Archive for September, 2009


Mission Ahead: Engage!

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This past weekend I began a three week series on the missional strategy of our church. Using Paul’s template from Acts 20:20-21, I shared the first piece of our strategy which is to engage our community and culture. Luke reports these words that Paul offered the Ephesian elders:

“I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either
publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the
necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our
Lord Jesus.”
(Acts 20:20-21, NLT)

Consider Paul’s rules of engagement.

1. Move forward with expectation (20:20)
Paul remarked that “I never shrank back…” Literally, he never withdrew, withheld, cowered, or concealed. Paul was never off point or off task. The word shrank was a word picture for lowering the sails. Paul had recently been at sea so maybe this was where the metaphor came from. When Paul states that he never shrank back he was basically saying “I never lowered the sails.”
When does a sailor lower the sails? A sailor lowers the sails when the journey is finished or abandoned, or worse, when there is no wind. Paul’s disposition to the gospel was to advance, make progress, and move forward. He was determined to win.

2. Provide a singular message with clarity (20:20-21)
Paul said, “I have told you what you needed to hear.” Paul extended one message to all people: repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. It was the Kingdom message of stepping out of our kingdoms where we rule and reign and stepping into God’s Kingdom where he rules and reigns.
3. Seize every opportunity to engage people (20:20)
Whether it was meeting with large groups in public assemblies or in smaller groups in homes, Paul seized every opportunity to engage people with the Kingdom message.
We observe this pattern in the ministry of Jesus and in the ministry of the apostles in the early church. Both Christ and the apostles were committed to meet with large assemblies of people, with smaller groups of people and individuals who crossed their paths.
What we are doing in church today is rooted in a 2000 year old biblical tradition. We’re not trying to get into the 21st century; we’re trying to get back to the 1st century.
We assemble for worship as a large group. We meet in smaller groups through Sunday School and small groups that meet in homes. We invest in relationships with individuals and invite those people to take another step toward Jesus.
Categories : Acts, Missional Church
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“When Jesus landed on the shore and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:34-35)

“The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teacher of the law.” (Matthew 7:28-29)

In my last post, I shared some characteristics of Jesus’ teaching style. To quickly review, Jesus embodied his teaching. He was comfortable with all kinds of people regardless of age, gender, race, or socio-economic background. He showed compassion for his learners. He was a student of his students as well as a student of the Scriptures. These five characteristics were beneficial to the teaching ministry of our Lord. Now I want to explore some of Jesus’ teaching methods.

1. Jesus established a relationship with his learners.
Teaching from mouth to ear is different from teaching heart-to-heart. If “getting the lesson across” is the main goal, there is little need for relationship between teacher and student. But if transforming students toward Christ-likeness is the goal, a warm positive relationship is essential. In order to develop your relationship with class members, you may want to consider planning a fellowship or a ministry project to do outside of the Sunday School hour.

2. Jesus stimulated and maintained interest.
Jesus developed interest with dramatic illustration. He was a masterful story teller, and drew upon images, situations, and events that the listener could easily identify with. He told parables. He used everyday objects as teaching tools. He asked questions of his students. He taught on the road, and in the boat. He taught on mountain tops and sea shores. He taught indoors and outdoors. He taught while sitting, standing and walking. There was one time Jesus even taught the 12 while they were sitting around a table! These things enabled Jesus to cultivate interest and keep attention.

3. Jesus taught by example.
It has been said that more is “caught” than “taught.” Jesus invited his disciples to imitate his behaviors. The best teachers provide living case studies of the subject matter. Jesus communicated great truths through words and actions. Whether we like it or not, teachers are examples of Christian behavior. More often than not, we are given opportunity to live out the very principles of the lesson in some aspect of life even while we are preparing the lesson!

4. Jesus taught people, not lessons.
A friend of mine once said, “We don’t teach the Bible. You can’t teach the Bible anything. We teach people the Bible.” One of the challenges teachers face is the need to cover all of the material in a given lesson. This is often a difficult task, especially if you’re interested in utilizing a method beyond lecture. Jesus understood the balance between covering the lesson and meeting the needs of the students. When the Scripture intersects with the needs of the students, you’ve taught the lesson!

5. Jesus focused on application.
One scholar recently reported that Jesus teaching could be described as 33% content and 66% application. In other words, Jesus spent twice as much time applying the Scriptures to life than dealing with the interpretation of Scripture. Look for ways to apply the main idea of the lesson. Again, the goal is transformation, not information.

6. Jesus sought long term results rather than immediate results.
Or, as we commonly say, Jesus stressed the marathon, not the sprint. He invested three years in the disciples. He helped them patiently work through the difficult lessons, and celebrated their growth when they were successful. All in all, Jesus understood that one lesson a disciple does not make. We should keep that in mind as well.

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Earlier this week I posted some helpful tips for lesson preparation for Sunday School teachers that I wrote in 2008. These next two posts come from the same series. While the target audience is for Sunday School teachers, small group leaders will find the concepts transferrable to their context.

“When Jesus landed on the shore and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”
(Mark 6:34-35)

“The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teacher of the law.” (Matthew 7:28-29)

In both the Ten Commandments and in the Sermon on the Mount, scripture emphasizes that our “being” comes before our “doing.” The best teaching flows not merely out of our mouths, but from our hearts. As we begin to consider the teaching style of Jesus, we first must learn something of the person of Jesus.

In other words, he was what he taught. His words and actions reinforced each other with an authority that amazed his listeners. “What we are” speaks more loudly than “what we say.” Faith learning is more “caught from” than “taught by” a teacher.

Teachers must be able to establish rapport with learners if they are to be effective. As we study the life of Jesus, we discover that he was comfortable with a wide range of people:
Nicodemus, a man who was wealthy, highly educated, and a religious leader in the Sanhedrin;
Zacchaeus, a tax collector who was despised by his fellow countrymen as a traitor and a thief;
The Woman at the Well, whose life was clearly marked by sexual immorality. Jesus put his own reputation at risk by merely speaking with her;
The Demon Possessed, whose lives were broken mentally and emotionally;
The Children, who were viewed as second class citizens whose value was equated with slaves.
Certainly we can add more examples to this simple list. Like Jesus, we have an opportunity each week to encounter a wide range of people.

Jesus made significant investments in the lives of his learners. He valued his learners above his lessons, and was patient with them when they were slow to learn. As it has been said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Because God cares for the people that attend our Bible Study classes, we should show care for them as well.

One of the reasons Jesus’ teaching was so special is that it focused on the real life needs of those he taught. Jesus knew his learners, and he used that knowledge to focus his teaching for maximum effectiveness in each situation.

Jesus was familiar with the text of the Old Testament Scriptures. He used his mastery of the “Bible” to focus on the needs of the people. His teaching met them where they were, not where he wanted them to be. People were his focus. Scripture was his means. As he applied the Scriptures to real problems in the lives of real people, he provided solutions and help that were uniquely suited to each person. When the eternal word of God intersects with today’s needs, the result is life change.

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The Nines

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Yesterday I sat at my desk and participated in a unique online learning experience called “The Nines.” Leadership Network and Catalyst came together and enlisted about 70 ministry leaders who were given 9 minutes to share something they were passionate about. I didn’t have the time to sit through every single presenter, but I did participate in about seven hours worth of the event. Here are some random thoughts regarding “The Nines.”

1. Concept
I thought the concept was brilliant. I once read that 80% of the useful information within any book can be found in the first two chapters. Permitting speakers to have 9 minutes required them to bring the cream to the top. I will admit that I was skeptical that this technological feat could go smoothly, but in the end it was very well done. The vast majority of video/audio quality was exceptional.

2. Content
I was pleased and impressed with the content that was presented. I assumed that the presenters would spend their time talking about all things that were the latest and greatest and how to do the latest and greatest, but I was wrong. The majority of the presenters that I watched dealt with matters of the heart. Character, integrity, spiritual formation and self care were very common themes. With the exception of one, the presenters came across as humble and genuinely trying to be helpful. I concluded my participation feeling positive, encouraged, and hopeful.

3. Presenters
I consider myself a pretty well read guy, so I was familiar with the names and ministries of many of the presenters. I liked the fact that I had never heard of some. I also liked the diversity of the teaching cast. Nice touch. I appreciate that not much time was spent on lavish introductions.

4. Picks
I think the most helpful presentations to me personally were Troy Gramling, Skye Jethani, and Mark Driscoll. Brian McLaren should get an Academy Award for the most creative video.

Categories : Leadership, The Nines
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There is an old saying among writers that quips “That which comes first is written last.” It is a reference to the introduction of a body of work. Normally, linear thinking would suppose that a writer begins with an introduction, writes the body, and finishes with the conclusion. However, it makes sense that the purpose of the introduction is to introduce in an informed manner all that is to come.

For example, I’ve had opportunity over the years to introduce special guests at dinners and church services alike. Sometimes I am the most qualified to make the introduction. On other occasions, I’m not the most qualified. What makes the difference? The difference is whether or not I’m the most familiar with the guest. If someone in the room is more familiar with the guest, certainly they would be more qualified to make the introduction.

Let’s consider some tips for writing better introductions:

1. Know the main point of the lesson.
On a good day, we communicate one truth to our learners that they can take with them as they leave our Sunday School rooms. It is the main idea that gives continuity to the teaching time. The main point should inform how the introduction is prepared.
2. Know the purpose of the introduction.
The purpose of the introduction is to create interest and segue into the body of the lesson. How can you create interest? It could be sharing a quote, telling a story, reading a poem, playing a song, playing a game, or even asking a thought provoking question. “How’s everybody doing?” or “What did you guys do this weekend?” is probably not a good introduction.
3. An introduction should anticipate the final outcome, but not give away the end of the movie.
In other words, you will want to give an indication of what you’re going to study, problems you may encounter, and challenges you may face. But to give away the end of the plot in the introduction gives permission for the learner to pass judgment and to determine whether or not they want to go on the journey for the next several minutes.
For example, suppose you are teaching a lesson on Jonah. You could begin by saying, “Today we’re going to talk about Jonah. He rejected God’s command to go to Nineveh, and tried to run away from God. But he ended up getting thrown into the sea where he was swallowed by a whale. But after three days, he repented and the whale vomited him up on dry land. So let’s all find Jonah in the Bible and begin…”
Or, you could take the same lesson on Jonah and begin by asking, “What’s the most difficult thing God could ask you to do?” After several responses, you could use a transitional statement like, “Today we’re going to study the life of an Old Testament character that felt that God was asking him to do something utterly impossible. Let’s turn to Jonah…”
In the first example, the teacher gave permission to the learners to decide whether or not they wanted to make the journey. I think of it as telling the punch line of a joke or the ending of a movie. In the second example, learners were invited to participate in the journey on a very personal level. Interest is created as they confront a difficult question in their lives and are invited to examine the Scriptures for a possible answer.
4. Use variety.
Your curriculum may give some ideas on how to craft a good introduction. If not, you have an opportunity to express some creativity. One of the important keys to developing good introductions is to use variety. Variety frees you from becoming predictable, and creates further anticipation from the class.
5. Arrive early / Begin on time.
As a school teacher, my wife has her classroom door open 15 minutes before the bell rings. Students arrive during that 15 minute window, put their coats and lunches away, and find their seat to begin class at the bell.
There is much to talk about in the lesson. Our Sunday School classes, especially for our adults, are a significant point of connection during the week. Chances are you have more to talk about in your class than 60 minutes will allow. I think it’s important to start promptly. Sometimes people are late to Sunday School, I realize, but consider this: Are we giving class members permission to come late when we wait for “everybody to get here?”

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As an established church, we have a commitment to maintaining the traditional expressions of Sunday School and Worship while developing the contemporary expressions of contemporary worship and small groups. This post is from an online training email I sent to our Sunday School leadership in 2008. Although it was written to assist those who lead a traditional Sunday School unit, many of these principles will apply to those who lead small groups in contemporary settings. Tomorrow I will do part 2 of the series on Sunday School Lesson preparation.

During my doctoral studies, I had the rare privilege to conduct an interview with Dr. Fred Craddock. Craddock was trained in New Testament studies, and had a notable career as a Professor of New Testament. But when his seminary lost a preaching professor, Craddock was asked to teach homiletics (preaching). As a result of this experience, Craddock wrote a significant preaching text titled, As One Without Authority. He chose the title because he felt as though he was not an authority on preaching. However his philosophy of sermon preparation and delivery has become one of the most prominent styles in mainline churches across America.

One of the principles that Craddock practiced and taught his preaching students was simple, yet profound:

“Do a little every day.”

Craddock believed that preachers would be more effective if they prepared their sermons over the course of six days, versus waiting until the end of the week and having to pull a marathon study event to complete the task. Craddock taught students of preaching that one hour a day, for example, was more valuable than six hours in one sitting. As I thought about Craddock’s suggested approach, I became convinced he was right. For years I’ve tried to practice this principle and make it my own.

What about you? Do you “do a little every day?” Or do you prepare your Sunday School lesson in one sitting? Let me suggest some benefits to working on the lesson on a daily basis:

1. Starting the lesson early in the week helps the teacher become conscious of the text in the midst of daily life, resulting in rich illustrations and lesson applications. If the teacher knows the text and topic for Sunday’s lesson, he or she can be alert to the news, people, circumstances, and situations that could help communicate the truth of the lesson.
2. Starting the lesson early in the week lets the lesson work into the teacher’s own life first. Effectiveness in teaching is improved when one begins with their own self first. When the teacher understands the implications of the lesson, he or she may then turn to focus on the needs of the class.
3. Starting the lesson early in the week prevents one from depending on time that may or may not be available. Whether we like it or not, time that we believe may be available to us at the end of the week may be snatched away by some unexpected interruption.
4. Starting the lesson early in the week gives the teacher an opportunity to think about it during commutes, while waiting in lines, while exercising, etc.
5. Starting the lesson early in the week allows the teacher to work on preparation and delivery. The preaching and teaching task is in two basic parts. In our study we determine what needs to be said. But that is only half the battle. The second half of the task is determining how to say it.

I’m sure you can think of other benefits besides the ones I’ve mentioned. Even those who teach in preschool, children, and youth can benefit from doing a little every day.

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I’m presently outlining a sermon series on suffering that will begin the first weekend of October. So far I’ve come up with some good resources for the series. Here’s the list…

Suffering and the Goodness of God edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson;
Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright;
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis;
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor;
How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson; and
Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey.

Any suggestions for other books that have been helpful?

Categories : Evil, Preaching, Suffering
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NIV Translation Revision

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Best-Selling Bible for Conservative Evangelicals to Undergo Revision – Local News News Articles National News US News –

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Categories : Bible, NIV
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