Tag Archives: word ministry

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Spurgeon v Augustine: Egyptian gold, “faithful preaching,” equilateral triangles, and church growth

It seems we’re at a bit of a crossroads in the Australian evangelical church at the moment – once we recognise that the church isn’t really growing – do we throw our lot in with Spurgeon, or with Augustine… For many in our scene – faithful preaching from the pulpit is the ultimate panacea – and if the church isn’t growing then it doesn’t matter, so long as we’re faithful, or perhaps a lack of growth is a sign of some lack of faithfulness…

augustine spurgeon

I reckon the problem is that many of us have conflated “faithful preaching of the gospel” with “expository preaching on a Sunday” – and we’ve pretty much checked our responsibilities in at the door at that point. I’m not going to argue against expository preaching – because I think it is part of faithfully preaching the gospel – but I wonder if we’re missing two-thirds of the persuasion triangle… We seem hesitant, or suspicious, of anything other than unadorned words – be it emotive production values or anything that by itself would be manipulative, or an emphasis on the sort of life and good works we should be producing outside of the pulpit… Part of this has been from a desire to respond to the imbalance of the pentecostal movement on one hand, and the social gospel driven ecumenical movement, which focused solely on “liberating the oppressed” because nobody could agree on what the gospel actually is, on the other. But we’ll get to that when we get to the triangles below…

On the merit of “Egyptian Gold”

I read this stirring Spurgeon quote about preaching that Justin Taylor shared a couple of days ago, especially these bits:

“Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.”

…”I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!”

…In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church.

There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.

There is much to like in Spurgeon’s quote – the church is God’s agent in the world and its job is to promote, proclaim, declare, whatever verb you like, the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s our mission, and arguably how we worship.

But there are a couple of things that rankle me in this quote – while I agree that the gospel requires words – because it is the story of God’s word made flesh…

  1. I still can’t help but think that the reduction of our mission to just words misses the point of both the actions that the written accounts we call gospels contain, and the strong links made between the lives we live, the good we do, and the love we give and our testimony to the world (so to provide a sample of from three different New Testament’s authors – John 13:35, 1 Cor 10:33, 1 Peter 3:8-16). Interestingly, Augustine suggests that the good we do should be to the end of seeing people come to know God
  2. I don’t understand the assumption that the Spirit can’t work through architecture, music, flowers, or even millinery – surely the Spirit doing so would be a greater testimony of his power, not lesser. Surely if there is a milliner, or flower arranger, in your congregation they can find some use for their profession as part of the body, to point people to Jesus – these things can’t replace word ministry but word ministry doesn’t need to happen in a cultural vacuum (and the right balance is important). I like Luther’s potentially pseudopigraphic “make a good shoe and sell it for a fair price” quote at this point…
  3. I can’t figure out why “word ministry” as in the promotion of the Gospel should be limited to the spoken word in a way that rules out using the “gold of the Egyptians” – or without the metaphor – the good parts of the created order that can be applied to gospel ministry and declaration of truth. Music, video, the arts – all of these can be used as “word” ministry – they just lean heavier towards pathos than logos when it comes to the persuasive act.
  4. This displays a limited doctrine of creation – one I’ve been guilty of in the past when it comes to free range eggs (and the environment) – the way we treat creation and how we use it is also part of our testimony – and this includes the way we think of the arts, and things that people make as part of our stewardship of creation and desire to bring order to it… as an aside: I don’t think the way “creation” and “redemption” are as separate as some people want to suggest (there’s a bit of a debate about this) – I now think redemption, and God’s mission, encompass creation – and how we use it – but “redeeming creation” is not an “end,” it’s a means to support the ultimate end – our mission to redeem people.

In fact – on the second point – what we do with the “gold” we find – or the goodness of creation – is an incredibly strong part of our testimony.

The “receive, redeem, reject” paradigm for culture that has been made popular by Keller, Driscoll, et al is pretty useful – and it works with the plundered gold analogy that Augustine ran with…

If the gold of Egypt is some sort of “truth” – a “created order” thing, being used in a cultural way – perhaps, for the purpose of this post, a persuasive technique, or musical style… it seems to me there are four options for this thing:

1. Leave it in Egypt – assuming the gold itself is inherently bad – because people use it to make idols.
2. Bring it with you, as is, or make it your own idol – like a golden calf, at the foot of Sinai.
3. Bring it with you, because gold is beautiful – recognise its goodness without worshipping it – music whether written to honour God – like Bach, or written as a recognition of the way ordered sounds can work together to create pleasure – captures something of the goodness of creation, as music.
4. Bring it with you, use it to glorify God – build the temple out of it, artistically, with sculptures. People will then both understand a good God made it, and understand that this Good God is Yahweh, who reveals himself in creation, and the redemption of creation.

The first seems to be Spurgeon’s approach when it comes to what happens in church, the fourth seems to be what Augustine advocates… it’s no secret that I think Augustine is right – my masters project is going to be an application of his principle to modern communication theories. Here’s the money quote…

“…all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also —that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life — we must take and turn to a Christian use.”

There really is no “Egyptian Gold” – but rather an Egyptian use of Gold, that may or may not be redeemable. This is demonstrably the case if we believe that every idol results from taking something good that God has made and using it in wrong ways.

On “faithful preaching” and equilateral triangles

But all this got me thinking about “faithful preaching”… and triangles.

If the following linked premises hold true:

  • Preaching must involve the faithful articulation of the gospel. I’m with the Bible, the reformers and the Westminster Confession on this – for a church to be a church, it needs to be a gathering of people united by the gospel of the Lord Jesus, who are proclaiming the gospel through preaching and the sacraments.
  • Our “preaching of the Gospel” can’t just be words. It has to include words – so Francis of Assisi is still wrong – but those words need to be backed up by action. How the church lives and loves its community is part of the package of faithful gospel preaching… because teaching is more than words.
  • Paul’s call to “imitate him, as he imitates Christ” (1 Cor 11:1) is a bit of a unifying principle delivered to a church fractured over preaching styles (the conflict he addresses earlier in the letter) – where imitation was a key part of first century oratorical competition (so, for example, Cicero bemoans poor choices about who and what young orators imitate and pushes for an imitation of substance over style).
  • Paul, in both 1-2 Corinthians, champions an approach to preaching that includes the embodiment of the cruciform (cross-shaped) life as the key aspect of this imitation (you’ll have to read my essay on Corinthians to find out why I think this)
  • Preaching is an act of persuasion (no doubt governed by the work of the Spirit – I’d argue, like Augustine, that rhetoric works because it recognises a truth about the order God has created in the world, particularly how human minds work).
  • Faithful preaching is more than what is said from the pulpit, but is how a preacher, and by extension the church, as a whole, lives as the Body of Christ in their time and place.

There’s something nice and Incarnational about all of this that I’m increasingly appreciating…

But if these points are true – then we can kind of understand “faithful preaching” using an Aristotelian framework, which includes logos, pathos, and ethos – with the type of life the preacher lives (ethos) being a decisive communicative act – serving to either emphasise or undermine the “pathos” or “logos” (ie the content of the preaching)… Which is where the triangles come in…

I’d argue that part of the mix which is limiting the growth of our branch of the church is that we’re so cerebral and logos driven in our approach that we’re relying almost entirely on our ability to persuade solely by reason (I’m not suggesting the Spirit can’t work through this – simply that it might be true that God has created us to respond to pathos and take note of ethos as well – and that we’ve been instructed to employ those aspects as part of our “preaching” more than we might at present in our gatherings and the rest of our life as a church).

It’s hard to make generalisations here… and I’m reflecting a little on my experience in some churches that were actually growing as a result of faithful and engaging Bible teaching – and some attempt to figure out how to engage with the world around us (I don’t think they’re just doing what Spurgeon says is all they need to be doing – they typically also have excellent music, well thought out architecture, and other bits and pieces) – but also on my observations of the churches that I’ve been part of that seek to imitate the logos aspect of those churches without necessarily investing heavily into pathos in a way that treats each place and people group as different…

I’m also reflecting a little on my training, the things that have been emphasised as I grew up in evangelical ministries in Australia including my churches, AFES, other groups I’ve been part of, and my experience at theological college. All of these groups require a certain threshold for “character” when it comes to involvement, but I don’t think ethos – which I’m defining as how to live in the world in a winsome and persuasive way that backs up my words – has ever been the focal point of the training I’ve received.

I’ve been pretty well equipped with the logos stuff… I think, like Spurgeon, we’ve been pretty suspicious of pathos too, because without logos it can be manipulative and lacking in substance (and we’ve seen that a little in the worship wars and the Pentecostal movement), though I think being “winsome and gracious” in how you speak is a mix of pathos and ethos.

I suspect the lack of focus on ethos is because ethos will ultimately look, without the logos, like the social gospel stuff we’re all so keen to avoid.

And now. For the visual learners and thinkers… a triangular approach to this issue.

This is a triangular picture of Aristotle’s approach to rhetoric. It’s an equilateral triangle, and represents all these aspects being held nicely in balance – I suspect this is the model for faithful preaching – because I think Aristotle has rightly recognised the way humans are persuaded of truths.

Aristotles Triangle

If this is a truth about the way people, and creation, works – then we should expect to see some fruits of it in terms of growth, assuming that the Holy Spirit works, in some way, consistently with the created order that God declared to be good. Perhaps even by helping us see that order in a way that guides our participation in the world.

This is my caricature (thus it is a little reductionistic) of the emphasis I think exists in our evangelical circles, it’s not without pathos or ethos – but logos is heavily emphasised.

The evangelical triangle

This is my caricature of the emphasis in more charismatic churches… My guess is that these churches are growing faster than those in the evangelical tradition because their triangle is a little closer to being persuasive – while they don’t necessarily place a heavy emphasis on solid teaching, they tend to, as a generalisation, be more interested in social justice type stuff, and much better at appealing to the emotions via their production quality, use of music, style of music, etc… Though their teaching is a little shallower than we might like, and occasionally just plain wrong in terms of what promises are fulfilled now for Christians, and what is still to come – it’s generally recognisable as Christian preaching, in that the Lordship of Christ is foundational.

Pentecostal triangle

And this is my caricature of the emphasis in liberal churches where the emphasis is on bringing transformation to the world, and liberating the oppressed – rather than articulating any actual definitive truth. There’s a complete lack of balance here – and depending on the churches in question, the lack of anything remotely like logos translates to a lack of moderating influence on what constitutes faithful gospel shaped pathos or ethos, which is why I think the liberal church is shrinking faster than any other variety.

Liberal triangle

So, I reckon Spurgeon is right – I think all that is required for the church to grow is faithful, Christ centred, gospel preaching – but I think that encompasses more than the delivery of a logos-heavy presentation from the pulpit, it’s got to involve using the goodness of creation to point people to the creator of that goodness, through the right use of pathos – music, art, and an understanding of how to stir the emotions, but it’s ultimately got to be matched with the type of ethos outside the pulpit that lends weight to our words when we talk about God loving people.

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Why don’t we think about non-verbal communication when we’re singing in church?

In October last year, I stirred up a bit of a hornets nest when I wrote something that was admittedly deliberately provocative about “worship” and “music in church gatherings.”

I’ve probably nuanced what I would say about “worship” since then – I think, and this is a working definition, that “worship is the sacrificial use of the gifts God has given you to glorify him by loving and serving him, and one another, and pointing people to Jesus.” I think that best accounts for Romans 12, and Paul’s approach to ministry and spiritual gifts, particularly in Corinthians.

I’m pretty convinced by the argument that singing in our gatherings is part of “word ministry” – it is designed to both express something about our faith in Jesus, express something vertically in terms of vocalising our praise to God, and express something horizontally in terms of encouraging our brothers and sisters as we sing together, and highlighting something for the non-Christian in the midst of our gathering (ala 1 Cor 14:22-25).

Singing is communication. Singing is word ministry. And laying aside all debates about the charismatic movement and whether flaying your arms around, or at least moving, is biblically mandated (or rather, warranted, ala what Bob Kauflin dealt with when he spoke in Brisbane last year), I think we I’d at least argue we’re doing this communication part badly… or at least not communicating as fully as we could be… if we adopt the dour posture common in the reformed evangelical (Presbyterian) circles that I move in.

Here’s why.


Image Credit: The Speaker’s Practice

Most communications experts and consultants I’ve dealt with over the years – from uni lecturers during my undergrad degree, to consultants we hired in the workplace, to preaching lecturers at college – stress the importance of things other than words when we are speaking. Things we call “non verbal communication.”

The number in the pie chart above seems pretty arbitrary – I’ve heard it said that non-verbal communication can account for up to 85% of what we communicate, or how effectively we communicate it, when we speak. That’s what these guys claim.

They also claim that 90% of the emotional work is carried by non-verbals.

If this stat is true then it plays into another aspect of communication – particularly when it comes to the fine art of persuasion. And if communication is not “persuasive” in some sense, if you’re just preaching to the choir – literally – when you sing, and you’re not trying to reinforce or hammer home something using music as a teaching tool, then I’d argue that it’s not really a particularly useful form of Christian encouragement, and you’re not really treating music as word ministry.

Persuasion, since Aristotle (and later, my favourite, Cicero), has been divied up into categories of pathos (emotion), ethos (character), and logos (content) – here’s a run down from another public speaking site I found via google. And a little diagram – I’d argue from the stat above, even if its inaccurate, that pathos includes convincing non-verbals…


Image Credit: Visual Books Project

In my experience of my circles our approach to music heavily invests in the logos element of our music, treats music as a ministry that requires a certain character test for members of the band (ethos), and maintains a deep suspicion of pathos because it’s largely, especially in the absence of the other two elements, where manipulation goes down.

I’ve written something about manipulation and persuasion before. And personally I am deeply, and culturally, suspicious of any attempts to manipulate the way I think with bells and smells, ritual, minor falls and major lifts, or any little tools that bands might use – like clapping.

I’m not suggesting working our way through this chart until you find something that resonates with you.

Image Credit: TimHawkins.net (get the T-Shirt)

But I don’t think this suspicion is the answer – and I think its stymying our ability to communicate the gospel clearly in everything we do when we gather. I’m trying to figure out what being mindful of what I’m communicating non-verbally when I sing looks like.

Good persuasion, following Cicero, means starting with character, and then tying logos and pathos together under that rubric. I think Paul takes Cicero’s ball and runs with it in his letters to the Corinthians (my Corinthians essay) – arguing that the character test for Christian ministry is being sacrificially cross shaped in how they do life, and especially how they gather… and I think, if emotion is carried by non verbal communication, and assuming we’ve got issues of ethos and logos right in our singing, then we need to be thinking about how we do pathos well with our non-verbals when we use singing to communicate the gospel. In a way that is sacrificial and meets the definition of worship I floated above.

The call then, is for us to be genuinely authentic when we’re singing together, rather than faking authenticity, pretending to be bought in to the emotional stuff, because we want to communicate something. There are heaps of people, particularly in our culture, who are just like me – suspicious of overtly emotional stuff, wary of manipulation through an increasing sensitivity to the tricks of advertisers, spin doctors, and other charlatans – so we can’t do the pathos, or even the logos, right, without getting the ethos right first. But nor can we be so scared of this stuff that we avoid pathos all together – because a lack of emotional buy in amounts to an insincere and inauthentic approach to persuasion, and also fails at communicating as effectively as possible.

It’s traditional for posts about doing non-verbal stuff while you’re singing to say the Christian thing to do is to be sensitive to the people around you and not do stuff that will distract or offend them – which if worship is sacrificial service of others as well as of God – goes without saying.

The questions then are – if singing forms part of our word ministry – if it’s communication – how do we communicate our thankfulness to God using the means of communication that he has given us,* how do we best use these means to encourage each other about the power of the gospel in our lives as we sing, and how do we use them to communicate the gospel to outsiders?

Interestingly, as a bit of a throwaway, this book chapter on gestures in communication, suggests that gestures are particularly helpful for overcoming a communication divide (from p 21) – I’m not going to hang the whole thesis of this post off this, but I wonder if seeing some familiar gestures in response to music (like the stuff you might see at a concert), rather than a room of dour people, may overcome some of the gaps between the inevitable Christian jingo and vocabulary some of our songs contain, and make the experience of corporate singing a little less weird – rather than more weird, though you could equally run with this point to justify interpretive dance… this book chapter also suggests we’re generally reliably able to spot people who are performing “rehearsed” gestures, rather than spontaneous.

I don’t think the answer is looking something like this…

* I’m trying to be careful here not to suggest a non-Biblical requirement where we must make gestures as we sing – I think the expression of the vertical aspect of our singing has significance for its effectiveness horizontally as a means of encouragement and communicating the gospel.

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Multimedia is “word ministry” too…


Image Credit: Thomas Wanhoff, via Flickr.

Steve Kryger’s Communicate Jesus is one of the go to blogs in my feed reader. It’s fantastic. I love the way Steve thinks carefully about how best to help people meet Jesus through the church, and online. His site has had a little bit of a redesign, so you should check it out. Steve has posted a handy collection of Christian videos over the years – good stuff to use in church services, and good stuff to share online where viral video is increasingly the go to for communication and education for the younger generations. I had a fun chat with some guys from church last week where we realised just how big a part of life YouTube has become for us – even though we’re on the cusp of being part of an older generation. One of my friends is renovating his house using how to videos from YouTube.

Steve posted a quote from this post on an American blog.

“My days are filled with media. When I go to church I just want to listen to a message about scripture, learn, meditate and worship.”

The American blog, College Ministry Thoughts, provides the context for the quote – it’s from a conversation the blogger overheard where a group of young people were talking about what they look for in a church.

I found the comments on Steve’s post, and the quote itself, a little frustrating – for much the same reason that I found the Archer and the Arrow frustrating.

One comment says:

“Church should not be a place where we go to get ‘more of the same’…we need to be killed (by God’s Word of law) and then raised again, by the gospel.”

The other:

“We have media all around us 24/7 and it’s important for us to have time to “unplug” and rest in God’s presence.”

Both those comments are from Americans – I know that because one mentions what college they graduated from, and the other comment is linked to an American blog.

It would be easy to simply be frustrated at how consumer driven these comments are – they seem to paint a picture of the church service that is focused on meeting the needs of those who are going along. And that’s a problem – but I don’t want to suggest that the original quote, or even the comments, come from people who are thinking of church like that – the first comment makes it clear that the commenter is interested in people being confronted with the gospel when they come to church.

And ultimately that’s what the church gathering is about – sure it serves all the other purposes – we encourage one another, and are fed, as we teach one another from God’s word and sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to each other. But our meetings are public meetings where non Christians will see how we treat each other, and more importantly, hopefully clearly hear the gospel proclaimed.

So here’s my beef. Communicating the gospel isn’t limited to a particular form of media. It’s not just something that is spoken by an important guy who stands out the front giving us a message from Scripture that teaches us something. Church isn’t for individual self improvement – church is where the body gathers to serve one another and reach others (I’m particularly thinking of the last few chapters of 1 Corinthians here). We worship God together when we’re gathered at church, but we also worship God together all through the week as we serve Jesus together, on mission together.

To suggest that God’s word is only communicated when we meet and somebody stands with a Bible open and teaches from it is to enshrine the popular form of media from a particular period in history and suggest that it is somehow the only right way to communicate. I think you can make a fair case that throughout Biblical history the people who proclaimed God’s word did so in a manner that was familiar to those around them – both believers and non-believers. I think this accounts for the differences in Old Testament law and the law of the Ancient Near East (law codes were designed and publicly presented in a way that emphasised the goodness or power of the king who enshrined them), and for the difference in emphasis in the Old Testament wisdom literature and the wisdom literature of the Ancient Near East. I think this is why prophets spoke in parables – so Nathan to David, why they acted out their messages – so Ezekiel and the edible scroll and Hosea and the unfaithful wife – and I think it’s why Jesus approached his teaching ministry the way he did – with parables, miracles, and proclamations of his kingship that were similar to other proclamations of new emperors in the Roman Empire. It’s also why Paul used the conventions of Greek oratory (and rejected others) when he spoke before councils, kings, and in marketplaces and synagogues in Acts, and why his letters carry the hallmarks of written rhetoric in the rest of the New Testament. The gospel is a multimedia experience – word ministry doesn’t necessarily take the form of what is essentially first century oratory (much of what Cicero says about public speaking could easily be found in a modern guide to preaching – public speaking is much older than this). This is why Luther adopted the printing of propaganda pamphlets and sermons, why Calvin published his Institutes in the written form he did, why Bach wrote the songs he did… Word ministry can take many and varied forms across many and varied types of media.

To suggest that we should speak in a way that is foreign to our culture – ie not use video because we want to experience something transcendent as we “meditate” in church on a Sunday – is to miss the point of gathering together (it’s not about me) and miss the point of communicating the hope of the gospel to people who don’t know Jesus in a way that removes obstacles to them, in a way that is clear, gracious and winsome (Colossians 4). Surely we want to be “wise in the way we act towards outsiders” and be “seasoned with salt” in the way we gather, not just in the way we act outside of the walls of our church buildings on a Sunday. And surely, if people are using YouTube to renovate their houses, we want to be in that marketplace with quality and winsome videos encouraging people to renovate their lives through Jesus, and showing them “how to”… then we’d be looking for opportunities to share good videos with people, speaking their language, rather than voicing our own frustrations with an inability to “unplug”…

If the videos we’re using in our church services aren’t doing that – then we need to rethink the kind of videos we’re using, and start resourcing people to make them. People like my friend Wade – who makes a bunch of the videos we use at Creek Road through his company LifeTone Media, and also the amazing SandBible.com videos from Luke’s gospel, and like Dan Stevers, from the US who makes really classy videos underpinned by solid theology.

Word ministry isn’t just the preaching that happens from the pulpit. It’s certainly not limited to what happens on a Sunday. And we should be looking at how we can use every medium available to present the gospel to people – being all things to all men, by all media, so that we might win some, to paraphrase Paul.

While our Sunday gatherings should be entirely defined by “word ministry” this doesn’t mean they’re just about the preaching. That’s old media. Our Sunday gatherings should be about communicating the truths of God in a way that encourages everyone – not just meets our own needs.

That is all.

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On treating performance (and other things) as word ministry

Word ministry is preaching, but is also more than preaching.

Prompted by a friend, I read the first chapter of Phillip Jensen’s The Archer and the Arrow last night. I wouldn’t actually exist without Phillip Jensen, my parents met and married while attending his church, if his preaching wasn’t good back then, then one or both of them probably wouldn’t have stuck around.

The chapter deals with the necessary centrality of the word of God in the gathering of God’s people, and the centrality of preaching – not just in the pulpit, but in our relationships with one another – where we are to “declare” God’s word to one another. The word rightly occupies the central place in Christian life, and communication. That said, it pushed what I think is a pretty unhelpful modern category, with the idea that the “word of God” necessarily requires “preaching” in order to be central. There are more types of “word ministry” than “preaching” as the Archer and the Arrow defines it.

I’m not going to argue that the act of preaching, thus defined, has no place in the church – it clearly does. Just about every narrative in the Bible that involves people being taught what God thinks, involves preaching: from Joseph (I can’t, off the top of my head, think of anything that looks like preaching coming from Abraham?), to Moses to the kings and prophets, through to the New Testament with John the Baptist, Jesus, the disciples, and then Paul. What I would argue is that to suggest that preaching is the only form of “word ministry” as this quote that ends the opening chapter of the The Archer and the Arrow does, misses some of the richness of the way the word of God is taught in the Old Testament, and arguably in the New (I think Paul’s sufferings for the gospel form part of his presentation of the gospel – but you’ll have to wait for me to post my Corinthians essay to get that argument in full).

If God guaranteed you that he would visit your church this Sunday, and bring a message to the congregation, direct from his own lips, speaking his life-changing truth to the spiritual needs of all, would you think about cutting one or two songs, and giving God some extra time? Would you ask the drama team to postpone their 20-minute re-enactment of the Prodigal Son? Would you feel the need, if you were the minister, to put aside some time after God had spoken to tell some stories that made the divine message a bit more real and relevant to the people?… The truth is, of course, that God is with us whenever we gather, and he speaks his very words to us, Whenever we open God’s Scriptures and read his words, he is with us and he speaks. And yet by our actions–by the way we run our meetings, and by the way we preach–we often demonstrate that we don’t really believe in the transforming power of his words.

This presents what I believe is an unhelpful, and unbiblical, definition of what “word ministry” is. Word ministry includes how we gather. How we run our meetings. How we relate to one another. I don’t want to jump the Francis of Assisi Shark and use the “preach the gospel, when necessary, use words” tripe trope. Preaching the gospel will necessarily involve words – but it is not limited to the use of words. We’re not created in a way that makes that an effective form of communication.

I’m reading up for an exam on Friday, and I found this cracker of an article from Gordon Wenham about the Pentateuch, which features an examination of the teaching function of the ritual laws. If one accepts this premise than we can no longer maintain the idea that the only way God’s word is taught in our gathering is from one specially trained dude speaking from the pulpit – and we shouldn’t be belittling other forms of word ministry in order to establish the supremacy of preaching – we should be making teaching the word the purpose of the whole service, not just 20 minutes tucked into a packed program. The songs, the drama, the way we meet, the way we speak, the physical space, the “liturgy”… everything we do together – and even everything we do alone, and outside the gathering, should be a proclamation of God’s word.

Anyway. Here’s the quote from Wenham that I liked:

“But not only is the Old Testament ritual law central to theological understanding of scripture; I also want to suggest it is a model of modern communication technique. For a long time Christians have imagined that communication between God and man is essentially verbal, merely a matter of words. God speaks to man through the prophets or through the Bible: man replies in prayer. We view communication with God as a sort of two-way radio. But God does not restrict himself to words, he uses ritual such as sacraments: ritual is more like colour TV than radio. Ideas are made visible… Educational psychologists tell us that we remember 10% of what we hear, 30% of what we see but 70% of what we do. Modern preachers put most of their effort into teaching by hearing, though 90% of what they say will be forgotten. Moses put his main effort into teaching through ritual, a wise move if he wanted the people to remember such fundamental truths, for ritual is a kind of doing and therefore sticks in the mind much better than words…But I believe we should go further: not simply act out the ceremonies of the Old Covenant, but in our post-literate age devise dramatic rites that teach the fundamental truths of the new covenant as effectively as the Pentateuch teaches those of the old. This will require imagination and sensitivity, but I think would be worth the effort.”

The visual examples the prophets use (eg Ezekiel cooking his food on poo and eating a scroll) are another example. We need to move past this stupid “word ministry = preaching” equation, as much as we need to dismiss the idea that preaching is an unnecessary part of word ministry.

That is all.