On Church gathering: preaching, rights, the sacraments, and authority

Hopefully this is the last in a series of long posts responding to John Dickson’s book “Hearing Her Voice.”

The other posts include:

If none of this interests you – have you watched this lip reading of NFL players? It’s funny.

A tl:dr;* introduction/summary of what follows

*too long, didn’t read

In what follows I argue that if the sermon is preaching (not teaching), and preaching, in the context of the gathering (not preaching outside the gathering – essentially to non-believers), is:

  • a piece of cross-shaped persuasion proclaiming the crucified Lord Jesus and the message of the gospel,
  • something of greater magnitude than the sacraments, in that the sacraments support the preaching,
  • where God speaks through those he provides with gifts,
  • so long as they too submit to the authority of Scripture, and their sermon is based on the authority of God’s revealed word.

If these points are true, then the sermon is the ultimate act of authority in the church, and at the center of preaching – which is a corporate activity of the church (not an individual act).

So if one is a complementarian the sermon should be:

  • a clear proclamation of the gospel,
  • based on the authority of God’s revealed word,
  • given by a man who meets the Biblical ethos guidelines for a preacher (assuming they’re the same as those for an elder),
  • who is appropriately gifted to carry out the logos and pathos elements of the delivery of a sermon,
  • which sits in the context of a church gathering where all the members sacrificially exercise their gifts, as one body,
  • to preach the gospel, corporately (in an act of worship).

And therefore, those who preach should be:

  • Sacrificial in their approach to preaching,
  • not speaking as an ego exercise, but a genuine act of service to others,

which means being mindful of who they are preaching to, and how their preaching style and content relates to and serves those in the gathering.

While the structure of the gathering, and the life of the church outside the gathering, should be such that all members of the church can function as part of the body and use their gifts in the preaching of the gospel (outside of the context of the gathering).

If you disagree with any of that, and want to tell me about it – feel free to jump to the comments and tell me why – this is another pretty big post. I feel like I can justify most of these positions from the Bible, and from various “authorities” throughout church history – but I haven’t always done this because some of the points assume things I’ve argued previously, and other times it’s just too hard to list all the proof texts, and I prefer proof vibe, and theological coherence and cogency, anyway.

Thinking about this issue has been fun because it has forced me to consider some things that appear to be contradictory in my thinking about church and ministry. I’m trying to reconcile the beliefs that all people are equal, but genders are inherently different, and all believers are “priests,” while some specific roles exist, and some of these roles aren’t available to sets of equal people.

On a simplistic level – if you’re comfortable with the idea that somebody who is tone deaf but passionate about singing shouldn’t be leading the singing at church, and that they might willingly forgo this role because they understand it’s for the good of others without losing any sense of their own value or the value of their singing to God, you’ve already started reconciling these tension.

Want to read more. Like 5,000 words more… then click the “read more” link…

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On Humans and Snakes

This is a sermon I’ve preached a few times now. I fluctuate between thinking it’s good and thinking it’s bad. It’s almost a theology of Snakes. I hit about five passages – though it’s ostensibly based on Numbers 21 and John 3.

Feel free to check it out and tell me what you think. If Shane Warne’s stock ball was the leg break – this is currently my stock “one off sermon”…

I’m aware of a few problems with it that I’ll fix next time around – and it was written prior to my year at college, so if I started again it might look different. But it does have a killer opening illustration. And that’s something.

Exegeting our suburb: trying to understand the area around our church

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I gave a sermon a couple of weeks ago at Clayfield. On Matthew 9:35-10:22. A passage where Jesus describes the work of evangelism as a plentiful harvest with too few workers. I won’t bore you with the exposition I did of the passage, suffice to say my big idea was that we are to be part of the harvest in whatever way we are able because it is urgent. I spent some time showing that Jesus’ commission to his disciples to preach the coming kingdom of God to Israel was a specific commission which is replaced at the end of the book with the “great commission”…

My application focused on the area of Clayfield as our church’s mission field. It was a “think global, act local” slant. Here’s roughly the third quarter of my sermon, where I got some stats on Clayfield from Queensland’s Office of Economic and Statistical Research, I got some other bits and pieces from the Real Estate Institute of Queensland, and a little bit from OurBrisbane.com. I don’t completely buy into social demographics as a key for understanding people in a suburb. I like Tourism Queensland’s market segmentation approach a bit better – they split people into interest groups rather than arbitrary groups based on socio-economic factors. While the approach has weaknesses it’s also a really easy way to gain some insights into a community beyond the “people I know who live here” approach. And some generalisations are good generalisations.

Clayfield is a pretty difficult suburb to figure out, other than a local primary school that acts a bit like a hub, there’s not much sense of community. I preached this sermon (with different stats) in Townsville last year, and it was heaps easier to read Townsville’s pulse (possibly because that was also my job).

Here’s part of my application, copied and pasted from my manuscript, it includes some stats on Clayfield, seven basic tips on reaching Clayfield (or any community) from those stats, and of course from the passage itself:

While we can’t just take this passage and apply it completely to ourselves – we shouldn’t expect to be healing the sick and we shouldn’t just preach to the Jews – we can look at this passage and see Jesus’ concern for the lost – his desire for the good news to be preached. And that should be our priority as a church – and Clayfield is our mission field. I know many of us travel across the city to be here each Sunday, and the idea of Clayfield being our mission field may sound foreign – but if we’re not thinking about how we, as a church, can reach the suburb around us… then who will be?

It’s our job as Clayfield’s “local church” to be reaching the community with the good news of Jesus. For us the great commission extends to where we live, where we work, and where we play – but it also has to be where our church family is.

The great commission is a pretty clear imperative for Christians to be taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. We need to be people who think globally, but act locally. If we don’t reach Clayfield – then who will? Lets talk a bit about Clayfield. Our harvest.

The Suburb of Clayfield is, by most accounts, home to around 10,000 people. But we should be considering the suburbs around us too. If we broaden our horizon to the electorate of Clayfield, which is split between a few different church boundaries, but which we can consider our patch, there’s a population of 47,657 to reach. By 2026, in 15 years, the population is expected to be over 61,000.

Have you ever thought about Clayfield as a mission field? It’s hard. It’s very hard. Finding a community pulse to tap into, to be a part of, is difficult. Figuring out the wants and needs of the average Clayfielder is hard. We know, don’t we, that this is a suburb, or district, crying out for the gospel. But how do we help our neighbours know it too?

What is it that makes the average Clayfielder tick? If you have any idea then our ministry team, and our session, would love to hear it. We’re not there yet. We know the Eagle Junction school down the road is a hub, and there are clubs and societies that have local chapters – but where do we go to start harvesting? Clayfield is tough. How do you convince somebody living in relative prosperity that they need saving?

Here are some of the facts about Clayfield.

It’s a transient area, in the last census half the people in Clayfield had only been living here less than five years. One in five Clayfield residents were born overseas.

We’re not an area of social disadvantage – one in fifty Clayfielders are in the bottom economic band, While one in three people are in the top band. We’re a prosperous lot, most of us have who want jobs have jobs, half of the residents of Clayfield own, or are paying off their home. Sixty percent of us have post-school qualifications.

This presents a challenge for us as we present the good news of a crucified messiah.

It’s a caring community – one in ten residents work in health or some sort of social assistance area, one in five volunteer their time for a community group.

Based on nationwide statistics two thirds of Australians identify as Christian, 66% of people tick the “Christian” box on the census, but only 10% of the population will go to church somewhere once a month. That’s 4,700 people in Clayfield, in church, once a month.  That leaves around 43,000 people the Clayfield electorate not being taught from, or even opening the Bible. Almost ever. People who have no real idea of who Jesus is. That’s a bountiful harvest. A harvest that needs, that desperately needs, workers.
That seems like a lot of people – and maybe you don’t think that sounds right. Maybe all your friends are Christians. Maybe all your workmates are Christians. Maybe all your family are Christians – if this is the case then you need to get out more.
If you want to be a harvester but don’t know where to start, let me give you some suggestions.
  1. Help Andrew and Simone with RE and building relationships at Eagle Junction school, find someway to help out at Clayfield college. Fifty percent of school students in Clayfield attend public schools – bastions of secular culture, with the other fifty percent attending church run private schools around the city. When you look at just primary school attendance a much bigger percentage are in public schools. RE is a great opportunity to get the gospel in front of non-Christian kids, and to encourage our kids to be passionate about sharing the gospel with their friends.
  2. Volunteer for a community organisation – I know we’re always up here asking for people to volunteer for things at church, but we can’t spend all our energy on serving each other and forgetting the world around us. Almost one in five Clayfield residents volunteer for some organisation in some capacity. If you’ve got kids who play sport, help out with their team, bring the oranges, help the coach at training. Put in the effort to go to matches and chat to the other parents. You’re probably doing this already – and you may even be doing it with gospel intentions – but that’s the key to harvesting.
  3. If you live in Clayfield, talk to your neighbours, invite them to our Local Knowledge events coming up – they’re a great intro to people from church, they’re designed to be non-threatening. Try to get your neighbours darkening the doors of church and meeting this family that you’re a part of.
  4. Shop locally – there are 5,400 businesses operating in the Clayfield electorate. Talk to a shopkeeper. Become a regular. Think about how you can get out there to meet people.
  5. Use your gifts for the gospel – if challenging conversations and confrontations are not for you then why not look for opportunities to encourage other people in our church family to get involved, if hospitality is your thing why not invite your friends from work around for dinner with some friends from church. Gospel ministry is a team game. We see that in the way people show hospitality to the workers in
  6. Pray for harvesters – you’ll notice that’s what Jesus actually calls his followers to do in chapter nine verse 38, before they get sent out on the road, That’s how we all can play a part. Because, as Jesus reminds the disciples as he speaks to them, God is in control. And all of us, as Christians, can pray.
  7. Invest in the harvest – if all of this seems beyond you, and even if it isn’t, give generously to the work of the gospel. Harvests on farms need resources. Think about what resources you have that you can contribute to the gospel – maybe it’s your time, maybe it’s your money. The CMS slogan has it right – we’re to pray, give and go.

But if those aren’t your cup of tea there are plenty of other options – if I can drive a tractor on my father-in-law’s farm and a bunch of fishermen and accountants can spread the good news throughout Israel while facing persecution from the Government – preaching a message interpreted by their hearers as stupidity, at least after the cross… think about the non-Christians in your life, your family, your colleagues, your children’s friend’s parents, your doctor, your butcher, your baker, your candlestick maker – think about how you can be part of presenting the gospel to them. If you want to be part of the harvest, if you’re a Christian who wants to see people challenged to live with Jesus as Lord, then don’t delay – the harvest is urgent. Get involved. Find something you can do and get in and do it.

If you’re interested in the idea of cross cultural work, if you’ve always harboured a desire to be a missionary overseas, then start in our neighbourhood. One in five people here are born overseas – that equates to about 10,000 people living in the streets and suburbs around us. There are plenty of opportunities around us, plenty of people – and every one of them needs the gospel. Every one of those groups is a ministry opportunity. Every part of our community needs to be reached – and if you’re a Christian then you should be part of it. You should be a harvester.

On preaching to oneself

I’m listening to my sermon from a couple of weeks ago. I don’t mind the sound of my voice – I listened to myself a lot while I was at uni. But I hate my inflections. I can’t tell if the poor enunciation is a result of the recording or how I speak.

I also mispronounce a bunch of words. I might have to start doing the AAP thing and putting the correct pronunciation of names and stuff phonetically in brackets. I also stumble when I leave my manuscript. And I do this weird mumbling thing when I am using a “joke” that I’ve written into the script. As if I’m concerned that it shouldn’t be there. I guess if I’ve put it in to begin with I should just hit it hard.

Anyway. The talk is up here, on the Scots website.

Feel free to have a listen. It’s 26 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. I speak fast so there’s a fair bit crammed into it.

A fiverr well spent

Fiverr is a new website that lets you buy and sell services for $5. A lot of the services offered are pretty fun – and if you’ve got a mad skill that you can churn out pretty quickly those $5 payments probably add up pretty quickly. It’s powered using PayPal. In the interest of putting the service to the test I took up Brojimh’s offer to produce a sermon on the topic of my choosing for $5. And asked him for a sermon on Eutychus. It only took him a couple of hours to produce the work.

Here is the result. $5 well spent.

The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

Acts 20:7-12

(Acts 20:7) And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

(8) And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.

(9) And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.

(10) And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.

(11) When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.

(12) And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

I.  The Setting Of The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

A.  It Was A Holy Night

(Acts 20:7) And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them,

This occurred around the Jewish Festival of Unleavened Bread.  Paul and Luke stayed in Philippi for the Feast then sailed to Troas for this event.

It was during a holy, religious time for the participants.

B.  It Was A Huge Night

(8a) ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

It was a very big night for the audience.  This was Paul, the Apostle, who’s reputation preceded him.  It was huge!  Then it became huge as in how long it lasted!

Paul had a lot to say and knew he was leaving the next day so took advantage of the time, plus when you have an apostle, someone of Paul’s caliber, you just let him preach as long as he wants to!

C.  It Was A Hot Night

(8b) And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.

There were many, many people there to hear Paul.  In fact it is safe to assume it was probably over crowded as people piled in the small upper room.

Not only was the weather hot, even at night, but the body heat was tremendous.  Add to that the heat from the candles and torches, and you can just imagine how hot it was!

II.  The Effect Of The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

A.  A Tired Slave

(9a) And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep:

He is sitting here because it was the coolest place he could be.  Trying to get cooled off, the young man sits inside the window frame hoping to take advantage of any breeze.

He was very sleepy.  It is easy to understand why he was sitting in the window, it is also easy to understand why he is so tired.  These people listening to Paul, looking for freedom were slaves.  That means, as other slaves, they were up before sunrise and had toiled and worked hard all day.

No wonder he was so sleepy!

It’s also worthy to note here, to expound on their love for Paul and how he got away with preaching that long,  no one even seemed to notice the young man falling asleep.  Everyone was so riveted to Paul, so locked in to the Apostle

B.  A Terminated Sleeper

(9b) and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.

We’ve all been there.  In school, at work or even, (GASP) at church.  That point where the eyelids become heavy as iron, the vision becomes blurry, the eyes begin to burn, the head begins to nod and the speaker’s monotone voice becomes a lullaby as it slowly slips away in the darkness of our closed eyes . . . and then . . . we jerk our head up and look around hoping no one saw us.  Then we move around, change position and try to stay awake again.

This young man did as we all have done before and just fell asleep

Luke tell us that he was “taken up dead.”  That phrase literally means that he was a corpse by the time anyone got to him.  Many try to explain away the miracle and say that he was just unconscious, had a concussion or that Paul administered CPR and brought him back.  But Luke makes it plain that he was dead as a doornail.  Then, the next verse makes it plain that Paul held him, embraced him, not pound on his chest or breathe in his mouth.

C.  A Truthful Scene

(10) And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.

Paul, obviously reacting to the noise and crowd interrupting his sermon, sees what is happening and runs down to the young man.

He begins to check him out, and, seeing he was dead (as Luke made it clear in the previous verse and really, who would know better than Dr. Luke?), embracef him and then felt God’s presence and realized that the young man would be brought back to life.

Probably in most settings, with most people saying what Paul said (Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.) would have caused the people to consider stoning him or at least putting him out.  But this is Paul. . .they let him preach till at least midnight. . . who knows how long he would have gone on if this young man had not fallen.

Also, when Paul tells the crowd “Trouble not yourselves,”  he is responding to the crowds reaction to the devastating event.  The crowd became almost hysterical.  Yelling and wailing, all things that Paul wanted to avoid happening so he tries to cut it off with words of encouragement to assure them that the reaction elicited was not needed.  We know that because he uses the word “thorubeomai” (translated “Trouble not yourselves).  That is the same Greek word he used in trying to calm and quiet down the mob in Thessolonica (Acts 17:5)

III.  The Legacy Of The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

A.  Eating With A Dead Man And A Preacher

(11a) When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten,

Paul understood the enormity of what had just happened, the psyche of the people and that his sermon was now over.

Instead of expounding on what happened or turning it into a lesson/sermon, he instead turned his attention to what was best for the crowd physically and emotionally.  They need time to process this event.  They also need rest and recuperation.

Luke lets us know that Paul changed his tone and verbiage to a more solemn tone.  He uses the word “talk” translated from the Greek word “homileo” which means homily, which means solemn and serious.

This is the same word used to describe the conversation between the two disciples on the Emmaus Rd. after the death of Christ. In the 24th chapter of Luke.

B.  Enjoying A Dedicated Man And A Pastor

(11b) and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.

Paul stayed as long as he could.  I’m sure not only enjoying the company of Eutychus, but wanting to watch him as well.  I can only imagine how I would react to someone brought back from the dead.  I would have lots of questions and be in awe!

This young man, I’m sure quickly got saved, if he wasn’t already, and became instantly one of the most devoted Christians in the town.

C.  Enduring A Dreadful Matter And A Phenomenon

(12) And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

Everyone was comforted and exhorted by the young man’s amazing and instant recovery!  Also, there is no telling how many people gave their lives to Christ because of this event.

Hist, hark…

I like CJ Dennis. But that is neither here nor there. It’s late. I have a sermon to polish that I’m preaching in the morning and I did not polish it during the daylight hours because I was at Townsville’s Groovin the Moo. Now, Robyn is in bed asleep and I am making last minute (but suggested) changes. I guess this is what full time parish ministry feels like?

I’m preaching on Matthew 9 and 10. All about the harvest – which means I’m telling farm stories.

Wordle 2.0

The previously mentioned Wordle has got some great new functionality. Like adding an RSS feed for immediate analysis. Saves copying and pasting every post of your blog like I did last time. Although my feed is limited to just the last ten posts or something.

Here it is:
Wordle: Nathan's Blog - February
This story here about speeches from Springboard and Blight are an interesting example of the tag cloud as an assessment of being “on message”.

Speaking of which – here’s a wordle of my sermon from Sunday. Which did, as Simone and dad both pointed out, go for a bit too long. 30 minutes. I cut a bit out though. That’s the longest I’ve ever preached and I’m sorry for boring people and going past the 22 minute attention span of the average television watcher.

sermon-wordle

And here’s the passage itself.
passage-wordle