A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Get Me Once, Shame on You! Get Me Twice...

You’re likely familiar with the old saying, “Get me once; shame on you! Get me twice; shame on me!” The idea is I ought to be a good, trusting kind of fellow, and generally expect others to do me right. But, if you do me wrong, I ought to forever keep it in mind and keep you at arm’s length so that you can never fool me again. That’s not love. It’s fear… and pride!

The apostle Peter had a similar thought process, but his time with Jesus had taught him to be generous with his patience and to have a forgiving spirit. One day he thought he’d let his master know just how much he’d learned by asking a question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matt 18:21). You and I will have to admit, that’s pretty generous. How many people do you know who have sinned against you seven times or more? —We’re talking about noteworthy sins here. Most people put up a wall against someone after they sin against them once. A lot of us (especially in baseball influenced America) will give someone “three strikes.” Seven times? Can you find it in your heart to forgive someone who sins against you seven times?

If you know the Bible, you’ve already guessed where this is going. “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (some translations read “seventy times seven) (Matt 18:22). Jesus’ answer is astounding! How can God expect us to forgive somebody who keeps on sinning against us so many times? The better question is how can God keep forgiving me thousands of times? Let that sink in. Jesus preached, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14-15). I want to be forgiven by God. I’ve sinned against him many times more than anyone has sinned against me. I suppose we need to bench the baseball terminology, be humble enough to bear a little shame, and open our hearts to forgive our brothers and sisters as often as they ask us to. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Journey in Ministry (the Last 5 Years) and a Few Reading Suggestions for those in Ministry

The last four or five years of my life have been great! I’ve been privileged to work with one of the best churches in the world! I wish all people could love their work as much as I do. It’s not all a bed of roses, though. There have been major ups and downs as I’ve made significant changes in the way I see myself, and particularly God’s plan for my life. These have been positive changes that, I’m convinced, have resulted from God’s providential guidance. Pains come with growth, but it’s worth the pain, and from this vantage, it looks like I’ve still got a lot of hurting to do, but I’m ok with that.

The major shift has been from being a pulpit preacher to filling a more peripheral role in church leadership. It’s one I was initially excited about, but to which adjusting came at a higher price than I had expected. I’ve had to un-learn much of what I thought I knew about how the church works, and I’ve had to force myself to break out of the very comfortable mold I’d settled into through ten years of prior ministry.

I still do some preaching, and never plan to quit, but those of us in associate ministry positions (education, youth, involvement, etc.) don’t have the advantage of pushing our work from the pulpit regularly, so we have to figure out other ways of influencing the church. Also, the results (or lack thereof) of our areas of work are often more immediately evident than the pulpit guy’s (like as in quarters rather than years), so I’ve found myself much more concerned over how church members are responding to my leadership right this very moment than I used to be. That can be stressful. No matter what type of ministry we’re talking about, it’s still best evaluated over the long-term, because changing people’s hearts is rarely something that happens overnight, and affecting the culture of an established church is arguably the hardest, slowest work there is (and for good reasons, I think). But, ministry has to involve management. We ministers, elders, deacons, etc., are in the volunteer management business, and it pays dividends to have some skill in that. It also is essential to learn how to delegate tasks and empower talented church members to take on and lead certain areas of work. I still haven’t come close to figuring it all out, but I’ve learned a lot over these last five years, and have been made a better minister over all for it (I think it’s even made a better preacher of me).

I thought I’d use the occasion of expressing some of these thoughts to suggest some valuable reading I’ve done that has helped me a lot. I haven't done this often in the past, but plan to start sharing more of what I'm reading. I think some of these resources could help you too, no matter what ministry role you fill, and some of these may even help those of you in certain fields of secular work.

I read Formational Children's Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship by Ivy Beckwith around the end of 2011 and first of this year. It’s written from an “emerging church” perspective with which I don’t see eye-to-eye, but looking past that to the bones and meat of the book I found some valuable ideas for shaping curriculum for children’s education. I do a fair bit of custom curriculum writing for both children and adults, and I’ll be implementing some of the ideas I gleaned from this book. Check it out if you are involved in Children’s Ministry, or teach kids’ Bible classes. I read my copy on my kindle.

While searching for something else, I found an inexpensive book by the well-known Warren Wiersbe, called, Fifty People Every Christian Should Know. It’s a volume of short biographies of people who have influenced (primarily Evangelical) Christianity over the last five centuries or so (since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation). It’s an excellent read in itself, especially if you enjoy biographies like I do, but the chapter on a minister named Samuel Rutherford inspired me to look for a book called, A Selection from His Letters, which I found on my kindle. It’s a book made up of a series of letters Rutherford wrote to members of the church he’d ministered in prior to being more or less sent into exile for teachings that his superiors didn’t appreciate. I found the letters helpful as opportunities to assess my love for the members of the church in which I serve, as well as rich examples of how to minister to the needs of people experiencing both good times and bad. It’s given me a lot to think about, and may just do the same for you.

Finally, I saved the best for last. If you are responsible for recruiting volunteers for just about anything (for me, it’s mainly Bible Class teachers), you know how stressful it can be. I just finished reading The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, a few weeks ago. It’s by the father and son team, Jonathan and Thomas McKee. What a gold mine! It’s a straightforward look at how the times have changed volunteer management, and how to understand the Twenty-first Century volunteer. It has a few success stories thrown into the mix, and an appendix at the end with a variety of forms and training ideas. I suggest every minister, elder, and deacon—especially those working in ministries that require recruiting volunteers—to read, and re-read this book! It’s available in kindle format.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Homosexuality and the Standard of Truth

I just read an article online about a Roman Catholic Priest who refused communion to a lesbian at her mother’s funeral. According to the article, she was first in line, and the priest covered the “Eucharist” bowl with his hand and said, “I cannot give you communion, because you live with a woman and the church considers that a sin.”

She was devastated. She and her brother wrote letters of complaint to the diocese asking for the priest’s removal from parish duties. The article went on to quote input from a “gay rights” organization whose spokesperson felt this is part of a wider problem of rejecting homosexuals.

This brings up two questions. Was the priest right in what he did, if so, why? Also, what stance should Christians take toward homosexuals, and how should we deal with them in church services and activities?

I don’t have space to talk about how the whole Roman Catholic system is unbiblical to start with, except to say the priest’s words reveal a lot about why there is such a problem with the homosexual issue today. The church isn’t the standard of truth, the word of God is. The church is called to support and stand for the truth (1Timothy 3:14-15), but doesn’t have the right to make laws where God hasn’t, or to disregard laws he’s made. The church is called simply to recognize truth as it has already been revealed through Christ in the Bible. Homosexuality isn’t a sin, because the church has decided so, but because the word of God says so (Romans 1:26-27, etc.). So, the priest was right to say homosexuality is a sin, but then I think what he was doing in his Roman Catholic practice was wrong too.

Aside from the fact homosexuality is a sin, was the priest’s publicly embarrassing criticism and refusal of service appropriate? I can’t answer that, because I know the article didn’t tell us the whole story. The church should never bar the doors to open-minded, truth-seeking homosexuals who want to come among us and learn about God. In the church of Christ we practice “open communion,” so refusal of communion to someone wouldn’t happen. We follow Biblical instruction (1Corinthians 11:28) and urge each individual to decide if he’s worthy to take communion and leave it between him and God. The church cannot approve of homosexuality, but we love those who struggle with same-sex attraction temptations, and want to reach out to them with both the love of God and his truth in the hope they might find the strength to repent, and so be saved (2Peter 3:9).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How to Give An Interesting Lecture

Last week I said a few things about discussion classes. This week I have a few thoughts to share about lecturing. The word itself has come to have a negative meaning in some contexts. “Quit lecturing me!” You know what that means. On the other hand, going to a lectureship on some topic of interest is seen as a positive thing. So, a lecture is neither good nor bad in itself. It’s the quality of the lecture that counts.

The number one rule in making a lecture worth sitting through is to have something to say. Without mentioning any names, I’ve listened to some of the worst public speakers in the world lecture for an hour at a time practically on the edge of my seat, because the talk was so rich and informative. If you want to kill your lecture and deepen folks’ prejudice against lectures just come unprepared, unstudied, and half-hearted to the podium. They’ll not soon come back! Never repeat and rehash the same information. If you’ve got an hour’s worth of good information (or two hours, or even three if there’s a bathroom break thrown in there) I’m all for it and will be the better for having listened, but if you have twenty minutes’ worth, sit down after twenty minutes! No one will think badly of you for it. Don’t forget the old saying, “The mind can only process what the seat can endure.” However, the seat can endure quite a lot if the information is worth hearing.

With the above in mind, we all know we live in the “attention-deficit” era. Your audience for a lecture no matter where it is, is used to flashy images, multi-media, and, frankly, being entertained. Don’t worry about it! There is nothing more entertaining than learning about something of interest. My business is the Lord’s business, so attention issues don’t worry me in the least—people love to really learn God’s word and have their spiritual questions answered. As long as I’m doing those two things, they’ll listen. But, we can still help the “sit-still-challenged.” Try to always employ all three learning styles into your lectures. The “hearing learner” is already taken care of if you’ve prepared something worth listening to, but give the “seeing learner” something to look at—some printed notes and/or a presentation on screen. And don’t forget the “doing learner.” Some people need to be involved “kinesthetically” in order to learn. Give them opportunities to raise their hands, nod their heads, and offer feedback. Give them some blanks to fill in. Get one or two of them to do some reading for you. Employ these skills in your well-prepared talks, and you’ll never hurt for folks willing to listen. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Are "Discussion Classes" Bad?

I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve been in about whether lecture or discussion classes are better. Church members have told me they just fall asleep in a lecture class, but leave a discussion class feeling refreshed and fulfilled. On the other hand, discussion classes have suffered a lot of derision from those who see them as shallow, unfocused, even unbiblical.

Charles Hodge wrote, “When one mentions ‘adult classes,’ we can only think of ‘discussion classes.’ Why? There’s no Scripture for it! There’s no sense in it! If it’s so wise, where are book, chapter, and verse?” (Teachers, p. 186). Hodge’s is an excellent book on teaching Bible classes, and based on his definition of discussion classes, I agree with him. He later listed five arguments against “discussion” classes. From p.187 and forward, Hodge showed “lecture” classes with a true teacher never have discouraged “differences, questions, challenges, or discussion.” Let me make a few suggestions.

First, we ought not create the false dilemma between “lecture” and “discussion” classes. We should just have Bible classes. That presumes there will be a specific Bible text to study and no matter how much discussion ensues, the teacher ought to come to class prepared to teach it. Second, the teacher must lead class discussions. That means he must bring spontaneous discussions to a point or end them if they have no point, and he must know how long to allow a discussion to continue. If much discussion is desired, I suggest the teacher prepare the lesson in 5-10 minute blocks of instruction followed by allowances of 5-10 minutes for discussion, and so on. This will usually allow for three periods of teaching the text (which allows God his say in the discussion) and plenty of time for questions and challenges. In this way, almost every class is a discussion class, and a class that’s true to its intended purpose, which is to allow a teacher to impart truth from God’s word. Finally, every teacher ought to prepare thoroughly. Boring teachers with little insight into the word and therefore nothing stimulating to draw from it are the main reason we have disagreements over how to have class to begin with. God bless our teachers and Bible classes!