The unwritten rules.

In every group or organization, there are unwritten rules.   Even in church organizations. I am reminded of this daily through observances and conversations.  It is something that most know, but very few pay attention to unless they are directly affected by it.  In this post, I want to point out a few categories that these unwritten and sometimes unspoken rules fall into.  For the pastor of the small church which may not have much in the way of formal organization, leading through these unwritten rules is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

Culture

First up is the foundation that all the unwritten rules create.  Culture is probably the most explicit way for people to understand and discuss the unwritten rules.  Peter Drucker is attributed with the saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Many pastors and church leaders are often frustrated with a lack of progress when they implement their big plans.  Basically, the unwritten rule of “How we do things around here” undermines any strategy.  If your plan does not account for the culture of your church or group, it most likely will fail.

Expectations

While unattentiveness to culture may frustrate a pastor’s plans for whatever, unwritten expectations are destructive.  A church may or may not have a written list of expectations or duties for the pastor, but they all have expectations that are not articulated.  These range from attendance at events, evangelistic efforts, pastoral care, preaching ministry and more.  These rules become highly problematic as they tend to become unrealistic demands.  When a person is then held accountable in the person’s mind or publicly, they are blindsided and left confused as to what happened.

How do you change the unwritten rules?

  1. You have to become aware of them.
  2. They need to be addressed humbly and candidly discussed.
  3. Solutions presented, accepted, and implemented.
  4. Accountability and reflection.
What unwritten and unspoken rules have you come across?

 

Shaping the Sermon

Paul declared, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel“‭‭(1 Corinthians‬ ‭9: 16, KJV‬‬)! I love to preach the Gospel and to hear sound Gospel preaching. To me, the content of preaching is sharing the Gospel, and the Gospel, in a nutshell, is that Jesus is King (and all that pertains to Him). However, there are many forms that preaching can take.  At least more than an introduction, three points, and a conclusion.  The following is an examination of one essential approach and four ways to shape the preacher’s sermon.

Expository

To begin, we are going to point out something that will make some mad. My approach to sermons is that all good preaching is expository. Now, some will use that term and imply a particular style of preaching. However, I am implying that all good preaching exposes people to Scripture, rightfully divided and studied (2 Tim. 2:15), in different ways.

Typically, those from a Calvinistic background, have taken expository preaching and defined it so narrowly and shame any other sermon style.  For these individuals, expositional preaching is identified solely as verse-by-verse.   What’s funny to me is that they focus a lot of attention on being against topical preaching and are in favor of verse by verse only.  However, when you go to listen to a sermon from one of these preachers, it’s verse by verse, but usually titled as though it addresses a topic.  Even when preaching through a book.  This is probably because the Bible deals with issues and problems.  Or, they go speak at conferences that are focused on a specific topic.  Usually, conferences about the topic of expository preaching.

Do you see the shallowness of calling understanding expositional preaching as only verse by verse?  Expositional preaching as verse-by-verse is a more recent development in Church history.  But, that’s for a different time.  What we do see in the Bible is God using different writing structures, mechanics, and people with different approaches.  Therefore, it seems that since God used different genres and writing styles to get His message across, the preacher should make use of various forms of communication.

The shape of the sermon should expose the hearer to the whole of Scripture on the matter. The Holy Spirit and the passage being presented should shape the form of the sermon. Not the preacher’s preference for a specific style. By preaching, we bring individuals face to face with God’s truth, and that is the whole Bible.   If you are still tracking with me, this broader understanding of expository preaching will become more evident.

Verse-by-verse

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think there is something special about preaching verse by verse.  Especially for pastoral preaching.  One of the qualifications for pastors was the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), and I think preaching verse by verse is one of the best ways to accomplish this task.  By going through a book of the bible verse by verse, the preacher is able to expose the congregation to Scripture not just verse-by-verse, but to follow a Biblical writers train of thought.  It forces the preacher to address popular passages in context and difficult passages that are usually avoided.

 

Topical

Topical preaching is usually associated with anything other than verse-by-verse preaching.  However, as I already noted, even verse-by-verse preaching is topical since Scripture dealt with topics and was written with specific purposes in the mind of God and the writers.  Still, I digress to the typical way topical sermons are preached.  They begin with a topic and a key passage addressing the topic.  Then, in a sweeping fashion, the topic is examined from other vital passages from the Bible.  In a way, it is systematic or doctrinal preaching.  It exposes the listener to the whole of Scripture on a single topic, rather than one passage as is found in the verse-by-verse style.

Narrative

Narrative preaching focuses on telling a story and everybody loves a story.  The story being told is not an outside illustration, but a narrative passage from the Bible, such as David in the den of Lions or Jesus healing Bartimaeus.  In fact, adding outside examples would be confusing and somewhat distracting.  The purpose of narrative preaching is to expose them to the events that take place in Scripture.  The power is the simplicity of the message, usually by sharing the story and connecting it to only one big idea.  Narrative preaching doesn’t happen when the preacher tells a little bit of the story and then associates it with a spiritual thought, then says a little more and connects it to another idea.  That is allegorical preaching and quickly leads back to the 3-point sermon format.  Instead, it tells the story and then relates the listener to the big idea in the passage.

 

Allegorical

The final method of shaping the sermon is through allegorical preaching.  Allegory is a way of interpreting something’s hidden meaning.  In preaching, it is taking a word, story, or thought and looking for spiritual senses.  I do find this type of preaching as a valid way to expose people to God’s truth.  First, it is one of the most historical approaches.  Secondly, it shows that God’s Word is incredibly deep in meaning and application.  Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it’s how the New Testament preachers typically wrote.  For example, look at the book of Hebrews.  Moses, Israel, the wilderness travels, the tabernacle, and sacrifices are used metaphorical and spiritual meanings through Christ.

However, the danger is that allegorical preaching by itself can become incredibly shallow.  One reason is that it usually focuses on one word from a passage and neglects context.  Another reason is when a narrative reading, such as David and Goliath, is preached, there can be so many connections made that people are overwhelmed or confused at how to make the spiritual connections.  And, finally, to many spiritual links can be added that have no actual grounding in the passage.

For example, I remember hearing an allegorical sermon on Proverbs 30:28, “The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.”  The preacher went on to give a biology lecture of the spider and spiritualized everything as how to live the Christian life.  Even the spider’s venom and web.  It was all over the place, and they struggled to make connections.  Why do I think it failed to expose people to the truth.  The danger of allegorical preaching is that it can become so far disconnected from the context of the Scripture presented that the Bible is either just a passing thought or altogether forgotten.

In conclusion, when you are preaching, expose your congregation to God’s Word in any way that respects God’s Word and sound doctrine.

The Pastor 

Filling the office of the pastor takes a genuine calling from God.  The prophets, judges, and teachings foreshadow it in the Old Testament, and the New Testament defines it.  Church history has validated it, and culture has tested it.  Now, the office of pastor is losing its influence through misunderstandings, a lack of clear purpose, and because of those who have left it with a stained witness because of moral failure.  The fact remains, Scripture provides a definitive and robust understanding of the nature, purpose, and practice of the pastor.

Scripture shows there frequently were multiple pastors serving in a local community and assembly of believers.  The Apostle Paul “ordained them elders in every church” (Acts 14:23 KJV).  It may be that a church has need of multiple pastors for different ministries in a congregation, but the scripture lays out qualifications for those who would hold the office of pastor.  Various individuals having those criteria met find they are growing and being tested in those requirements at different times.  Nonetheless, they are signposts for what they need as a pastor and waypoints for growth.

Identifying these scriptural qualifiers of the pastor is essential.  Only then the pastor can chart their course for growth in the ministry.  This makes the building of a pastor a more important pursuit than just taking a person and putting “a stole around the neck” (Willimon, 2009, p.11).

Character, credibility, and competence are all issues that a pastor has to deal with.   The integrity and example that comes under the microscope of inspection by the believing and unbelieving communities elevate the importance of a pastor’s nature.  Scripture places the overall qualifier to a pastor as “blameless” (1 Tim. 3:1-7, cf vs. 2).  Some versions translate this as “above reproach,” and the or to be “well-thought-of.”  The scripture further qualifies this lifestyle of the pastor as faithful to their spouse (vs. 2), sober (vs. 2), gentle (vs. 3), have a good home life (vs. 4), experienced (vs. 6), along with several other traits.

Integrity

The daily grind of managing ministry, family, personal pursuits, and all the expectations that they entail will take their toll on the pastor.  Shortcuts and temptations will always come around and present themselves as viable options.  Willimon (2009) wrote regarding collapse under the intense expectancy: “The pastoral ministry requires a wide range of sophisticated skills—public speaking, intellectual ability, relational gifts, self-knowledge, theological understanding, verbal dexterity, management acumen, sweeping floors, moving folding metal chairs, serving as a moral exemplary, and all the rest. No wonder failure is always crouching at the door” (p. 23).

The nature of the pastor though is to remain steadfast and focused even when their world has become broken and is falling apart.  The integrity of the pastor is a source of strength in keeping their family together and the church together.  If they have penetrated the community with the love of God, their integrity may even help the community hold together in times of tragedy and destruction.

Example

The pastor is a model to show the congregation and world how they should be living as believers.  This type of lifestyle places an immense amount of weight on the pastor’s shoulders.  Yet, God and not the church has given the expectations, because people can become brutal in their expectations.   Shelley (1988) shared “They expect our family to be an example. This is legitimate and not a problem except when this means there are two sets of standards: one for the pastor’s family and one for everyone else” (p. 50).  In the epistle, 1 Peter 5:2, commands the pastor to be an example before the congregation.

Purpose

The pastor can be further explored for their use.  Adding to it the formal instruction of proclamation and intentional discipleship, the pastor informally fulfills their mission by example.  To the pastor, the writer, James, may have told them to not only be more than “hearers” of the word but also to become more than “proclaimers” (James 1:22).  The proclamation of the gospel and lifestyle of the person are essential to the purpose of the pastor.

The word that Paul used to describe the office of pastor translates literally as an “overseer” (Easton, 1893).  Oversight over the souls of men demonstrates a person has a higher vantage point than those around them and that they have the purpose of organizing and protection.  This title indicates a high purpose for the pastor as God’s primary instrument of ministry in the church.  “The difference between a pastor who visits preaches, and baptizes, and any other skilled layperson who performs these same functions is in the pastor’s “officialness” (Willimon, 2009, pp. 18-19).  The purpose of the pastor is first seen as the official leader of the church, but it is more accepted and spoken of with greater respect as the example, namely in the form of the shepherd.

Ezekiel portrays the leaders of Israel as bad shepherds because they did not feed the sheep, tend to their wounds, search for the lost, or lead.  This reminds the pastor that though they may have their shepherds head and heart standing higher than the sheep that surround them, their feet are all on the same ground level.  The pastor has to smell like the sheep.  The pastor has a purpose in being with the sheep and that all comes down to leading by example.  The goal of the shepherd is to lead the flock from one point to another point in life to another.

The Word

The ministry of the Word of God is the subject of exhortation from Paul to Timothy and Titus.  Teaching and preaching are both divisions of our proclamation.  Preaching has great potential and if it is done correctly can have eternal effects.

Pastoral work is not merely making social calls; pastoral work is also preaching.  The minister does not cease to be a pastor when he goes into the pulpit; he then takes up one of the minister’s most demanding and severe tasks.  Some of the finest and most useful of all a minister’s pastoral work are done in the sermon.  In a sermon, they can warn, protect, guide, heal, rescue, and nourish as “a shepherd who is skilled in his work never fails to feed his flock.” (Jefferson, 2009)

The Body

Pastoral care is “practical concern for the spiritual lives of individuals” (Galli, 1990, p. 11).  The body of Christ needs to be nurtured by the Word of God, but there also comes time for healing the body, strengthening the body, helping the body the through difficult times.  The pastor teaches the body how to care for itself by example, but the pastor has to continually find themselves among those in the body.  This can take place in many practical ways from visitation to small groups, pastoral counseling and more.  Pastoral care seeks to help people in tangible and intangible ways.

The office of the pastor can be a tricky one to define if consideration is given only to the current culture and people’s expectations.  There must be balance and check by the Holy Scriptures for the role of pastor.  The Word of God plainly defines the office by its nature and purpose and prescribes the work of it.

References

Easton, M. G. (1893). Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Galli, M. (1990). Introduction. In Mastering Pastoral Care. Mastering Ministry (11). Portland, OR; Carol Stream, IL: Multnomah Press.

Hatfield, Mark Vol. 12: Leaders: Learning leadership from some of Christianity’s best. 1987 (H. L. Myra, Ed.). The Leadership Library (50). Carol Stream, IL; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Books.

Jefferson, E. (2009) The Minister as Shepherd. Bibliolife & Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

Shelley, M. (1988). Vol. 16: The healthy hectic home: Raising a family in the midst of ministry. The Leadership Library (50). Carol Stream, IL; Dallas, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub.

Willimon, W. H. (2009-02-01). Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.