Thinking Out Loud

January 19, 2014

ADHD Sermon Notes

Filed under: Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

sermon notes The pastor preached eloquently this morning, weaving together contemporary illustrations and stories from his own life with related scriptures, the meaning of key words in the text, a fuller understanding of the context for today’s reading, a recap of the main points, and a couple of ways we can apply the lesson to everyday life.

Now, as I write this, and stop and consider further what he said, I realize I have no idea what the message was about.


ADHD or everyone? Do you sometimes see yourself in this situation?

About the image: I doubt Lauren Finley (click image to link) is ADHD, but I needed an illustration and it seemed like something someone might do if they were. On the other hand, some people function better taking notes with a built-in distraction, just as I often play Solitaire while I’m listening to Andy Stanley online.

August 12, 2013

How Preaching Sounds to the Uncommitted

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

On the weekend we went on a farm tour. I think the purists among the farming community call this ‘agritourism’ or even ‘agritainment.’ The owner guided us around her property consisting entirely of one ‘crop’ a somewhat obscure herb that some reading this might never have had contact with.

As we stood in one place in the hot sun for nearly 30 minutes, and in the field for about 60 minutes overall, our guide was oblivious to any potential discomfort. She speaks well and clearly. She is obviously intelligent.

More important are two qualities: She has a passion for what she is doing. It constantly leaks from the overflow of her heart. And she knows her subject down the last detail. I can’t imagine a question she couldn’t answer.

In the church, we generally give high place to those two criteria among the people who act as our guides, particularly those who teach us at weekend services. The formula looks like this:

genuine passion + extensive knowledge = audience engagement

In most cases, the sermons you remember because you’d like to forget them (there’s a phrase!) either lacked passion (a dry monotonous delivery) or lacked substance (the speaker hadn’t studied or had no depth).

The problem was, the farm owner had both, yet in our little group of six, I’m not sure how engaged we were. One person out of the six asked several questions however; this would represent the 15% of people in our local churches that some estimate are really into what is going on and are committed to lifestyle Christianity.

Bible teaching and preaching(I should also add that both my wife and I picked up the parallel between what we were experiencing and its application to church life. As soon as we were out of earshot of the rest of the group, it’s the first thing we mentioned.)

Now, we knew going in what the subject matter was going to be. We just didn’t know how that would be presented. For nearly an hour in the hot sun, we were presented with answers to questions we weren’t asking, details only a solid aficionado of the subject would want to know.

Now I know how preaching sounds to an atheist. We weren’t dragged to this event against our will; in fact we paid an admission to be there. So there was some interest, but not in the type of things that were presented. My wife noted a couple of things that were absent in the presentation; I’ll let her explain.

If the medium is the message, is the storyteller the story? Our credibility is born out of who we are, and our storyteller told us a story that communicated nothing of herself, or any other people. She shared an expert stream of hows, of dos and don’ts, of whens and wheres and hows, of so many centimetres apart and deep and high, of percentages and techniques, of days and weeks and months and years – but no who. We were told that the plant was native to the Mediterranean area. So who brought it over here and why? We were told that there are 57 varieties of the plant, examples of each to be found in a separate plot of soil. Who created them all? One little nugget that dropped was that her family had, until a few years ago, been market gardeners (implying a varied and multi-seasonal crop). She never explained how they’d made the leap from something so practical and communal to something so esoteric and exclusive. Where did this passion come from? There was no history, no personality. No identity.

So basically, all of our passion and all of our knowledge does not guarantee that our presentation will become infectious, or frankly, that anyone is listening at all.

I know that some people read blogs who are very distrustful of churches that try to make the gospel relevant. I like what someone once said on this: We need to communicate the relevance the gospel already has. I know in my own life there have been times when I was passionate and detailed about things that my hearers may have had a mild interest in, but I wasn’t addressing their felt needs.

Spiritual passion + Biblical knowledge does not necessarily result in audience receptivity, even if you’re the best orator in the world.

August 3, 2013

Who Plays “Supply Teacher” At Your Church?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:39 am

Preaching - Cake or DeathI’ve mentioned before that I have my feet firmly planted in two different churches.

This summer, the one church is repeating something they started last year where some of the (mostly) younger people in the church are being given a chance to step up and preach the Sunday morning sermon. It’s a great opportunity for these guys (and one woman) to hone their Bible study and leadership skills. As a group, they’ve studied sermon development and have done some practice teaching for each other. The results are usually spectacular: Great messages with both background and application.

The other church is entering into a couple of weeks with the pastor away. They have a list of usual suspects who do pulpit supply, but it seems like both ordination and ministry credentials are required. The pastor prizes education of all kinds; and you are much more greatly esteemed simply by taking a course. As someone committed to lifelong learning, I think courses are most helpful, but unfortunately what I do here online is informal and carries no similar recognition. In this church there is also a smaller pool of potential candidates, but certainly several who are capable.

Meanwhile, back at the first church, they are about half-way through the summer schedule, and while I celebrate what they’re doing, the execution of the plan there is — with a couple of exceptions — somewhat guilty of ageism. Most of the participants are under 35, if not 30. That’s the target. This church is fairly large, and growing, and the list is significant not only for who it includes but who it leaves out.

At North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Andy Stanley is constantly developing a roster of younger leaders. But when he is away — as he has been this summer — the sense you get is that despite the modern mega-church’s penchant for marginalizing older people, his pulpit supply list reflects a mix of ages, and doesn’t skew as young as the one in our town does.

In some ways I can’t complain. I have actually spoken at that church on Sunday morning over a dozen times when I was on staff there, and have spoken twice at the second church. But it frustrates me beyond belief to think that perhaps those opportunities from a previous decade may never return.

Mid-life crisis defined, perhaps?

I was torn with what to do tomorrow, but decided to help out my wife’s worship team at the second church; even though I’d really like to hear what the young man does at the first church. I’ve seen him in a couple of ministry situations, and I know it will be excellent.

It’s just hard to be sidelined, and realize that a generation of newcomers doesn’t really know who I am and what I am capable of. I guess I simply recognize my gift of teaching, and as time slips away, hate to see it under-utilized. But really, it’s more than a desire to be “the guy at the front of the room,” what I call a “gift of teaching” is more a “passion for sharing.” I wrote here about how I like to introduce people to ideas and resources they might never have considered, and with each passing day, I feel I’m better equipped to do this than I was the day before. 

Sigh! 

But while I want to celebrate what a particular doing is to foster the next generation of leadership, this is also a lament that more churches aren’t doing the same. Many people are greatly strengthened through sermon preparation. They need to be doing such things, or similar things, and your church needs to hear them share their gifts and ministry.

So what about your church? Especially those of you in small(er) church settings: Who fills in when the pastor is on vacation? What is being done to help lay-people mobilize their spiritual gifts?

Image: Cake or Death (click to link)

February 12, 2013

Bridging the Expository-Preaching Topical-Preaching Divide

preacherExpository preaching consists of working through a passage on a verse-by-verse basis. For many of you, it’s the sermon style you grew up with; for a few it might be the only Bible teaching form you know.

Topical preaching seeks to look at selected scriptures and build a picture of the Bible’s wider teaching on a particular subject or issue. It grew in popularity when the seeker-sensitive church movement started, and is therefore often associated with that paradigm.

Expository preaching is a necessary skill for pastors. If you can’t exegete a passage, you don’t pass homiletics or hermeneutics in Bible college or seminary.

Topical preaching is sometimes mistakenly thought of as “sermon lite.” It’s been — dare I say it? — demonized because of its association with things traditionalists don’t care for: contemporary music, casual dress, modern Bible translations, seeker-targeted services, etc.

A good speaker should be able to do both approaches, and should know when to do both.

But every once in awhile I run across an article that is waving the flag for the expository style, and therefore reiterating an implied disdain for the alternative, topical preaching; like this one last week at Arminian Today.

Now before you head for the comment button, let me say that I agree completely with all nine points in the article, because there is an engagement at a different level with the expository style.  But the rhetoric of the article is completely over-the-top; indeed there is almost a venom in the words chosen to state what is, at the end of the day, the author’s preference.

Topical preaching is more like a steady diet of fast food.  It takes great but is not good for you.  McDonald’s will make you happy and it does taste good but a steady flow of McDonald’s is not good for you.  You need healthy substance to survive.  Fast food makes one fat and lazy… A steady diet of fast food Christianity that tastes good but is not producing healthy disciples.  Fast food Christianity produces shallow, self-focused people who want their felt needs met and view God as an end to their own problems.  Lost is the holiness of God, the hatred for sin, the passion for God in prayer, the hunger for the Word of God, a zeal for evangelism, a passion to have a biblical worldview and to be as godly as one can be in a sinful world.

You can’t teach the holiness of God in a topical sermon?  A steady diet of theme-based teaching fails to produce healthy disciples? By what metrics? Where is the research on this?

Then the writer feels the need to add one more paragraph, just in case you missed it:

So why do most churches avoid expository preaching? I would answer that by saying that 1) many churches want to entertain to draw crowds which equals money and success in their view and 2) the preacher is simply spiritually lazy and will not take time to study the Word of God to teach the Word as it should be honored and taught.  In turn, topical preaching doesn’t teach the Word of God but is simply the preacher picking what he wants to say, makes his points, and then proof texts his points.  That is not teaching the Bible.  That is your teaching backed up by proof texts from the Bible.

Did you catch that second last sentence? Topical preaching “is not teaching the Bible.” Wow! That’s a rather heavy accusation to level.  Caught up in the genuine emotion and passion about this subject, the writer kept keyboarding too long.

Still, in the spirit of conciliation and peace-making, I decided to wade into this blog post’s swamp and try to post something redemptive; borrowing an idea from the music wars that have plagued many a church:

I wrote:

This may not be popular here, but I want to offer a third way.

Many years ago, as churches agonized over the “hymns versus choruses” debate, the late Robert Weber introduced the term “blended worship;” a mixture of classic and modern compositions.

I believe there is some merit in bringing that mindset to this topic. I don’t necessarily lean to either the topical or expository style of preaching, as I believe there is only good preaching and bad preaching. The problem with topical preaching is that sometimes you never get deep enough into the context of the passage to learn anything new; it tends to have a guilty-by-association link with weak or entry-level teaching. The problem with expository preaching is that you miss the beauty and majesty of how the whole of scripture fits together, how the Bible speaks to various themes, and how seemingly contrasting verses hold a particular issue in tension.

So a blended approach would involve the use of related passages, but with a particular key passage more fully exegeted. None of this approach negates any of the nine points above, but it avoids the mindset that I’ve seen exist among some who are steeped in the expository approach and seem to have a phobia about introducing cross-references or parallel passages.

Now, at risk of being guilty of the very thing that I abhor about the approach taken in the article, let me add something else:  It is far too easy for someone to get up, open their Bible to a single passage and basically ‘wing it.’ Drawing on your familiarity with the text, it is extremely easy to simply start reading verse by verse and improvise or amplify what is on the page without providing any added value.

In other words, while it’s possible for either type of preacher to get up unprepared, the topical sermon must have involved some gathering of related or parallel texts through commentaries or word studies.

So I’ll take my sermon topically, please, with a slice of exposition; and hold the personal opinions — oh wait, you already do.

The most powerful thing a pastor can say in his sermon is, “Take your Bibles and look with me please to the book of …”  And anywhere Bible pages are being turned or text is appearing onscreen, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

November 23, 2012

A Great Message: It Just Isn’t Christian

Phil Vischer posted this on his blog nearly a week ago. I knew that it needed to be featured here with more than just a link, but as I looked through for a cutoff point and considered the actual click statistics, I realized that what I needed to do was reblog the whole thing. But as I remind my readers at C201, it would be a nice courtesy if you were to click over to his blog; the link is in the title below.

“Lord, make me popular.”

by Phil Vischer

I listened this morning to a TV sermon from a popular TV preacher.

“Sermon” may be the wrong term.  It was a motivational talk about the power of positive thinking.  It could have been given by Mary Lou Retton to a ballroom full of industrial lubricant salespeople.  There were biblical references, but they were for the purpose of illustration, not exposition.  Christ had nothing to do with the message.  Positive life change comes from replacing negative messages with positive ones.  The preacher inadvertently almost quoted exactly Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live – “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough…”

It was a helpful message.  People applauded.  They were encouraged.  What it wasn’t, was Christian.  It wasn’t Christianity.  Life change in Christianity doesn’t come from positive thinking.  It doesn’t come from thinking more highly of yourself.  Or replacing negative messages with positive ones.  It comes from dying to yourself and being reborn in Christ.  A new creation.

Here’s a thought:

Christian mass communicators often resort to self-help motivation over actual Christian teaching because it is easier to communicate, and, in fact, it gets results.  People’s lives ARE improved – on a mass scale.  There wouldn’t be a self-help industry if self-help didn’t work.  There wouldn’t be an Oprah if self-help didn’t work.

The problem is, what they’re teaching isn’t Christianity.  Even when sprinkled liberally with Bible references.  Christianity starts with dying to one’s self, not thinking more positive thoughts about one’s self.  But that’s harder to teach through mass media.  It is not a particularly appealing message.  It’s countercultural.  And it doesn’t initially sound like what we want.  We want to achieve our dreams – not die to them.  Not give them up.  We want to “increase,” not “decrease.”  We don’t actually want to follow Jesus.  We want Jesus to follow us – to pick up after us – clean up our messes with his Jesus superpowers.

We want Jesus to make our dreams come true.  And if that means we have to be better people, well, we’ll give it a try.  But it’s about us.  Our goals.  Our dreams.  Our lives.

The most discouraging thing about this sermon was that Jesus was only mentioned once, and it was a misapplied reference to Jesus’ baptism as an example of God being pleased with us even before we’ve done anything amazing.  Just like God was “pleased” with Jesus even before he had done any miracles.

This preacher has robbed Christianity of the power of God, and replaced it with the power of positive thinking.  Which is, quite frankly, a much more appealing message.  You can get something without giving up too much.  Sure, you need to work on your vices.  But that’s just common sense.  But there is no need to let go of the idolatry of “me.”  I can still come first.  The good me.  The me I’ve always wanted to be.  Me, me, me.  I can get God’s blessing, while still focusing on me.

We miss one thing, though.  Putting ourselves first is sin.  Clinging to our dreams and goals is sin.  Rebellion against God.  So the power of positive thinking can improve our lives, but it can’t redeem us.  We’re still enemies of God.  We’re still fallen.  Broken.  Slaves to sin.

Our preaching has become limited to what is easily and appealingly communicated on a mass scale.  And the reality of taking up your cross and dying to yourself is NOT easily and appealingly communicated on a mass scale.  If it didn’t work on a mass scale for Jesus, how do we expect it to work on a mass scale for us?

Jesus had the most followers when he was giving people what they wanted – “signs and wonders.”  Then he got down to teaching – to laying out the gospel.  And people said, “This is difficult teaching!”  And suddenly the crowds started wandering away.  ”Um… More signs and wonders, please?”

Why do we think the difficult message of the gospel will work better for us than it did for Jesus?  Even more vitally, why do we think we need to HELP Jesus appeal to a wider audience by CHANGING his message?

Jesus asks us to preach the gospel.  To make disciples.  Nowhere – not once – does he say, “And you are going to have HUGE success!”  Not once.  He actually says the world “will hate you as they hate me.”

If that’s the case, perhaps massive success should make us concerned.  Perhaps we’re preaching “signs and wonders” – easy answers.  Telling people what they want to hear, that your life can still be about you.  That Jesus wants to clean up after you.  Make your marriage work, give you healthy kids.  A good job.

This is not what Jesus preached.  And the more he preached, the fewer followers he had.

Don’t take the easy way out.  We want everyone to be a Christian, so we try to make the Christian message as appealing as possible.  Like political candidates “spinning” their message to attract followers. We want to be popular.  We want Jesus to be popular.  We completely ignore the fact that Jesus was NOT popular, and neither were his followers.

Jesus asks us to make disciples.  He doesn’t promise us great success in that endeavor.  It isn’t about results.  It’s about obedience.

Get ready to have a very unpopular TV show.

November 18, 2012

A Must Have Resource for Bible Teachers

“If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name. Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God’s Word as given by the inspired authors. If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don’t know the difference. We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God’s authority to what is really only our own idea.” (p. 25)

If you know anyone who is responsible for teaching the Bible in Children’s ministry, youth ministry, small group leadership; or someone who is simply wanting to get it right when it comes to their parenting responsibility in leading their family in their daily devotions, The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible by John Walton (Crossway) is an essential resource.

John Walton, professor at Wheaton College and his wife Kim Walton, a longtime curriculum user, developer and evaluator work through 97 Old Testament narrative stories and 77 New Testament stories in light of: Lesson focus, Lesson application, Biblical context, interpretive issues,  background information and mistakes to avoid.

It is the final section for each entry — mistakes to avoid — that is where this book shines. Too many times we’ve been subject to teaching which put the emphasis in the wrong place, missed the greater context, or simply went off down the rabbit trails of story details.  Often these misguided teaching foci proliferate or are passed on from church to church or generation to generation.

This is a book to keep on your shelf as needs arise. It deals exclusively with narrative passages; for example, in the New Testament, there are no entries after the book of Acts except for the lone one that covers all of Revelation.

Because it’s a Bible reference product, you might not read it sequentially, although you certain could take that approach.  But as a reference tool, I didn’t attempt to read it all; the copy I have is actually on loan; and the publisher is one whose products are not likely to cross my desk.  The Bible Story Handbook was published in 2010  and retails in paperback for $24.99 U.S.  It’s a great gift for a Sunday School teacher, youth pastor, or anyone with love for teaching the Bible to kids, teens or adults.

 

March 26, 2012

What a Worship Leader Learned from Aristotle

Bob Kauflin is somewhat of a worship guru in certain circles. His blog, Worship Matters, is probably in the top five blogs for those who lead modern worship in weekend services.  He recently wrote:

What I Learned from Aristotle about Leading Congregational Worship

Specifically, I haven’t learned anything from Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) about leading congregational worship that I didn’t learn first in Scripture.

But in his day, Aristotle sought to help speakers be more persuasive by identifying three crucial areas to keep in mind. He called them logos, ethos, and pathos.

Briefly, logos is seeking to persuade through truth. Aristotle was concerned that the speakers of his day, the sophists, focused too much on flowery language and not enough on actual content.

Ethos has to do with the character of the person speaking. Aristotle recognized that listeners tend to be influenced most by people whose character they trust.

Pathos refers to the ability to stir the emotions of your listeners. Important truths are often presented with no apparent response in the hearer. Airline attendants experience that every time they review the flight safety procedures before takeoff.

When I lead people to worship God in song, I’m seeking to persuade them that Jesus is more worthy of worship than money, possessions, sex, power, relationships, or anything else we idolize. While our trust is ultimately in the Holy Spirit to do that work in people’s hearts, the Spirit uses means. And three of those means are logos, ethos, and pathos.

…there’s more to the article…continue reading (click here)

Bob is a veteran in today’s modern worship movement; but his article applies to so much more than just worship. In preaching, in blogging, in small group ministry and even in conversation with friends, we need to have:

  • solid content that informs and edifies
  • a life that earns the right to be heard; authenticity, transparency
  • passion, passion and more passion

March 13, 2012

Thoughts on Church Life (2) – Giftedness

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

We were out shopping in a place we don’t normally visit at a time we’re usually at home.

The woman in the store thought we looked familiar.

“Don’t I know you from the Baptist Church on _________ Street?”

Establishing that there was no such church on that street, we tried to get a fix on the correct denomination, and then using the names of people who had pastored that church, determine what years she attended there. We connected with the name of one particular minister.

“He was a great orator;” she said.

I had no response to that particular comment, but inside I was thinking, ‘Really? A good orator? That’s all you walked away with, after years of sitting under his ministry?’

She then informed us where she was currently attending; a church where, I will grant you, skills at oratory probably rank fairly high.

Still, I was broken inside. The man she referenced was a spiritual leader. He was a visionary.

Yes, he brought the scriptures to life on Sunday mornings, but he was so much more than the sum of his preaching, at least in my life anyway. He was a good friend.

I felt a rather passionate response welling up, about how the work of preaching is more than just stringing rich vocabulary together eloquently, but then decided just to smile.

Guess I’m not a good orator.

March 3, 2012

Webcasts and Streaming and Sermons, On Line!

Normally, I don’t let my blog readers get a peek at my emails, but in preparing this for a friend this week, I thought it would be a good time to share this with everybody.  There’s never been a time in history when so much Christian teaching is available to so many people around the world.  So skip the funny videos today and take in an extra church service.  (If the listings are hard to read hit Ctrl +)

P.S. These are all fairly large churches, because they have the budget to do the video thing with technical excellence.  But little churches can have great sermons online, too.  Feel free to use the comments section to recommend things to others.


Andy Stanley

Considered one of the finest communicators in North America. Live feed from North Point Community Church in north Atlanta on Sunday at 9 and 11 AM, 2 PM, 6PM and 10PM includes worship and baptisms.

http://northpointonline.tv/ — streaming live at times as noted above
http://www.northpoint.org/messages — video server of recent series

Steven Furtick

Another young communicator whose church has really taken off in Charlotte, NC in the past five years. The reference to Sundays at 12:00, 4:00 and 8:00, refers to streaming Sunday services, because Elevation Network goes 24/7. Author of Sun Stand Still.

http://elevationnetwork.com/

Bruxy Cavey

Our first of three Canadian entries. The long-haired rock ‘n roll preacher of The Meeting House in Oakville has messages going back to 2000, though some are just audio. The media player is a small on-screen window and takes longer to buffer. Great teaching, though; you want to start at part one of a series that interests you, such as the recent 5-part series Jesus by John. Fastest growing church movement in all of Canada.

http://www.themeetinghouse.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=121&Itemid=3 

Charles Price

Our second Canadian entry. The British-born pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto is an excellent Bible teacher, as seen on CTV on Sunday mornings. Deep thoughts, straight-forward teaching, but not afraid to be controversial.

http://www.livingtruthmedia.com/index2.php — most recent sermon; previous messages available on audio

Jon Thompson

Now we’re three-for-three for Canada.  The very focused pastor of C4, a large church in Toronto’s eastern suburbs; site uses video player.

http://www.c4church.com/media.php?pageID=5

Kyle Idleman

The host of the H20 video series and author of Not a Fan. Teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Very straight-forward, easy to follow teaching. Video server available anytime.

http://www.southeastchristian.org/default.aspx?page=4140 (Indiana campus, different series)
http://www.southeastchristian.org/default.aspx?page=3476&project=123478&program=553660   (main campus)

Bill Hybels

The guy whose ‘seeker sensitive’ and contemporary services changed the way we approach church today. Bill doesn’t preach every Sunday anymore, but all their teachers are really high standard. This is a video server, with lots to choose from. “Weekend Services” are more like what Andy does, “Midweek Services” go a bit deeper.

http://media.willowcreek.org/

Greg Boyd

A Princeton theological education combined with large doses of Pentecostalism produced an always interesting and sometimes controversial pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis.

http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon-series

Pete Wilson

The super-casual Nashville pastor preaches several times at his area campuses but then on Sunday night does this thing in a downtown Music City club called Rocketown where he repeats his sermon from the morning, but then takes live chat questions after. Author of Plan B, and blogger at Without Wax.

http://campus.316networks.com/crosspoint.tv  –  Sunday night at 6:00 Central, 7:00 Eastern; but often starts a bit late
http://www.crosspoint.tv/nashville/media/ — past sermon series; video player

Craig Groeshel

Pastor of the church in the U.S. with the most satellite locations, in fact the name of the church is the name of the website, lifechurch.tv — the part of the site linked below uses a video server so you can start anytime. This links to the current series and then you select week one to start.

http://www.lifechurch.tv/watch/samson-2012/1

Rick Warren

Pastor of the 2nd largest church in the U.S. and author of Purpose Driven Church, this church streams its teaching at least ten times every single day!

http://saddleback.com/internetcampus/aboutus/servicetimes/index.html  —   schedule, then you go to the media player.

http://saddleback.com/mediacenter/home/default.aspx – media player

David Platt

Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Author of Radical and originator of Secret Church (which sadly, you can’t see online, but you possibly wouldn’t want to, because each sermon is six hours long.) Video server available anytime. Very laid-back, soft-spoken teaching from a Reformed perspective.

http://www.brookhills.org/media

February 6, 2012

Non-Biblical Terminology is Counter-Productive with Men

This was a fairly busy weekend here at Thinking out Loud, so be sure to check out the posts from Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Today’s article is from a rather unique blog, Church for Men and features the writing of David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church — now available in a revised edition released late in 2011 — where this book excerpt appeared under the title Terminology Matters to Men.

The word religion gets a bad rap in our culture. It conjures images of people practicing empty rituals, going through pointless motions, devoid of power and bereft of love. Post-moderns tend to see religion as old-fashioned, oppressive, and false.

So when a person has a life-changing encounter with Christ, he needs a new way of speaking of his faith. He needs terminology that tells everyone he’s not simply practicing the old, dead religion of the past. Twentieth-century Evangelicals coined two phrases that attempt to separate living faith from dead piety. Both have become very popular, and unfortunately, both are somewhat repellent to men.

The first of these terms is, “A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” It’s almost impossible to attend an evangelical worship service these days without hearing this phrase spoken at least once.

Curious. While a number of Bible passages imply a relationship between God and man, the term “personal relationship with Jesus” never appears in the scriptures. Nor are individuals commanded to “enter into a relationship with God.”

Yet, despite its extra-biblical roots, personal relationship with Jesus Christ has become the number one term evangelicals use to describe the Christian walk. Why? Because it frames the gospel in terms of a woman’s deepest desire—a personal relationship with a man who loves her unconditionally. It’s imagery that delights women—and baffles men. Guys have a hard enough time maintaining relationships with people they can see and hear (audibly).

Nowadays it’s not enough to have a personal relationship with Jesus; many of today’s top speakers encourage men to have a passionate relationship with Him. They invite men to rest in his arms, look up into his eyes, and experience a warm, gooey feeling for him. Speaking as a man, the idea of having a passionate relationship with another guy is just plain gross.

The second popular phrase popular with preachers and authors is “intimacy with God.” The term is spreading like a virus through the church, communicated by men with advanced degrees who write religious books. Here’s an example I read just this week: “Through Jesus God reveals that he loves us passionately and longs for an intimate relationship with us.”

So what’s the problem? God loves us. What’s the harm in using this quasi-romantic language to describe what we have with him?

Think of the mental gymnastics that must take place in a man’s mind as he pictures himself becoming passionate with Jesus—kissing him, staring into his eyes, or lying in his arms. If you don’t detect homosexual undertones in this imagery you’re not looking very hard.

Just like personal relationship with Jesus, the Scriptures never use the term intimacy with God. And lest you think I’m dirty minded, whenever the words “passionate” or “intimate” appear in the Bible, they always refer to sex or lust between humans.

When a man loves another man, he uses the language of respect. “Hey Joe, you’re a stand-up guy. I admire you.” Men do not speak of passionate, intimate, or even personal relationships with their leaders or male friends. Can you imagine a couple of bikers having this conversation?

Rocco: Hey, Spike, let’s go for a ride in the desert so we can develop a passionate relationship.

Spike: Sure, Rocco. I’d like to enjoy some intimacy with you.

One more thing on relationships: men really do need to have a relationship with God. Religion without relationship is bondage. The problem is the word relationship. It’s is not a term men use in conversation, except when describing a male-female couple.

(Phone ringing) 

Ron: Hey Bruce, it’s Ron from the church. How you doing?

Bruce: Fine, Ron. What’s up?

Ron: Hey Bruce, can we have a personal relationship?

Bruce: (click)

When Christ called disciples, he did not say, “Come, have a personal relationship with me.” No, he said, “Come, Follow Me.” Hear the difference? Follow Me suggests a mission. A goal. But a personal relationship with Jesus suggests we’re headed to Starbucks for some couple time.

We should use the same active terminology Jesus used when describing our faith. The next time you’re sharing your faith with a man, call him to follow Jesus. To walk with God. See if that doesn’t make a difference.

~David Murrow

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