The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 17 Fall 2015
Fall 2015 Edition
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
“Strengthening the Church in Biblical Preaching and Leadership”
Part I: The Power For Preaching, Pt. 2
“The Power Of God” (2 Cor. 4:5-7)
In the last edition of this Journal, we introduced a series on “The Power for Preaching” in which we discussed “The Lost Power and Authority in Preaching.” In that article, I suggested three causes for lost spiritual power in preaching: (1) lost passion for God; (2) conformity to the culture; (3) lack of authority. Then I suggested three reasons why so many preachers do not preach with authority: (1) because their thinking is worldly; (2) because they are afraid of the people; (3) because they do not understand and have not applied the Word to themselves.
We concluded that article by listing the four essential ingredients for powerful preaching: (1) the power of God; (2) the power of the Holy Spirit; (3) the power of prayer; and (4) the power of Scripture. In this edition we are going to explore “The Power of God” in preaching. As the basis for this discussion, let’s look at 2 Cor. 4:5-7, where the apostle Paul’s thesis is basically that the power is of God and not ourselves.
Notice firstly, that preaching is not about us - “...we do not preach ourselves” (5). Preaching is not about us and the message that we preach is not about us. Our motivation in preaching is the exact opposite of “the god of this age” whose objective is to “blind the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (4)
If your mind is blinded, it means that you cannot accept or comprehend the truth of God. Satan’s objective is to blind unbelievers from comprehending the gospel of Christ, because it reveals the glory of Christ; to block unbelievers from hearing the truth about Christ. Satan does not want unbelievers to know God through Christ. He doesn’t want unbelievers to see or hear or accept the spiritual, life-giving light of the gospel, so he blinds their minds.
Our objective, on the other hand, is to preach Christ with such clarity and power that others see and hear only him, and certainly not us. Preaching is not about us and the message that we preach is not about us. If it were about us, you could understand why some don’t believe it. But it isn’t - it’s about Him who is the exact representation and full revelation of God. It’s about Christ Jesus the Lord (5a) - Christ, the anointed One; Jesus, the Saviour; the Lord, our Master, the supreme One, the Sovereign One. There is only one Lord, one Master, and that is not us. We are not lords over Christ’s flock (1 Pet. 5:3), but servants of his flock, “your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (5b). We are servants of the church, ministers who serve God’s people “for Jesus’ sake.” That’s our motivation - “for Jesus’ sake”. That’s why we preach.
Just as Jesus became a bondservant (Phil. 2:7), so we make ourselves servants of God’s people “for Jesus’ sake” – for the sake of the gospel. Ministers who make themselves prominent and around whom their ministry revolves (when it’s more about the minister than the message; more about the vessel than the treasure) are not authentic ministers "for Jesus’ sake." Authentic ministers of the church are those who “do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord.”
So, firstly, preaching is not about us. But, secondly, preaching is all about God. “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (6). God is the One who, at creation, “commanded light to shine out of darkness.” And, similarly, he is the One who has shone his spiritual light into the darkness of our hearts in order to illuminate our understanding of God’s glory as reflected in the face of Jesus Christ. We cannot bring about salvation, only God can - “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Only the God of creation is the God of redemption (re-creation). Only the God who created physical light can create spiritual light. The light of the world is Jesus. The One who created light has become the Light. This was so vivid in Paul’s memory, when the light of God enveloped him on the Damascus road and flooded his soul with the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Only the face of Jesus Christ could adequately, properly, and fully manifest the glory of God such that we could understand it.
God commanded the light to shine “out of” darkness and through the gospel he has shone “into” our hearts the light of the knowledge of himself as incarnated (portrayed) in the human face of Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14). Just as in his work of creation, God commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, so in his re-creation through the work of redemption he commanded the Light to shine into the darkness of our human condition so that we could know him. The source of ultimate truth (about who we are, who God is etc.) is only from God. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” Jesus said. He is the final and full revelation of God. Hence, it is in his “face” (his person, his incarnation, his self-revelation) that we come to know our glorious God.
Question: If this God of whom Paul speaks is so powerful as to command light to shine out of darkness and who has shone into our hearts to reveal his glory to us, why is it that the human vessels he uses in ministry are so frail, so lacking in glory? Why is there such a contrast between God’s power and glory and the minister’s weakness and frailty? Answer: So that there is no doubt whatsoever as to the divine nature of the message.
This brings us to the third point: preaching is a paradox (the treasure vs. the vessel). “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels ...” (7). On the one hand, what we preach (the gospel) is a treasure, but on the other hand, preachers ourselves are merely earthen vessels. Lest we think that the vessel (the minister) is as glorious as the message, Paul draws a sharp contrast between, on the one hand, God’s glory (the glory of the message, the gospel, our ministry) and, on the other hand, the incredible weakness of the human vessels whom God uses to proclaim that glory. The gospel we preach is a “treasure”. “This treasure” is what Paul elsewhere calls the ministry of the New Covenant (3:6); the ministry of the Spirit (3:8); the ministry of righteousness (3:9); “this ministry” (4:1); our gospel (4:3); the gospel of Christ’s glory (4:4); the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6).
So what we preach is a treasure (the gospel), which stands in stark contrast to the “earthen vessel” in which the treasure is contained. The preacher himself is merely an “earthen vessel”. “Earthen vessels” are the ministers, the human vehicles in whom the treasure is incarnated and displayed and through whom it is preached. The picture here is of a fragile, breakable, cheap clay pot which contains a treasure. Ministers of the gospel are fragile, frail mortals who contain a divine treasure - the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.
The contrast between this “treasure” and the “earthen vessel” is intentional – “... so that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (7b). The purpose (“so that”) of God’s design in using human messengers to proclaim his divine message is to enhance the message (its source, its power, and its results) by the very means he chooses to proclaim and display it, namely, through human weakness. To put it another way: in order that no one can mistake (1) the source of the message, (2) the extraordinary character (“excellence”) of its power, and (3) the supernatural effect of the gospel as coming from anyone else other than God himself, God chose to incarnate (embody) his message in weak human vessels. Since the gospel so radically transforms lives, it could not possibly be a merely human message - it must be divine. The power of the message we preach is of such a character (i.e. superabundant, overpowering, magnificent, beyond human comprehension, life-transforming) that its author can only be God and not ourselves, the human messengers. The messenger, then, is weak, dependent, temporal but the message is powerful, eternal. We are creatures formed from the dust of the ground, whom God in his grace has chosen to bear his name, his gospel.
If the message were moderately powerful it may be attributed to our human wisdom, genius, invention. But such exceeding power that radically transforms lives, emanating from such weak, inadequate vessels must be from a divine source. Further, God’s powerful message is not limited by man’s utter weakness – rather, it is enhanced by it. Such is the case for every minister of the gospel: we are weak precisely so that God’s power may be manifest in us. Thus it was with Gideon and his 300 men, who put to flight the Midianites by merely breaking their earthen vessels so that the light shone out (Judges 7:15ff.; Heb. 11:34). Such it is with us - in our confessed and evident weakness, God displays his power and glory.
This gives us a proper perspective on ministry. We can be thankful for our bodily weakness and mental finitude and frailty because that is what God uses. The messenger, then, is weak, dependent, temporal but the message is powerful, eternal. We are creatures formed from the dust of the ground, whom God in his grace has chosen to bear his name, his gospel. So that when others see what a transformation the gospel produces in the lives of those who believe they can only conclude that “the power is of God and not of us.”
Part II: Preparing For Preaching
“Understanding The Text”
I. Read The Text
1. Read The Text For Understanding
Everything in sermon preparation begins with a thorough reading of the text. There is no substitute for reading the text. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your understanding as you read.
Read the book in which the text is located. Read it as many times as possible before beginning to prepare your sermon. This accomplishes several objectives: (1) it gives you an overview of the broad scope of the book; (2) it gives you an overview of the context of the particular passage; and (3) it gives you a feel for the flow of the passage and its main points.
Read the particular text for your sermon. Read it repeatedly so that you are saturated in it, so that you can repeat it by memory (not necessarily word-for-word). Read it thoroughly and prayerfully. Reading it in various translations can be helpful. If you are able, reading it in its original language is a good idea.
Read the text in order to: (1) derive a sense of what the text says and means; (2) remove barriers to understanding - i.e. preconceived notions of what it is about and what it means; and (3) hear the text as the original audience would have heard it.
2. Read The Text For Personal Response
Identify personal spiritual issues from the text that you must be deal with in your life. If you don’t deal with them, you won’t adequately and properly preach the text because you are not being obedient to it, in which case, how can you expect it to be effective in your audience?
3. Read The Text To Identify Textual Issues
As you read the text, identify any textual difficulties, variances, complexities, and problems that you need to research and deal with in your sermon.
4. Read The Text To Identify Its Structure
As you read, note the flow of thought in the text. How did the author present his material? Why did he write it? What is the subject? What is his point and how does he prove it?
II. Write Out The Text
1. Write Out A Summary Of The Text
After you have read the passage repeatedly (and perhaps in various translations), summarize the essential thoughts within each paragraph. One way to help you do this is as follows:
a) Download the biblical text to your computer.
b) Divide the text into separate paragraphs, one for each new idea that you have identified as you read the passage.
c) Leave wide margins so that you can write in them and then print this out.
d) Write in the margins the thoughts (ideas, points) expressed in each paragraph of the text, as you have divided it up. These are the main thoughts of the passage. Remember, since there is only ever one subject of a passage, each thought (idea, point) that you identify in each paragraph must relate to the subject of the whole passage. We will talk about identifying the subject of a passage in future editions of this journal.
e) Then, underneath the main thoughts that you have written in the margin of each paragraph, write the subordinate thoughts in the margin as well.
Now you will have at least a preliminary visual summary of the passage, which you will use to structure your sermon.
2. Paraphrase The Text
Paraphrasing the text is a good way to determine if you really understand it. If you are unable to paraphrase it, you probably don’t understand it.
Paraphrasing the text means writing out the passage in your own words as you understand it. Writing out a paraphrase of the text makes sure that you have a coherent grasp of the passage, by being able to express each thought in the passage clearly and connect each idea to the thought that went before it and that comes after it. This exercise solidifies your understanding of the text by putting it in your own words.
As you write out your personal paraphrase, be sure to amplify your paraphrase so that it contains the intent and application of the text as well as its basic meaning. If you have an “Amplified Bible”, read it to see how it does this.
III. Diagram The Text
Another method for identifying the structure of the text (its subject and complements) is to diagram the text (if you are able) by analyzing it grammatically and showing that grammatical structure diagrammatically.
Diagramming provides an objective, grammatical basis for the structure of the passage. The diagrammatical form displays the flow of thought in the text and the connection between the various thoughts in the text. Diagramming makes apparent the flow and structure of the passage and establishes the grammatical relationships between phrases, clauses, and words, which relationship is vital to a proper understanding of the text.
Diagramming the text means displaying main clauses and subordinate clauses, along with adverbial and adjectival qualifiers, in diagrammatic form. This is a way of allowing the structure of the text to emerge from the text and not from the imposition of your own structure on the text.
There are two ways of diagramming: (1) block diagrams in your own language, or (2) Greek diagrams. I am only going to try to explain “indented block diagrams” in your own language.
1. The Purpose Of An Indented Block Diagram is to portray the text visually (according to its grammatical structure) so that its overall composition (or, literary structure and divisions) becomes apparent. This will help you in outlining your sermon following the author’s original structure.
2. The Way To Make An Indented Block Diagram (see examples below) 1
a) Identify the first independent clause and copy it word for word from your text.
b) Copy succeeding material phrase by phrase, locating each phrase carefully under the word it supports or modifies. This will place main ideas to the left margin, with supporting ideas falling to the right below them.
c) If there is a series of equal ideas, they should be lined up vertically under each other in the order they occur in the text.
d) Set connectives apart in [brackets]. Put italicized words in (parentheses).
e) Underline verbs and circle words carrying the main themes of the text.
3. Examples Of Indented Block Diagrams
a) Psalm 1:1-2 (from, McDill, 37)
Blessed is the man
who walks not
in the counsel
of the ungodly
in the path
in the seat
of the scornful
[But] his delight is in the law
of the Lord
[and] he meditates in the law
day [and] night
He is like a tree
planted by the rivers of water
that brings forth its fruit
whose leaf also shall not wither
[And] whatever he does shall prosper
b) Romans 12:1-2
I beseech you therefore, brethren
... by the mercies of God
(a) that you present your bodies a ... sacrifice
acceptable to God
... which is your reasonable service
[and] (b) (that you) do not be conformed
to this world
[but] (c) (that you) be transformed
by the renewing of your mind
... so that you may prove what is that ... will of God
c) Mark 4:35-41 (narrative analysis)
When diagramming narratives, we use a different format. This format is not grammatical but sequential, based on the typical structure of narratives. Typically, narratives are structured around five progressive building blocks as follows:
i) The life situation (or context, background, setting) of the narrative (vv. 35-36):
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.
ii) The problem (or issue) that arises (v. 37):
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beta into the boat, so that it was already filling.
iii) The conflict (or climax) of the story (which leaves you wondering how this is going to be resolved) (v. 38):
But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
iv) The resolution (v. 39):
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.
v) The application (or, response) (v. 40-41):
But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
4. Analyze Your Diagram
Once you have diagrammed the text, then analyze your diagram. Identify the main clauses and subordinate clauses. Identify the adjectival and adverbial qualifiers on your diagram. Identify key nouns, verbs, connectives, repeated words, and key phrases. Research the case of the nouns (e.g. type of genitive, dative etc.). Parse the verbs. Understand the conditional clauses, participial phrases (adjectival, substantival, adverbial), and prepositional phrases.
Assess the relationship between sentences and paragraphs. How does the thought expressed in a subsequent sentence or paragraph relate to what went before and what comes after?
Circle key phrases, contrasting words, and modifiers for special study (e.g. Rom. 12:1, “living” = unusual description for a sacrifice). Identify the various sections of the passage in its flow of thought – e.g. where each thought in the development of the passage starts and stops.
This process will help you understand the flow of thought, how the passage all holds together, how the various parts of the passage relate to each other and how they help develop the writer’s point. The key purpose of a diagram is to allow you to see the text grammatically and define its details.
Part III: Leadership - Being A Godly Role Model
“Your Personal Credibility in Ministry” (Acts 20:17-35)
We learn much from final words of great leaders. Acts 20 records the final words of the great apostle Paul to the Ephesian Christians among whom he had laboured for several years. This final farewell of a godly leader are Paul’s final words of reflection, exhortation, and instruction for the church leaders. His final words point out four essential pre-requisites for credibility in church leadership.
1. We Must Have Clarity About Our Motives (18-21)
In our service for the Lord, our personal attitude must be one of humility, even in times of deep trial. “You know in what manner I lived among you,” Paul says, “with all humility and with many tears and trials” (18-19). This must be our personal attitude in everything we do. If it isn’t, then we need to examine our hearts as to what our motive really is. We must have clarity about our motives.
Our public activity must be open and inclusive, like Paul who “kept nothing back that was helpful” (20a). His public activity was marked by transparency, openness, giving, sharing. There was no secrecy in what he did: “I proclaimed to you and taught you publicly and from house to house” (20b). It didn’t matter if he was preaching publicly or teaching privately in people’s houses, Paul’s ministry was open and inclusive, “testifying to Jews and also to Greeks” (21a). His public ministry was applicable and available to everyone, regardless of race or religion. It didn’t matter what their religious or racial background was, he declared the same message to them all, namely, “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (21b).
We must have clarity about our motives. Ask yourself, “Why do you do what you do in ministry? What’s your attitude towards your ministry? How do you do your ministry? Are you proud of yourself and your accomplishments? Are you working for a larger following? Are you ministering to all kinds of people with all kinds of needs, or are you working only with an exclusive group of spiritually elite people, cut off from the rest of the world?” We must have clarity about our motives in ministry.
2. We Must Have Confidence In The Future (22-25)
The men who have been role model and mentors to me all have been men with great confidence in the future. We must have confidence despite present uncertainty. For Paul that meant “not knowing what will happen to me except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me” (22-23). You might interpret this to mean that the Holy Spirit was saying: “Don’t go!” But I don’t think that’s what this means. I think it means that the Holy Spirit is warning him that everywhere he goes chains and tribulations would be ahead, for to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Now, this kind of warning would set most of us back. This would make you think twice about going on. This would cause most of us uncertainty about the future. Our reaction would probably be, “I better pray about this. Perhaps I shouldn’t go.” But circumstances are one of the most unreliable indicators for decision-making. First and foremost we must rely on God’s word and God’s call on our lives. That was always uppermost in Paul’s mind. He was motivated to continue on because he was bound in the spirit (22a) and that superseded any possible deterrent of chains and tribulations in the future. That’s undoubtedly why he could say, “But none of these things move me nor do I count my life dear to myself” (24a). Little things like imprisonment aren’t going to put him off or change his outlook or plans. Why? Because he was imprisoned by his inner conviction to go to Jerusalem, which not even the potential loss of his life would interrupt. That’s confidence in the future, isn’t it, despite present uncertainty?
That’s why he also had confidence in view of future completion. No earthly circumstances, threats, or opposition by the enemy would hinder or prevent him from completing the ministry God had called him to. Paul was confident that the One who had called him to be the apostle to the Gentiles would enable him to complete his ministry. The future held no doubts or hesitation for Paul. That’s why he could confidently look forward to the joyful completion of his work: “so that I may finish my race (course) with joy and (so that I may finish) the ministry, which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (24b) (see also 2 Tim. 4:7-8; Phil. 2:17). In God’s time and God’s way, Paul was confident that he would complete the work that God had given him.
3. We Must Have Convictions About Ministry (26-31)
This passage concludes with three convictions (“therefores”). Firstly, the conviction that you have acted with a clear conscience. “Therefore, I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men” (26). Innocent because “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (27). He had done what God had called him to do. He hadn’t left anything out. Therefore, whatever the outcome of his ministry might be, however people might respond to it, he is “innocent of the blood of all men.” No one could say to Paul: “You didn’t tell me.” No, Paul had fully declared “the whole counsel of God” and thus discharged his responsibility as God’s servant. Thus, he had acted with a clear conscience.
Secondly, the conviction to warn others about spiritual dangers. In order to be qualified and able to warn others about spiritual dangers, church leaders must take care of themselves. “Therefore, take heed to yourselves” (28a). Paul is saying, “Take care of yourself as the servant of God.” He is speaking to the elders of the church here. Church leaders must take care of themselves before they can take care of the church. They have to pay attention to and protect themselves from spiritual dangers. You do this by examining your own moral, spiritual, practical, theological, and personal health before you can take care of the people of God.
Once you have made sure that you are personally fit and qualified to lead, then church leaders are to take care of the church. “Take heed... to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with his own blood” (28b). To “shepherd the church of God” means to guide them, care for them, protect them, nurse them, nourish them. Remember, the “flock” is precious to God, for “He purchased them with his own blood.” Shepherding the church of God means protecting them from spiritual attack. “For I know this that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (29). Savage wolves kill, steal, and destroy the flock. Savage wolves have no mercy for the flock; they just want to satisfy their base appetites.
Shepherding the church of God means protecting them from divisive men. “For this I know also ... that men from among yourselves will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves” (30). “Perverse things” refers to false teaching. “Drawing away disciples after themselves” refers to false motives - accumulating personal power and a popular following. This is the work of Satan to divide and destroy the people of God.
Thirdly, the conviction to teach others by your example. “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears (31a). Paul warned them faithfully (without ceasing), continuously (night and day), and passionately (with tears). That was the legacy that Paul left them. His example to the Ephesians is his example to us as leaders of God’s people. Leadership isn’t just about public activity, preaching and teaching. What we say and do publicly must be based on who we are. Our personal example speaks volumes to those who see and hear us. So, teach others by your example of faithful warning, continuous labouring, and passionate commitment.
4. We Must Have Compassion For The Congregation (32-35)
Paul’s shows his compassion of the congregation in his final commendation: “I commend you to God and the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (32). These are the unchangeable foundations for ministry - God himself and His inspired word. These are the two resources that alone can keep us true and faithful. We must rely on God and grow in his truth. We need the Word of his grace for our edification. It alone “is able to build you up” spiritually in your most holy faith. It contains all that we need for life and godliness, so that we can live strong and stable lives for the glory of God. We need the Word of his grace also for our sanctification - “to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
This is Paul’s final benediction, commending the people to God for his care and provision, and commending the people to God’s word as the foundation of their spiritual lives.
Paul also shows his compassion for the congregation in his Paul’s final exhortation: “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities and for those who were with me” (33-34). Ministry is not about taking. It’s not about taking any person’s silver or gold or clothing. “I wasn’t a freeloader, expecting something for nothing.” Rather, “I have shown you in every way by labouring like this that you must support the weak” (35a). Ministry is not about taking. Ministry is about giving - labouring for the benefit of others and supporting the weak.
“And remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (35b). Paul’s ministry was an example of this principle – giving not taking.
Conclusions. Let me challenge you with these questions. Who are you following? Who you follow will determine where you end up Are the leaders that you look up to showing these characteristics in their leadership? Do they have clear, unselfish motives? Do they demonstrate confidence in God’s care and control of the future? Do they express certain convictions about what ministry is about – or are they wishy-washy? Do they practise care and compassion for the people?
How are you leading? What are the characteristics of your leadership style and activity? Is your leadership marked by clear, pure motives? confidence in the future? convictions about ministry? care and compassion for the people?
Part IV: Sermon Outlines
Title: Lessons in Christian Service
Point #1: The pledge in serving the Lord is to love him (21:15-17)
1. Despite our feeble loyalty, Jesus still values our love
2. Despite our feeble loyalty, Jesus still wants our service
Point #2: The purpose in serving the Lord is to glorify him (18-19a)
1. We are to glorify him when we are young (18)
2. We are to glorify him when we are old (18-19)
Point #3: The pattern in serving the Lord is to follow him (19b-23)
1. We follow him by responding to his call (19b)
2. We follow him by keeping our eyes on him (20)
3. We follow him by minding our own business (21-23)
1 For more details see “Twelve Essential Skills for Great Preaching,” Wayne McDill, pp. 27ff.
Related Topics: Pastors