Friday, June 27, 2008

Preaching: The Greatest Show on Earth?

When I was young Ringling Brothers Circus would come through town and advertise “The Greatest Show on Earth”. But I liked the State fair better than the circus because I liked to see the stuntman and daredevil shows. The announcer would always remind us adventurous boys, “These men are trained professionals, so don’t try this at home.” The shows were truly great, and as “boys will be boys” we would always attempt in the backyard a version of what we had seen the professionals do. I still have a limp.

There is a current three-ring debate in the church concerning using preachers via video from other churches, so I thought I would add a few comments of my own. The issue is really not about technology because using technology is unavoidable. The real question concerns using “trained professionals” too much. The result of this is that no one tries the same stunts in their home church, speaking of preaching that is.

I am in Kiev, and we have visited
Hillsong Church several times. Some may criticize them for being upbeat, but I will not do that. I saw something there that I really liked. I was there twice when the main pastor was not speaking. Instead, one of the home group leaders preached, and another time a youth leader preached. Those guys were pretty good, but better than that I saw that the congregation was satisfied with not having super preacher up there every time. (the pastor is also a great guy)

Some congregations are wowed into virtual spectatorship by the super preacher. They become connoisseurs of preachers and messages like a parody of
Ratatouille. The chef and the food must be just right, or they will make their own review of the quality. They constantly speak of how well they were fed..or not fed. My suggestion is that if they want to get fed then they need to work more in the kitchen. This means learning how to feed themselves and then feeding others. This will keep you quite full.

When a young man or woman without much experience ministers publicly it communicates several things:

  • It is not about having the super messenger. It is about reproducing as many messengers as possible.
  • It shows the congregation that they are expected to and can grow into all roles.
  • It drives the critical spectators to action, to grow or go. No food critics allowed!
  • Like the movie I have mentioned: Everyone might not be able to preach, but a preacher can come from anywhere.

Finally, the main issue that concerns me about video preachers does not concern the lack of preachers in the church. The main lack is actually in the area of reaching the lost. It is not about preaching. It is about reaching.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Tim 2:2

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? Rom 10:14

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Minimum for Salvation

It was one of the most eclectic groups of pastors I have ever been in, and we were all navigating our way through a class on Systematic Theology 101. The teacher had a Reformed background, but the pastors ranged from Arminian to Calvinist in their experience. They all agreed that they were at least saved, but they could not agree if they were saved before or after they repented. You might not be familiar with the debate on this, but it is humorous at times. Another thing they could not agree on was “how they stay saved”.

How to stay saved. It is also not a new debate, but I will state my belief here and now. Trying to stay saved is like concentrating on keeping my heart beating. The thing will beat whether I think about it or not, and thinking about it too much will probably shorten my life due to stress. Striving to “stay saved” will also wreck our walk with God. He keeps my heart beating in the same way He keeps me in His hand.
Jn 10:28-29

Anyway, the teacher was talking about grace that day, and those of a legalistic persuasion were getting nervous because all their “works” and energy to stay saved were being rendered null and void with each consecutive verse from the teacher. Then one pastor knew he had the question that would stump the teacher.

“So then, what is the minimum someone has to do to be saved?”

The teacher paused just long enough to inhale enough air to answer. He neither planned to hear such a question that day nor did he plan the answer that he gave. It just popped out to the astonishment of all the listeners.

“The minimum to be saved is the same as the maximum to be saved.” No one expected such an answer, and most of the class had that expression on their faces that puppies have when people try to talk to them, just a slight tilt of the head to one side and a tightening of the brow. It was a wonderful moment that I have never forgotten.

The teacher went on to explain several simple truths, and a few of these are from me:

  • It is not what we do to be saved, but it is what Jesus did to save us. He did the work. Rom 11:6
  • The Holy Spirit reveals to us that we are lost, no hope, no exit, just very lost. Jn 16:5-15
  • The Holy Spirit brings to life whatever we have read, seen or even thought about concerning the gospel and our lives.
  • The Holy Spirit reveals to us the person and ministry of Jesus through whatever we have read, seen or even thought about.
  • Something happens in us, a breaking, a softening. We can sit quietly, we can wail in terror or we can laugh. It makes no difference how we respond with our emotions.
  • In the end we yield; we give way to Another. He takes control ever so gently and turns everything to a new direction. This is repentance.

So then, where is the work? Sorry I left out our contribution, but it comes in various forms:

  • We work hard to resist the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives before we are saved…and sometimes even afterwards.
  • We work hard to convince people they are lost. Sorry, it is not our job. The Holy Spirit does the convicting.We are to be living witnesses who share our hope.
  • We work hard to punish ourselves even after God has forgiven us.
  • We try to clean our spiritual house with bulldozer techniques instead of letting God gently remove the baggage.
  • We run so far ahead of God in His plan to the point of exhaustion. He then walks by as we are straining at the oars – He is usually walking on water – and He instantly brings us to our destination. Mark 6:45-52; Jn 6:16-21

Yes, we do a lot of unnecessary work trying to help Jesus finish what He has already done and accomplish in our strength what He plans to do through us by His strength.

Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Heb 10:14

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pastor – Candidate Endorsements

My name is Mike Watkins, and I endorse everything that I say…most of the time. However, there may come a later time when I run for public office, and I will have to disassociate myself from me so that I will not be impugned by my past words. “I had no idea that I held those views!”

Such is the drama and dark comedy of this election season. Candidates have always gotten election-year religion, and this year is no different. However, the spectacle of this year’s US presidential election is unique because the candidates in question are not particularly careful with whom they rub shoulders in the religious community. They are also not that spiritual themselves, and the two-way relationship of endorsements is shaky at best.

Much can be said about the candidates, but less has been said about the pastors who court them. Yes, I said “court”. I do believe that a Christian has the right to voice his or her support for a particular candidate, but when a pastor or major Christian leader makes official endorsements they are stepping outside of their biblical authority. There are many pitfalls:

  • By courting favor we lose the ability to speak objective truth as the prophets of old.
  • A pastoral endorsement actually says, “As a Christian leader I am saying that this is the man/woman who is best suited for the job based on biblical standards.” This is slippery even when the pastor and the leader are friends.
  • One would be a fool to think that there is no temptation for a Christian leader to want to be in the inner circle of the president.
  • Pastors are usually not experts as to who would be best at foreign, domestic and economic policy.
Even though there are dangers, this does not mean that Christians and Christian leaders do not have a voice in the democratic process:
  • A Christian leader can vouch for the integrity of someone – a personal friend - running for office as well as their stand on specific issues that are important to Christians. Again, the leader needs to know what he is talking about and whom he is talking about.
  • A Christian leader can use his God-given authority to speak objective biblical truth into every issue.
  • A Christian leader can advise a candidate on matters where the leader is an expert: moral truths, family issues, societal problems, human rights, etc.
  • A Christian leader can be called upon by a sitting president for advice. A leader’s stature in the Christian community will make way for him before rulers. This is post-election, and the leader still needs to make it clear Whom he is really representing.
  • A Christian leader can call on a public official to simply repent.
Ultimately the best thing that leaders can do is what they were actually called to do, to make disciples who will go into all the world and make more disciples. This is the best way to change society and assure a future for the next generation. We will then have a better crop of candidates and citizens who have good foundations for making daily decisions.

When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food. Pr 23:1-2

Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. 1 Tim 5:22

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:11-13