Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Author: Gary Ridley Page 1 of 20

Education: BA Gordon College 1973; M.Div. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 1977; DMiss Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 1990.
Ministry: SEND Missionary 1977-present. Faculty at Alaska Bible College 1978-2013. SEND U Missiologist 2013-present.
Family: Married, 3 children, 6 grandchildren.

Firm grip on the Gospel
Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

Finishing Well: Keeping a Firm Grip on the Gospel

In the first post in this series on finishing well, I compared a ministry assignment to a leg of a relay race. I also pointed to the baton as a distinguishing feature of a relay race. Furthermore, I identified the baton as the gospel in our ministry race. The gospel is the distinguishing feature of our ministry.1 While Tom Steffen does not identify the baton as the gospel in his book, Passing the Baton, he does devote a whole chapter to “Presenting an Accurate Gospel.” (p 127-141 in the 1993 version of the book.) As relay runners must keep a firm grip on the baton, so also church-planters must keep a firm grip on the gospel. This is no less true for administrative assignments in mission organizations.

What is the Gospel?

This may seem like an unnecessary question. Yet, when we read the definitions of the gospel from Christian websites, confusion is evident.2Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 2010. p 18-20. In a similar way, J. Mack Stiles warns of assuming and confusing the gospel and cultural Christianity.3 J. Mack Stiles, The Marks of the Messenger, IVP, 2010, p 37-47. It is critical to the race before us that we know what the gospel is.

The Gospel Holds the Bible Together

At the first conference of the Gospel Coalition in 2007, D. A. Carson made this observation in a message titled “What is the Gospel?”:

ministry as relay race

Finishing Well: Ministry as a Relay Race

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about finishing well in the past several months. In part, this is because I turn 70 in November and will retire at the end of 2021. But I am also interested in this subject because SEND U has been asked to develop and find resources to help SEND missionaries finish well whether in a ministry assignment or at the end of a career. When reflecting on finishing well, I find it helpful to view ministry as a relay race. 1Tom Steffen’s book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting That Empowers also uses this analogy.

Over the next few months, I will be writing a series of blog posts on finishing well in ministry assignments as a leg in a relay race. In this series, I will be applying the analogy of a relay race to finishing well in a ministry assignment. Presently, I plan to write six more posts. This will be followed by a shorter series on finishing well at the end of a ministry career.

In this post, I want to sketch the analogy between ministry and a relay race.

Ministry as a Race

The apostle Paul describes his ministry as a race in a number of passages (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:7). In the Acts and 2 Timothy passages, he uses the same word in the original language2 (the ESV translates it “course” in Acts and “race” in 2 Timothy). Interestingly, in both passages, he writes about finishing his course or race. In the former passage, he expresses his desire to finish his course and ministry well. In the latter, he expresses his confidence that he has finished his race well.

The Whole Christ: A review

The Whole Christ

I recently watched a breakout session from The Gospel Coalition 2021 National Conference (TGC21) discussing grace and works in the Christian life. Specifically, the question that was posed was “Does grace oppose hard work?”. However, the breakout session did not resolve the issue. Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters provides helpful guidance. Because these issues are vital for evangelism and discipleship, this book is an important resource for missionaries.

The Marrow Controversy

The historical background of Ferguson’s book is a debate in the Church of Scotland in the early 18th century. Now, the term “marrow” seems a bit strange to our ears today. Yet, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it described the seat of a person’s vitality and strength, the essence of a subject matter.1Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ, Crossway, 2016, p.22. The controversy acquired its name from Edward Fisher’s book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, written in 1645. As Tim Keller points out in the foreword, the author “does a good job of recounting the Marrow Controversy in an accessible and interesting way”2 (p. 11).

introductions and conclusions
Photo by Pascal Meier on Unsplash

Preparing to Preach: Introductions and Conclusions

Taking off and landing require a pilot’s utmost attention. Likewise, sermon introductions and conclusions demand careful preparation by a preacher. In fact, the introductions and conclusions will make or break the connection with our audience. In the introduction, we meet them coming from their daily life of the previous week. Then, in the conclusion, we send them off to live in the light of the biblical truth expressed in the sermon’s big idea. So, introductions and conclusions must be carefully worded to connect our audience with the big idea. For the simple reason that we need to know our destination before we start a journey, writing the conclusion precedes writing the introduction.

Writing the Conclusion

Conclusions Conclude

A sermon conclusion should not resemble a jetliner in a holding pattern waiting to land, or worse, aborting an attempted landing. Rather, it should briefly summarize the thrust of the sermon. An extended conclusion will frustrate our audience. It should not introduce new ideas but provide listeners memorable statements to aid in application.

illustrating and applying
Photo by Alena Koval from Pexels

Preparing to Preach: Illustrating and Applying the Big Idea

In this series on preaching for missionaries, I have stressed being students of Scripture and of our audience. This “double listening” (as John Stott calls it)1See the first post in this series. is critical for illustrating and applying the big idea of our biblical text. In fact, illustrating and applying form the key connection between the biblical truth and our listeners. Additionally, illustrations set the stage for the application in the daily lives of our audience.

Illustrating the Big Idea

Shining light on the big idea

Illustrations include quotes, anecdotes, examples, comparisons, statistics, testimony, and poetry. Sources include personal experience, news, history, literature, imagination, and the Bible. Whatever the type or source, they must shed light on the biblical truth and connect with listeners. That is, illustrations must help our audience understand and identify with the biblical truth. For instance, a quote from a book your listeners have probably not read would not make a good illustration. It is helpful to listen to traditional stories and everyday conversations to identify types of illustrations commonly used. Remember, your illustrations are the key connection between the biblical text and your listeners. So, they must be faithful to the biblical text and understandable to the people.

developing the big idea

Preparing to Preach: Developing the Big Idea

In the previous post in this series, I emphasized that a sermon should have one main point. Now I turn to developing the big idea in the body of the sermon. Haddon Robinson explains the task in this way:

When anyone makes a declarative statement, only four things can be done to develop it. It can be restated, explained, proved, or applied. Nothing else. To recognize this simple fact opens the way to develop the sermon.

Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, Baker: 1980, p. 79

There is a story of a preacher describing his sermon outline in this way: “First, I tell them what I’m going to tell them, then, I tell them, and finally I tell them what I told them.” While repetition and restatement have their place in preaching, this leads to boring preaching. Additionally, restatement is only one way to develop an idea and it doesn’t add much to understanding. So, how do we develop the big idea of our sermon?

the big idea
Photo by Alexander Michl on Unsplash

Preparing to Preach: Stating the Big Idea

In the first post in this series on preparing to preach as a missionary, I noted that the preacher must understand both the Bible and the audience. Moreover, the preacher must connect the two. Now I raise the question, “Does a good sermon consist of one point (one main idea) or does it need at least three points?

Often expository preaching is viewed and practiced as a running commentary on a text of Scripture. The pattern seems to come from lectures heard in Bible college and seminary. Yet, I have never read a book on preaching that advocates a running commentary approach. In fact, John Stott points out that the chief difference between a lecture and a sermon is that the sermon “aims to convey only one major message.”John Stott, Between Two Worlds, Eerdmans:1982, p.225.

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