Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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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.

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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.

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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.

Union with Christ
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Follow-up: Union with Christ

The book of Ephesians is different than the other letters we have looked at in this series on Paul’s follow-up with the churches he planted. For instance, there are no problems that he is trying to correct nor questions that he is answering. Also, it is less personal than his other letters.

Ephesians: A Summary of the Gospel

F.F. Bruce writes:

It [Ephesians] sums up in large measure the leading themes of the Pauline writings, together with the central motif of Paul’s ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. But it does more than that: it carries the thought of earlier letters to a new stage.1F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984, 229.

Clinton E. Arnold offers a statement of purpose for the letter:

Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote greater unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into greater conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display.2Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan, 2010, 45.italics original

Partnership in the Gospel
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Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in theĀ gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

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Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

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