Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why exegetical preaching is good for you.

Last week I was one of the presenters at a pastor's conference on an isolated Caribbean nation. (Yes, one of those ones that got smashed by Hurricane Sandy - which made for an interesting couple of days.)

I was speaking about the importance of Biblical Theology and how we as pastors can teach it to our congregations. But I was also invited to be part of a panel which discussed various issues and took questions from the floor for an hour each day. During one of these panels I was reminded that exegetical preaching is good for you.

It came up because we were talking about the different of roles of men and women in ministry, and someone asked about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 - the famous "head covering" passage. 

We talked about the different issues involved in the passage, cultural things, creation order, expressions of authority and submission to authority etc. It is a difficult passage, requires hard work to understand it, and even harder work to teach it. And then it came to me - that is exactly why a steady diet of systematic, exegetical preaching is good for us. Because it makes us think and work hard.

You see, if each week you preach on what has come to you during the week, or what is the "live issue of the day"or what doctrinal or theological topic you think needs to be addressed in any particular moment, I'm guessing you'll probably never preach on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Because it is unlikely to come up on your radar as a "hot topic"while you are considering what to preach about this Sunday.

But if we are committed to work through a book, chapter by chapter, then we commit ourselves to the hard yards or having to deal with these sorts of passages. And that is a good thing, because I think if we preach week in and week out on what we think the congregation needs to hear, then I suspect we tend to preach on what we think we already understand, and therefore our preparation and thinking gets sloppy. We spend more time trying to work out how to communicate what it is we already think we know, rather than being challenged by something new and then working out how to communicate that.

But if each week as we open to the next chapter in our program, we are presented with the agenda from the Bible, sometimes - in fact hopefully, many times - our thinking is going to be challenged, our eyes are going to be opened to new truths and insights, and we are going to need to read and prepare carefully to answer the surprises and challenges that the text throws at us. Yes, that will require careful thought, hard work, and longer preparation, but that is a good thing, because it will make us students and servants of the text, rather than authorities over it.

So, get that diet of regular, systematic, expository preaching going - and look out for the challenges it will bring your way!

(The picture is of sunrise over our city this morning, snapped by our most excellent language tutor Lillian.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

A little reminder of why we are here

I had a conversation last week which was a good reminder of why we need to be here, and what we can and can't take for granted.

I was chatting with someone I have got to know over the last year or so. He's a christian and a great guy, very keen to be doing what he can to encourage others, but hasn't really been settled in a church for a while. He has recently started studying a couple of the courses I am running, and we are also both part of a mid-week Bible study group.

We were talking about what he'd been learning as he studied his first Old Testament subject. The conversation went something like this. He is 'F' (for friend), I am 'M' (for me).

'F' : Do people really study the Bible?
'M': Do you mean, do people really study the Bible - in terms of where it came from, how we got it etc, or, do you mean, Do people study it in terms of what it says?
'F': No - do people study it deeply or just skim over it? I mean, I have learnt so much from studying this course and I wonder if others do it or they would benefit from it?
'M': Yes - people do study it in depth. There are some places, like in Sydney where I come from, where it is totally normal for people who are members of a church to also be involved in a Bible study group each week where they read the Bible carefully and try to apply it to their lives and encourage the other members of the group to do the same. Each week in the sermon the preacher also tries to carefully teach the passage for the day and apply it to our everyday life.
'F': Really ?! Wow, that would be really good if we could get people doing that sort of thing here.
'M': Well, I'm running a group on Sundays at our church in which we are reading through Ephesians. Looking at 10 or so verses each week, thinking about the details and how those details speak to us.
'F': That's fantastic - that is exactly the sort of thing people here need, because they just spend a lot of time skimming on the surface.
'M': Yes.

For readers in good churches where this sort of detailed study is par for the course, can I make two requests.

1. Don't take it for granted. Keep pushing your leaders to do a good job of careful teaching from the scriptures.
2. Don't forget that there are whole lot of places in the world where things are very different. So please keep on remembering those places in your prayers and in your giving.

(Photo: Holy Cross Anglican Church, Tarija, Bolivia)