Helping a New Preacher
Yesterday I was talking with someone who is fairly new to preaching.
He’s heard lots of good sermons.
He went to Bible college.
But he hasn’t preached much.
And he’s been asked to preach a sermon!
So he asked me for help. And we went through a process.
We looked at the passage in the Bible that was on his heart.
He had an idea for the point he wanted to make, and also a few questions.
It was a passage from Matthew, one of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life.
So we looked up this story and asked: was it recorded in the other accounts of Jesus’ life too? Turns out this same anecdote is in all four accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
I encouraged him to read all four accounts, and look up any questions he had. But pick one account to preach from, and do deeper research there.
We went through some tools like commentaries and word studies, books and online dictionaries.
And at the end, I gave him a one-page outline.
Of how I like to arrange sermons. How to put it together and make it understandable.
But I cautioned him – don’t shape the content yet. First, let the content of that passage shape you.
Pray about it.
Look it up.
Don’t pick what you’re going to preach yet.
Not until you really understand what’s going on in the text.
I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.
And I’m glad to be teaching him and to help with his process!
Reading a New Study Bible
As a teenager, I bought this Bible.
Yup. This one. (Not even sorry about that link).
I had it for several years. It got covered in duct tape, toted around in a backpack. Eventually it was lost or stolen.
My Thompson one had notes and study aids and some maps and such. But its real gold was showing the connections between different passages.
And the Bible suddenly made WAY more sense.
I could look up all the passages on a topic.
Or about a particular person.
I could see the different places in the Bible to read about them.
So, for example, if someone was writing a sermon, and wanted to know where a story was recorded in multiple Gospel accounts? They could find them all easily. So I began to read these stories from different perspectives. I started to notice how different witnesses told the same events to their unique audiences.
And to be hit over and over with the truth and beauty of the Gospel. Of the seamlessness of the Bible. Of the life-changing truth in its pages.
And my life was further transformed in reading it.
Jesus changes our lives. I knew my helplessness and sin without him, and that I needed Him. I’d accepted him as a Saviour. I knew He’d saved me and called me to more. I knew I was forgiven.
But we have this lifelong process of discipleship. Of “sanctification.” (That’s another word you can look up in a study Bible).
Basically, there’s a process.
God uses process, people, and His word in the Bible to shape and change us. Because he meets us where we’re at, and loves us far too much to leave us where we’re at.
And in reading the Bible our attitudes and thoughts are discerned. We’re refined and changed. We grow in faith reading about the events and individuals in the Bible, and in the good news for our lives today. We get convicted about our sin and actions – so that we can confess it and get free from it! We’re freed from guilt and shame and grow in confidence. And walk more in the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in joy and strength.
So I got excited about it! I wanted to share that. Not just to people I knew, but I saw the work pastors did. And I began to wonder if that was part of my call. To be able to boil that down for people, to communicate it.
Finding a New Kind of Work
And I had an inkling that was eventually something I could do.
That maybe I had the mind for.
Maybe my systematic sort of thinking could be suited to this.
Maybe my prodigious reading ability would be put to good use.
Maybe it would make use of my super-fast typing skills.
I mean… as a youth pastor, of course.
I never yet dreamed I would speak to a church on a Sunday morning!
But… I was shy.
But… really nerdy.
But… who would listen to me?
Like I wrote about in yesterday’s post, I had realized God could change that. However slowly.
And I didn’t have the skills to do this yet.
But maybe that was part of the calling I’d have.
And that could be good and holy work.
That I could work at explaining.
To break it down.
And the other half is that I’d need to study the Bible really deeply.
Learn the original languages, and how to look up what I didn’t know.
Study under professors who are wise. Who have spent their entire lives studying one place, one passage, one person.
And that would prove helpful.
Later in life, I’d participate in awe as professors helped us translate and understand grammar.
Made sense of confusing stories.
Helped us walk across the “bridge” between what a passage was originally written for… and how to make that understandable today. What teaching we were supposed to take away.
And in all of it, these men and women of faith modelled things I want to imitate. Prayer, humility, and concern to accurately represent the Bible and the gospel.
Getting a New Education
Where I come from, sometimes we can joke a little too much about education. About the need to do something practical. To only get a degree if you can get a job after.
And I certainly think that’s good advice!
But I’ve also heard a pastor or two refer self-deprecatingly to his M.Div as “wallpaper.” I’ve heard congregants joke the same.
(I’ve never heard someone say that to their medical doctor — unless they believe the whole medical business is quackery! Sometimes I’m surprised by how lightly people of faith take higher education, or the dismissive attitude).
I’d expect skeptics to think theological education is ridiculous. You know, a Ph. D. in Flying Spaghetti Monster Studies. On a par with Underwater Basket Weaving 101.
But it hurts when it comes from the church.
Because it’s good and difficult and holy work.
Sometimes I’ve doubted that.
It was hard figuring out if I should go to Bible college.
I don’t think everyone should go to Bible college… but I sure think everyone should read the Bible!
It’s important to help people study the Bible on their own. We benefit. The Bible changes us.
And yet, I benefited in high school from a great many sermons I heard. I continue to benefit from hearing others’ sermons!
From leadership that knows the word inside and out.
From people in the church who have their lives shaped by God and have heard great teaching.
Until He returns, God gave the gifts of teaching and pastoring and leading to the church.
Pastors and teachers have a role. To present the Gospel clearly. To explain and teach the Bible. To help others digest it. To learn how to see it.
To help us make the bridge between now and then.
Our languages are different. Our cultures are different. It can take some work to walk over that bridge!
And of course not everyone can read! Or use study tools. So speaking the words, reading the Bible aloud is important.
This work is still important.
Finding a New Vocab
In recent years I’ve worked hard to shrink my speaking vocabulary.
Yep, shrink it down.
I love journal articles. I love complicated books. I love twelve-part words that mean EXACTLY what I want to say.
But not a lot of other people do. So I work at the opposite.
To speak in shorter sentences.
On the recommendation of wise pastors, I even watched some stand-up comedians and read newspapers written for a 6th-grade reading level.
Because I can’t just study it.
I need to make it understandable.
Growing Into a New Calling
And I know now that Youth Pastor isn’t my sweet spot. Though I’m happy to do it and learn all I can to get better at it.
I’m much better at speaking to and working with adults.
But if I knew that part of my calling back then, I would have been scared out of my mind.
And I would have had too much doubt to even go forward.
So I’m grateful He’s patient with me. And leads us bit by bit into what He has for us.
Hearing a New Word
It’s not often I claim to “hear” from God. That he’s given an impression to me, or that I believe he’s put a phrase or sentence in my mind. I certainly think it’s possible and it happens. But I don’t want to call my own thoughts God’s words. I’m very cautious about that claim.
But He does speak sometimes.
A few months ago, I was wrestling with being tired.
Tired about all of the above.
The wallpaper jokes.
The difficulty of some passages.
How my brain prefers to function: in big words and journal articles.
I’d given some space to thoughts I shouldn’t. Toyed with taking up another field of work again and going further in it instead.
And then I “heard” it. Simply this:
“The boiling down and making intelligible is holy work.”
“Man,: I then thought, “that’s not even great grammar.” (Probably to humble me more, right?)
But He’s right.
Thank You, God.
Because when it comes down to it,
I still love it.
I’m thankful for the call to study and preach and teach and explain the word.
I love God. I love the word. And yeah, I love the work.
Thank You, God, for calling me to it.
10. The path of wisdom
11. Redeemed and resurrected
12. Three big lies
13. Courage to change
14. Adulting is hard…
15. And mentoring is harder
16. Bombs and truth bombs
17. Females and finances
18. Two hundred bad sermons
19. Evangelical, Pentecostal, Female, and Not Alone
20. Strong arms or feeble hands?
21. Strength to strength