Monday, October 26, 2009

Quick thoughts and questions on Christian education in the church setting.

My credentials to addressing this topic are neither impressive nor overly deficient. I've been a youth pastor for the last 4 years at a relatively small (about 120) congregation, so I do have a good deal of first hand experience, but I've very little exposure to big churches or various denominations/traditions contexts. In other words, my resume is deep but not wide. I suspect that much of what I have to say will be relevant in a variety of settings, but some of it will be rather useless. Regardless I would very much like to hear your thoughts and feedback.

1) Is expository preaching really sufficient?

In the church contexts in which I grew up, asking this question amounts to heresy. I think I understand and can sympathize with the arguments for it. John MacArthur, one of it's most famous proponents, answers a question in regard to why he has has remained committed to expository preaching:

Well first, because it is a biblical mandate. It doesn’t fluctuate with culture, with expectations, with times or seasons. Expository preaching is the best way to preach the Bible. If every word of God is pure, if every word of God is true, then every word needs to be dealt with. And expository preaching is only way you actually come to grips with every word in the Scriptures.

Secondly, expository preaching familiarizes people with the Scripture itself instead of simply giving them a speech, as true and as reflective of biblical teaching as that speech may be. With expository preaching, people become familiar with the Scripture. They can go back to the passages that have been addressed, and they can be reminded by the text itself of what it means. So you give people the Word of God in a way that has long-term impact, because it makes them familiar with Scripture.

Thirdly, it makes the authority unequivocal, and that authority is the Scripture. That’s very clear no matter how powerful or gifted the preacher might be. In consistent, expository preaching, the people always know what the authority is. It’s not about homiletics. It’s not about personal viewpoints and insights. It’s about relentlessly affirming the true authority of Scripture, which is the most critical thing that anybody can ever learn. It isn’t about, “Wasn’t that a great sermon?” It isn’t about, “Wasn’t that a great outline? Wasn’t that clever?” It’s always about, “What did the Word of God say?” And that makes it truly authoritative, because the Word is from God. No other preaching paradigm does this.

I respect John MacArthur, even though I may complain about him from time to time, because I think he really does try to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. I'm becoming more and more convinced, however, that expository preaching is not enough. I've been getting the distinct impression that people who sit exclusively under expository sermons have a very difficult time with synthesis and in understanding the meta-narrative of Scripture. This approach tends to chop the Bible up into pericopes, or in some cases smaller than that, which the preacher can preach as a unit. It fails, however to put it all together. Texts, even pericopes are meaningless outside of their context within the larger argument of the book at hand or even the whole of Scripture. I also think exclusive expository preaching tends to weaken people's ability to think theologically, but I won't go into that for now. I also feel as if the vast majority of Christians have no concept of our historical-theological context. Again, not now. I may post on this at some later time. I'm not sure I agree with any of Johnny Mac's above points, but I do, at least, respect them and I think I understand where he's coming from.

What do you think?

2) & 3) Do we tell people "what" too much? Do we tell them "how" enough?

We tell people to read their Bibles, but do people really know how? We tell people to share the gospel but are they really equipped to do so? We tell parents to raise their children for the Lord, but do they even have a clue what that means or how to go about it? We tell the laity that being a Christian on Sunday is not enough, but do we help them understand what it means to be a Christian in their workplace, in their home, in school?

4) We tell people that they need to use their spiritual gifts and/or contribute to the church's ministry, but how well do we facilitate this? I get the feeling that a lot of people would be willing to serve in some capacity but aren't sure how or feel like they aren't "good enough Christians." I've run into this attitude among mature Christians that certain people aren't really "qualified" to be involved in the church's ministry because they aren't mature enough spiritually. Although it is certainly true that some level of spiritual maturity is needed for certain roles, I have found that people often grow in spades when they become involved within their church's ministry. If they feel like they aren't good enough yet, they won't become involved, however.

5) Have we become too soft on our own sins and too hard on the sins of others? 99% of all church discipline that I've seen or heard of has been in regards to sexual sin. Is this appropriate? Is this the only sin Christians struggle with that can ever be confronted? What about greed? Or idolatry (depending upon how you define this)? How about not loving your wife? I'm not trying to be funny, it just seems as if we've singled out a certain sin area because it's easier to quantify, more "black and white" if you will. But if we single out this sin I'm afraid it's far too easy to become self-righteous if you've never committed adultery. I also feel like the way church discipline is applied is rather unfair to women, but I won't go into that right now.

5) How confidently should we preach difficult passages or theological concepts?

6) How guilty are we of syncretism? Is singing patriotic american songs idolatrous? I think so. Have we put our concept of "family" in too high a place (see Jesus' statements about the family...)? Have we become too republican? Have we idolized a culture in which we were comfortable instead of learning how to live in the culture in which we find ourselves?

7) Have we been tickling people's ears because we don't want to sound judgmental or legalistic?

Tackle or respond to whichever ones you feel like.

I'll have a Baptist Distinctive post up soon.


Sabrina said...

1) No.

Here is where I am going to complain about MacArthurites, even if you haven’t.

At Grace Community Church, all you get is expository preaching. That’s all. There is also the tossing around of theological terms and concepts that most laymen never hear until they come to church. Basically, that is the form that most of the leadership sticks to. It’s great if you want to familiarize yourself with a certain pericope’s content, but what is missing most of the time is context, even in MacArthur’s case. Also, the application part of the message, precious little there is, is based only on the pericope at hand. So, you have a bunch of MacArthurites running around reciting scripture combined with Mac commentary. Problem is, they don’t know how to process the information - they just gobble it up. And then out of their mouths come error and dogma they haven’t thought through at all. I could go on, but I'll stop now before I sound bitter.

Not to say expository preaching does not have any value. Let’s just keep it in context.

This leads me to numbers two and three.

I think that the pulpit should be an example. My favorite pastors always strive to exemplify good hermeneutics, and they don’t throw around theological jargon without explaining it. As they present some practical application, they don’t exempt themselves from it. Every church should have some type of guidance/classes offered in areas such as biblical interpretation (to start with), so people in the body are more equipped to answer questions that come up about life issues.

4) Well, honestly, I haven’t seen too much of a problem in this area. I’ve been a part of smaller churches from the get go, and it seems the pastor or other ministry leaders are always encouraging people to help where they can, no matter what it is. If the congregation is on the small side, chances are you’ll be noticed and recruited for some ministry.

5) Sigh. Yes. I know this probably applies to Nate’s post more than it does yours, but why do Christians always, always, always concentrate on sexual sin (e.g., homosexuals) more than anything else? Irksome and aggravating. Again, I think church leaders should be more of an example in this area - admitting sin and displaying repentance (when appropriate - I don’t think every sin needs to be thrown out in front of everyone).

5) Assuming one has done the research and adequate preparation, I would say humbly confident.

6) Yes. I don’t think this is true for all churches - I think it depends on location.

7) Yes.

faithbornfromdoubt said...

Thanks bri. I agree with your comments on jmac. I've done too much complaining about macarthur so I won't go after him but I think he and his followers are definitely out of balance.

Austin said...

Matt, I re-enter the blogspehere in this post! Pardon my negligence.
Expository preaching... here's my angle on it.
I think it is possible to over-emphasize the sermon in a church gathering (whether expository or not). I have felt an emphasis that seems to put too much on this part of the Christians' week.
First, I would hope the Christians are getting Scripture at other times during the week, and getting in a form they can understand (i.e. devotional reading, listening to other sermons, weekly Bible studies). The "recent" availability of Bibles in every home, for every person, sufficient lighting to read at night, and high literacy means that any Christian can access the text of Scripture at about any time. I think a sensitivity to this context (although more conservative groups are less sensitive to contextualization, I think!) might take a little load off the pastor's shoulders every week. Sunday morning is no longer the only time we hear from the Scriptures (as was the case for the majority of Christians for the first 1800 years of the church, right?) In other words, I would hope the pastor is not devoting major chunks of every week for the sermon. (That being said, knowing of pastors like Andy Walker who preach amazing sermons, I don't want to overstate this. His sermons are incredibly impactful for the life of that church.)

Second, there is more to worship than hearing the word. I wish there was a way emphasize "doing" the Word in a church gathering. Perhaps SOMA is beginning to throw emphasis elsewhere by canceling a Sunday gathering once a week in order to use the time for outreach in the communities of the church people. Great!

A bit scattered, but that's okay.
If I do not consistently comment on Matt and Nate's blogs, may I be thirsty in battle!

Kevin said...

First of all, I love the multiple use of the number 5. This makes your statements even stronger ;)

1. expository is not the only sufficient method even though many say it is. It is one way to effectively preach the word of God. However, most of the time I have heard this type of preaching it has not been as effective as I have hoped for.

2&3. We need to equip the saints not just instruct...good point. We also need to constantly remember that things like Youth Ministry start at home. And if this world were perfect our job as youth pastors would be to put ourselves out of a job. But we live in sin and not all parents disciple their children or youth, nor are all of them believers. So lets start by reminding the believers that they are in charge of discipling their youth.

Furthermore we need to teach the body of Christ how to live throughout the week. And make this more important than checking off the attendance card.

4. you can blame fundamentalism for this...words like "qualified". Sounds like a Pharisee to me.

5. Yes......most ignored sin is Gluttony....I recently heard a controversial story about how somebody denied someone from becoming an elder because they were open about not trying to overcome Gluttony.

This opened my eyes to how important it is to deal with all sins. I am no on a diet :)

5b. We need to all be stretched. But let not be boring about it.

6. Couldn't agree more.

7. Again I blame Fundamentalism. It's hard to have balance after the damage has been done. But we still must always uphold the truth....while not creating new truths that have to do with cards and movie theaters.

Good to hear from ya.

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul