Lately, I have taken a bit of time beginning to discuss my philosophy of ministry as a Christian minister (Helping Shape My Philosophy, An Early Concern, O. I. A. and Saturation). Bear in mind this is only one small part, albeit an important one, of my philosophy but one I have deemed noteworthy to share with you (whoever you might be).
Necessary Sacrifice and Misunderstandings…
One aspect of the cross I bear is found in lengthy hours of study and reflection. For those that assume reading stacks of books, listening to the arguments of skeptics, attempting to reason with fellow believer’s—both inside and outside the church where I am a preaching/teaching pastor—wrestling with my own sin as I too am confronted, corrected, taught, and trained in leading a godly life is easy then I suspect that you have not spent much time doing those things.
Trying to balance that with the rest of my life can also at times be stressful. Especially, when I arrogantly assume that I am doing this task on my own without the support of prayerful congregants, a loving and supportive wife, and most importantly of all my gracious Lord and Savior. Stepping into life so foolishly is that which I know I should not do, but if I am to be transparent the very thing I do.
Ministers live in a glass house. And like it or not where they sit is sometimes viewed as a throne above all others. That is not an accurate view of reality, but it is the way people sometimes tend to imagine us. Thus, we are called holier than thou, self-righteous, legalistic bigots and moral policemen.
The fact is, however, that we dedicate our lives to building up others in the faith; although, we do not always do a great job at that. We present to fellow image bearers the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ, the promise of sins forgiven not because of anything done either by human effort (yours or mine), but because of what God our Creator has done on our behalf. Often it is forgotten, or perhaps it is assumed contrary to the truth… that ministers are no different than anybody else. I am not better than other Christians because I happen to serve the Lord in the capacity that I do.
My particular Niche is not better than yours…
If every aspect of life is to be lived for God’s glory. Then this means that every sector of life is meant to be lived in a holy fashion. There are no separate categories of holy and secular. A pastor is no more important than a janitor, just as a doctor is no more holy a profession than a mechanic, or a janitor, or a clerk at a department store, or the local garbage guy. Each occupation and vocation, if it is not a sinful practice (such as a doctor that euthanizes his patients whether they are in their mother’s womb or the elderly lady whose life seems to prying eyes less meaningful) is good and worthy of our time and appreciation. We are all gifted differently and we all serve differently, but that does not lessen our value as human beings made in God’s image.
Within the context of Christian ministry this also means that I do not see my value as any more significant than the person in the pew. I have sat in the pew, and there are times when I still sit in the pew, and if the Lord deems it necessary there may be a time where my permanent place is found in the pew.
Which means that when I have said that I have noticed a disturbing trend among those who call themselves Christians, who then in turn take the Bible as their personal megaphone for voicing their personal conjectures rather than repeating what God has spoken, I am not putting them down, but merely making an observation. “What I feel…” and “The text to me, means…” are not a healthy way to study your Bible. If you want to call that sincere devotion that is fine, but it is not accurate unless you are calling your thoughts that which you are sincerely devoted to.
Elitist Niggards[i] and their Assumptions
As I have said previously, there is a general assumption amongst Christian academia and the pastor’s who have swallowed the notion hook, line and sinker that people in the pew can only handle a dummied down version of Scripture. You know “8th grade education and all.” If you preach too much theology, too much doctrine, if you dig too deeply into the wellspring of the Bible, then more than likely your people will not understand it. And, if you are not careful you will run people off, because they won’t want to hear it.
Not a new Attitude…
Personally, I find this elitist notion offensive. Certainly, the attitude is not new. Church history reveals that during the Middle Ages it was believed that peasants were too ignorant to comprehend the Scriptures, things of theology, and doctrine. One of the fears about translating the Bible into the common tongue (say English for example) was that the populace—the pew sitter—would make a mess of the truth. Only those trained in academia could hope to obtain, hold and regurgitate what God has said. And in case you think I am merely picking on the Roman Catholic Church (don’t get me wrong they have their faults as well do we Protestants), turn in your Bible’s and see if that attitude was not prevalent with those deemed to be the teachers of Israel.
“They answered [the man born blind], ‘You were born in sin, and would you teach us?’” (John 9.34; italics added).
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished” (Acts 4.13; italics added).
What I Believe…
Now I am not unrealistic. I realize that before you can teach others you must be taught yourselves. A patient that continually argues with his doctor’s diagnosis, ignoring his training assuming that any fool off the street could do what he can, is blatantly ignorant. In one sense any person may pursue a doctorly profession. While talent demonstrated is a plus, the one who is willing and passionate to do the hard work may also attain similar status; physical and mental disabilities aside (and even these may be overcome, so don’t go running down that road for an excuse).
My position has been from day one that the person in the pew, if given the proper training in a dedicated fashion, can likewise learn the basic principles of sound exegesis and hermeneutics. You don’t have to have a degree beside your name to understand the Bible, the doctrines found within its pages, and the rich theology embedded throughout. Apollos was a gifted preacher in his day, but it took a brother and sister in the faith (i.e., pew-sitters) to teach him something he did not know (Acts 18.26).
What I’ve Done…
So then, how have I gone about doing it? Well, I have already shared with you in my last post (READ HERE) two key ways that I have done that is with O. I. A. and Saturation Bible Study. There are two other tools that I have applied to my ministry context to aid the believer in the pew. The one was created by Answers in Genesis entitled “Answers Bible Curriculum” (A. B. C.). This particular study focuses on taking the student of Scripture through the entire Bible in three years. The primary concern is about building the right foundation and getting the believer to look at the whole Bible as the final authority for the Christian faith (i.e., worldview). I have used this in both churches where I have pastored for Sunday school and small-group study.
The other tool is one that I personally designed from my own research and study. Its focus is on Christian witnessing. Normally, when Christians think of witnessing, they have evangelism in mind (sharing the gospel), but what I wanted to do was show how true Christian witnessing is not limited to one sphere but rather two: evangelism and apologetics. The two are really different sides of the same coin. For when a Christian witnesses, they not only share their faith; they are also required to defend it. The course I designed to help begin this process takes the student systematically through a twelve-week course. Granted, twelve weeks is not much time. The fact is Christian witnessing is a lifelong venture of study and practice. (it’s really a life-long venture)
(NOTE: Unfortunately, I cannot go into the details of this program of study right now as this is a part of my D. Min. project. I have submitted the final edited copy to my advisor and am waiting on his announcement of defense worthiness and date of defense.)
Enough about the graduate school stuff. Back to what I was saying before all that.
My heart on the matter…
In an effort to equip my congregants for living a godly life, I have treated them like disciples. New flash! That’s what Christians are supposed to be. And one element of a disciple is that of a learner, a student. In this way, we are equal before Christ for we are all His disciples, thereby a learner and student of…. Drum roll, please! His Word!
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31-32).
What truth? Free from what? Some say, “sin.” True. Others say, “hell.” Also, true. But if we are free from sin and free from hell, then what are we freed for? Ahhh… the question that we ought to be asking. The question that I seek to instill in the minds of those whom God has called into His family…every time that I preach/teach.
The short of it is that the truth of God frees you from adopting every “argument and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2Cor 10.5). For in Christ Jesus is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.3). Now the goal of the person who has been freed from sin by “receiv[ing] Christ Jesus the Lord” is to learn as a disciple to “walk in him” (Col 2.6). Now if it is true that God in “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2Pet 1.3) through “Jesus our Lord” (2Pet 1.2), then my heart as a Christian minister for the people under my stead must be what? To “make every effort so that after my departure [they] may be able at any time to recall these things” (2Pet 1.15). Unlike the apostle Peter I was not given by the Lord any indication when I might go. Therefore, I must treat every day, every opportunity to teach those under my stead to be “established in the truth that [they] have” (2Pet 1.12).
My heart on the matter is this. Christ has equipped His church with teachers, so that in teaching they might train up others to do likewise. Not only to teach, but live lives that are pleasing to God. Understanding that what the Bible speaks on it speaks authoritatively, because it is God’s heart on the matter revealed to His creatures. And His truth has application not just on moral or spiritual matters, but matters pertaining to every day life. I believe that the person in the pew is just as valuable, and just as capable of knowing the truth, as well as learning how to apply it living their lives.
Moreover, the goal of the Christian minister ought to be to instill within his people the entirety of the Christian worldview; which is all encompassing.
In my next couple of posts, I will give some real-life examples of this all-encompassing Christian worldview, and how the truth of Christ delivers us from error. The first will address a cultural issue, the second will speak on the rationale for something we use and depend upon constantly.
[i] I debated whether or not I should address this word use here. But given the cultural climate here in the U.S. and the assumptions that might be ingrained in those outside our nation—having been infiltrated with a news media that wants to prorogate hateful division between people groups—I have decided I might as well be safe and give a definition for the word “niggard.” It is not the word “nigger” which rappers use ad nauseum, stupid bigots throw around like paper airplanes, and overzealous SJW’s accuse every lighter skinned individual of (whether by nature or attitude).
The term “niggard” or “niggardly” means one who is stingy or a miser. A person who withhold something from someone because they hold a “grudge or petty” bias. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition (New York, NY: Dell, 2007), 573, niggard; niggardly, s.v.