over us for an hour. But hey, getting involved in the constitution committee, having people around for lunch, building a relationship with a teenager, helping out with crèche, playing the guitar, or (dare I say it) beginning a new ministry, well, that’s not nice – that’s messy! That actually means it’s time to get our hands dirty, invest time and money, invest emotional energy.

So, whether you’re part of the 20% that does most of the work or the person who wafts in and out of church buildings each Sunday perhaps it’s time to evaluate where you’re at. Perhaps it’s time to commit to belong, truly belong, or are you too afraid?

I Love My Church

I love my church.

I love that Jesus is glorified at my church.

I love that the Bible is taught at my church.

I love that people are hungry to know more of God at my church.

I love that people are willing to learn the Bible at my church.

I love that there is a growing community of young people at my church.

I love that visitors feel welcome enough to come out to snac at my church.

I love that during the week there are different people from my church meeting together for funsies.

I love that those who come are willing to serve at my church.

I love that there is a sense of the Spirit and of community at my church.

I love that young adults are willing to invest in young people at my church.

I love that there are a number of ‘older folk’ who support the evening congregation at my church.

I love that encouragement can be gleaned from just being with people and hearing their stories at my church.

I love that I have the opportunity to lead people at my church.

I love my church.

I love that it’s God’s church.

A House United by Frank Frangipane

Frank Frangipane, House United: How Christ-Centered Unity Can End Church Division (Grand Rapids, USA: Chosen Books), 2006.

I was given this book by a long-time serving member of my church. It was given to me on the back of a pastor leaving and also their interest in my article in the Baptist Witness. I was greatly encouraged to receive this and have spent a few weeks reading through it.

The central premise of Frangipane’s book is much like his title. He is encouraging believers the world over to quit being so divisive and start taking heed to the Bible’s commands for unity.

The book is in five parts and he comes out strong by talking about the sin of division straight up. I seemed to plough through the beginning of the book and it wasn’t until the last few sections where he captivated me a bit more. I don’t think he was particularly wrong in the beginning of his book but it just took a while to get into. He touches on important topics throughout and uses the Bible correctly in making his points – although he does tend to work interesting angles into his OT exegesis. I wasn’t convinced too much with his chapters on Lucifer and demons but he does hit many nails right on their heads in other parts.

As the book flows he works from stating the sinful nature of church splits and division to looking at areas where division usually starts. The third part that he touches upon is the way in which healing can come about after certain sins and divisions within a church and then encourages all believers to become more Christlike in their hearts.

I think that it is a great book and was quite thought-provoking. He is solidly evangelical and Biblically based and it is hard to argue against what he says. I would recommend this book to anyone who has gone through a church split or division, has felt hurt by the church or who wonders why the church isn’t united and how to bring healing to at least a little part of it.

4/5.

Book Review: What is a Healthy Church?

healthy-church-214x300Mark Dever, What is a Healthy Church? (126 pages, Wheaton, USA: Crossway), 2007.

Mark Dever is a big proponent for the local church. Previously he has written a number of books about the local church and what is important about it. This one is no different and is essentially a more concise version of one of his previous books, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

While only a short volume Dever packs a number of important topics within. In part 1 he details what a healthy church is, then goes on to talk of the three essential marks of a healthy church (expository preaching, Biblical theology and a Biblical understanding of the Gospel) in part 2. Part 3 is made up of six important marks of a healthy church, that being a Biblical understanding of conversion, evangelism and membership while also talking about church discipline, discipleship and leadership.

It is a very good book and one that certainly gets you thinking about a theology of the local church. I particularly like the way in which he has thought through the different and more important elements of the local church. What else is good is that he doesn’t give a model of ministry or different ideas of how church should be run but rather is giving large Biblical concepts as an over-arching guide to ones ministry philosophy. While he does talk about eldership, he doesn’t go into how one should order a service, what kind of music, how to make the place acceptable to ‘outsiders’ or visitors. What he does do is push for a church that is Biblically-centred, that is in the world but not of the world. 8/10.

Unity

The following post is something I had published in The Witness, the monthly Victorian Baptist magazine in 2009.

Unity seems to be something which is hard to find in the church today. Well, maybe it’s always been hard to find, church history seems to suggest so too. It’s surprising isn’t it; one would think that the church would be the one place that is united.

If we look outside the church there are plenty of things that unite people. Football unites supporters like nothing else here in Melbourne, but sport in general does that in almost every nation (let’s not mention the Ashes). Community events show a united people, look no further than Black Saturday and the out-pouring of unity that has come from that. But we could also think of book clubs, favourite cafes, the RSL, the local lawn bowls club and the like. Being part of a community, being part of a family, brings unity and commonality.

In recent months I have been pondering unity within the church.

It’s been hard to nail and hard to find.

If we are honest with ourselves we must recognise that there is a wealth of disagreement that occurs within the church. These may be things like where the pulpit should be placed when one is preaching, to the ways in which we reach our community with the Gospel, to the various theological positions church members have. Differences occur, they are bound to, but quite often they cause disunity rather than mutual encouragement and respect.

While on holiday a couple of months ago I read volume one of Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. Whitefield was a preacher who spread the Gospel throughout the UK and America in the 18th century. He was one of the first to preach outdoors, outside the church building, and for his day this was radical. Instead of avoiding such “corner preaching” like the plague, which we tend to do, Whitefield was able to preach to tens of thousands at a time. What impressed me most about his character was the way in which he tried to be unified with other believers. Wherever he went he would first stop by the local church or parish, and in his theological disputes with John Wesley he continued to pray and hold him up as a brother in Christ.

Whitefield modelled, what I believe many in the church today miss, unity.

Paul speaks no better about unity than in 1 Corinthians 12 & 13. Beginning with the illustration of the church being one body with many parts he moves on to the most crucial point regarding unity, love. While one may be particularly enamoured by the passage regarding love in 1 Corinthians 13 it actually stems out of Paul’s thinking regarding unity and the body of Christ. It is love which is most central to unity, it is love which is most central to Paul, and it is love which is most central to our faith. It is the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Christians are to be marked by love and to be unified by love.

That love is best expressed when we head to the cross. That sacrificial, God-exalting, sinner-redeeming love is most clearly seen through Jesus’ death and unifies all believers to love others rather than themselves.

Why is it that churches split, that conflict occurs, that disunity abounds?

It is because there is no Christ-like love.

Why does a supporter of a footy team actively go to all the matches and buy the team scarf? Why does a community rally in the face of adversity? Why does unity occur?

It is because there is love.

“Unity through diversity” seems to be a current catch-cry but perhaps “unity through love” might be a better way to put it.

Through the cross of Christ and the love of Christ unity is at its peak.

What Happens When All The Chocolate Has Been Eaten?

I’m currently trying to work out what I will preach on next Sunday.

It’s Easter Sunday and logic would suggest that the resurrection would be appropriate.

But, isn’t it the case that as we move through the Easter weekend we are more concerned with remembrance than on what’s next?

It goes without saying that we are to remember. It is a great time to reflect on the death and resurrection of our Lord. It is important to see and feel the gospel afresh again.

But are we missing something if all we do is stop there? 

Easter is a great time for remembering our Lord but it is also a great time to re-adjust our priorities. We can come closer to him, be convicted toward transformation, and seek to bring glory to God. The gospel changes and renews, and what better time of the year for this to make a tangible impact in our lives than at Easter.

So, what do we do once all the chocolates have been eaten?

Do we continue on our merry way like nothing much has occurred, only slightly slower from the extra calories?

Or, do we get a renewed sense of God and his purposes, a renewed sense of the gospel?