Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Theology Page 1 of 10

the big idea
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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.

preparing sermons

Preparing to Preach as a Missionary

“Missionaries need to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.” Or so I’ve heard all my life. Though this is often said jokingly, there is a ring of truth to it. In this new blog series, I am focusing on how to prepare a sermon. Missionaries often have opportunity to preach both in their home country and in their host country. Yet, many missionaries do not have formal training in preaching. In this post and four additional posts, I will share my perspective on preparing expository sermons gleaned from teaching homiletics (the art of preaching) at Alaska Bible College for 35 years. In this introductory post, I will define expository preaching, and focus on the preacher’s relationship with the Word and the audience. I will also list the topics for the next four posts.

Expository Preaching

Expository preaching is also known as expositional preaching. It is a form of preaching that focuses its attention on the meaning of a particular passage of Scripture.1See Wikipedia article.

lifelong learning
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Cultivating Learning Attitudes

Part of SEND U’s vision is: “Every SEND missionary will be proactive in creating habits of lifelong, intentional learning focused on both character and skill development.” What attitudes does a missionary need to cultivate in order to get personal buy-in to this vision? I suggest that cultivating attitudes of humility, openness, civility, and commitment provide motivation for personal buy-in. Moreover, these attitudes are the soil in which habits of lifelong, intentional learning will grow.

Humility

Humility is an essential attitude for learning, for without it we will not recognize the need to learn. Furthermore, humility helps us remain teachable. On my desk I have a quote from John Calvin as a reminder to stay teachable:

incarnational model

Are missionaries called to be incarnational?

The incarnational model is how we often describe our decision to live among the people to whom we are sent. We learn to speak their language. We immerse ourselves in their culture, eating their foods and building deep friendships within that people group. The term “incarnational ministry” may also refer to adopting a living standard (e.g., the type and size of our house, the transportation we use, the clothes we wear) that does not create social barriers to the common people.

But is “incarnational” the best word to describe our strategy of immersing ourselves in the culture of the people? Is the incarnation of Christ the model we should follow as we engage the unreached people of this world?

praying for churches
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Follow-Up: Praying for Churches

I began this series on follow-up noting Paul’s “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). The basic premise has been that Paul addressed his anxiety or care for the churches by writing letters. Yet, the more I studied his letters, the more I noted that he habitually prayed for the churches. His letters not only sought to build the churches in the grace of God in Christ but also called on God to accomplish that growth. So, prayer is an essential part of following up with the churches we plant.

Interestingly, Paul teaches the Philippian church, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”1Phil. 4:6, ESV. The verb form in Philippians 4:6 and the noun form in 2 Corinthians 11:28 share the same root. So, was Paul’s anxiety for all the churches inconsistent with his teaching in Philippians 4:6? No, I think that Paul’s prayers in his letters show that he is practicing what he teaches. The range of meaning for the Greek word translated as “anxiety” includes both a healthy care (Philippians 2:20) and unhealthy worry (Matthew 6:25). Whatever the level of anxiety, turning to prayer is the appropriate response. That is exactly what Paul is doing.

reconciling believers
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Follow-up: Helping believers reconcile

Paul’s letter to Philemon is an example of personal follow-up. Unlike other letters that we have looked at in this series on Paul’s follow-up, it is addressed primarily to an individual. Paul writes to his friend, Philemon, that his heart might be refreshed (Phm 20). Specifically, he writes that Onesimus (Philemon’s slave) might be reconciled to his master now that he has become a believer. The letter teaches us that the gospel provides the basis for reconciliation of broken relationships. It also guides us in helping believers become reconciled.

Douglas Moo writes in his introduction to Philemon:

This short private letter stands, then, as an important reminder of the communitarian aspect of Christianity that many of us, in our individualistic cultures are so prone to forget. In Christ we belong to one another; we enjoy each other’s company and support; and we are obligated to support, to the point of sacrificing our own time, interests, and money, our brothers and sisters.1Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon, Eerdmans, 2008, p. 378.

The Setting

The details behind the letter are not clear. We would like to have more details than Paul provides, yet Philemon and Onesimus clearly would have known those details. Likewise, the church in Philemon’s house would have known the general circumstances behind Onesimus’s absence. While this may frustrate our curiosity, we have enough information to understand how the gospel transforms and restores relationships between believers.

Syncretism
Picture by Greg Willis - originally posted to Flickr as Voodoo Altar, CC BY-SA 2.0

Follow-up: Colossians – Avoid Syncretism

In this series on follow-up, we have been looking at how missionaries can continue to help churches they have planted after they no longer are resident where those churches are located.┬áThe letter to the Colossians was not written to a church that Paul planted like other letters we have looked at in this series. Rather, Epaphras, not Paul, planted the church in Colossae. This probably happened during Paul’s extended ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19). Paul describes Epaphras as “our beloved fellow servant” and “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Col. 1:7). Epaphras faithfully preached the Gospel in Colossae. But the new church struggled with staying true to the Gospel they heard from their missionary. Apparently, Epaphras had met Paul in Rome (Col. 4:12) and informed Paul of the false teaching threatening the church.

As with most false teaching, this false teaching appears to be a form of syncretism. Syncretism is a blending of teachings that significantly alters the original message. We find that it is a constant danger in proclaiming the Gospel. So, it is important that we learn Paul’s strategy for avoiding syncretism from his letter to the Colossians.

The Colossian Syncretism

Borrowing from other religions

Clinton E. Arnold provides a convincing case that the Colossian “philosophy” found its roots in the folk religions of the area. In his conclusion he points out:

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