Archives For Preaching

I recently posted a blog on Elijah, burnout, and how important it is for us to spend extended time alone with God. If he needed to slow down and spend some long, extended time in the desert alone with God, how much more do we need to do the same in the 21st century!

But as I meditate on the story of Elijah, I see there is more to this ubiquitous issue of burnout than just spending time alone with God. Believe me, I have spent many hours and now many years searching my own heart and evaluating what went wrong in my life that caused me to hit the wall like I did. I am often asked questions like ‘what caused you to burnout?’ and ‘ what can we do to prevent burnout?’

Dangerous CallingI had a breakthrough insight recently. It has to do with ‘identity.’ I see it in Elijah, but my eyes were really opened to this idea through Paul David Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. This recent book is an important and essential read for all pastors, people in ministry, and followers of Christ. I was convicted page after page, and had so many ‘aha’ moments I lost count.

Tripp is talking about the numerous and often burdensome responsibilities of the pastor when he makes this statement:

All of these concerns can become seductive pastoral idolatries, and when they do, you may think that you are serving God, but your heart is ruled by something to which you have attached your pastoral identity and inner sense of well-being….you do ministry in the hopes of getting horizontally what you have already been given vertically. In ways in which you are unaware, you are asking ministry acclaim, success, reputation, etc., to be your own personal messiah. (p202)

Ouch. Nailed. Yep, that’s me. My identity and significance in life was completely wrapped up in the concept of ‘pastor’ but I didn’t realize it until I finally resigned the pastorate, and lost my identity. I honestly (although I did know better theologically) wondered what in the world I would pray about now. Can I even pray as a non-pastor? Why would I read my Bible now? As these questions coursed through my soul, I was brought painfully face-to-face with the reality that I was guilty of ministry idolatry.

Tripp goes on:

So you will never find in your ministry the rest of heart that every human being seeks. And when you look there, it only ends in anxiety, frustration, hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness and may ultimately lead you to question the goodness of God. I am convinced that what we often call “ministry burnout” (a term I don’t think is particularly helpful) is often the result of pastors’ seeking in their ministry what cannot be found there, and because it can’t be found there they end up weary and discouraged. (p203)

Wow. Guilty. There it is. Perhaps not the final answer to my quest of why I burned out, but a huge step closer. He nails it here: I was seeking for identity, reputation, significance, etc. in the pastorate. But that was idolatry, and it could never truly give me rest. So after 18 years of trying, and not succeeding, the weariness and discouragement got the best of me, and I had to regroup. Of course I know that my identity is found in Christ alone, as a child of His, and not in any role or task or ministry that I do. But it is still a struggle to assimilate that truth deeply into my soul and make it part of my daily sense of identity.

Back to Elijah. In 1 Kings 19, God questions Elijah. Part of Elijah’s answer is in verse 10:

“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left…”

In other words, nobody has it together in ministry quite like I do. I am the prophet to end all prophets. I am the only one left who loves you and serves you. My identity is wrapped up in being a prophet. A few verses earlier, Elijah was basically suicidal over this state of affairs. Classic ministry burnout based on the faulty notion that his identity was in ministry, not in Christ alone.

We must get our eyes back on Jesus. We will never find rest and identity and satisfaction in anything but Him. Not in ministry, not in the pastorate, not in our jobs, not in our family, not in our success…nothing but Christ alone. To do so is to invite weariness, discouragement, burnout. Search your heart to see if the seeds of this error are planted and starting to sprout. Study Elijah. Read the book Dangerous Calling. Save yourself from ministry burnout.

As Mark blogged about previously, we’re excited to roll out an online Greek and Hebrew program at Eternity. Mark talked about the benefits of learning Greek and Hebrew, which I recommend you read. I’ll emphasize a point he made in passing.

Most people think that we should study the languages in order to be more accurate in our theology and translation. While that is a good reason, you shouldn’t expect after learning one year of Greek or Hebrew to be correcting your ESV or NASB!

Hebrew BibleWhy do we learn the languages then? Because we want to see the emphasis of the original author. By studying Greek and Hebrew we are better able to see what the author is emphasizing and where he is going in his argument. We’re better able to understand the point of his sentence, paragraph, and book. It’s not that it isn’t there in the English translations, but sometimes it’s much harder to see the intention of the author without the original languages.

I want to answer a different question, though: Why would I want to learn Greek and Hebrew at Eternity? What makes our program different than all the other ways out there to study Greek and Hebrew?

Mark began with the most obvious reason that sets our program apart, that these are go-at-your-own-pace classes. One of the biggest hindrances I’ve seen over the last eight years of teaching Greek and Hebrew is that students are not all at the same place. Some pick up language more naturally than others, while some are able to devote much more time than others. Yet in a traditional class, we have to go at one pace. We shoot for the middle and hope the slow students can catch up and the fast students don’t get too bored.

But another major benefit of how we are teaching the languages at Eternity has to do with pedagogy (our philosophy of how to teach the languages). Now, while we cannot claim that our pedagogy is completely unique and there are other language classes that teach the languages based upon modern linguistic theory, this is a benefit of learning the languages here. Without getting into the details, we teach the languages based upon understanding how the language works rather than rote memorization of all the possible forms of words. Now, of course this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to memorize when learning a language, but by using well established linguistic theory, we are able to cut down on unnecessary rote memorization and to teach the languages in a way that will stick with the student. We emphasize getting into the text quickly and learning the language through practice.

This gets into the part of the classes that I am personally most excited about. Having a background in Computer/Electrical Engineering, I have written a computer program that allows students to interactively look at the forms of Greek and Hebrew words. Scroll Tag Screen ShotThey can click on the various parts of the word, and the program will tell them what those various parts mean. There are also charts in the program that get marked up for each different part of the word. When you incorrectly identify a part of the word, the program is able to identify what part of the word you didn’t notice and will highlight that for you. We are excited that we will be giving the program away for free to all of our students who sign up for the languages! This allows students to practice identifying Greek and Hebrew words at home, which is what is needed. You can take a quick look at some screenshots at scrolltag.com/trainer.

Put that together with full length lectures online with many hours of instructional videos, access to the professor, and an affordable price, and we are praying that many will take the jump to studying and understanding God’s Word in greater depth!

First a qualification. For most people, learning Hebrew and Greek is not easy. But Eternity Bible College is now offering a unique approach to teaching these biblical languages that will make the learning process much easier—relatively speaking—for most people.

 

A Case for Learning the Languages

Let me be clear. I don’t believe that everyone ought to learn Hebrew and Greek. You can have confidence that when you are reading your English translation of the Bible, you are reading the words of God. You’re not a second rate Christian if your understanding of God isn’t based on your own acquaintance with Hebrew (though we should all acknowledge that we owe a great debt to those who have interacted with these languages).
Greek CartoonI should also add that we can get ourselves into trouble by learning just a little bit of the biblical languages. I’ve heard a lot of people misuse Greek or Hebrew, assuming that throwing out a word or phrase that’s unintelligible to their congregation gives their sermon more authority (or makes them sound smarter, more like). I’ve heard pastors say things like, “In the Greek, Paul is using the word agape, which means love. He is telling us to love one another. “ Awesome. Thanks for that gem. But my English Bible says “love,” so your explanation wasn’t helpful.

But having said all of that, the church needs people who can read Greek and Hebrew, and the more the better. While some misuse the languages, there are gems to be gleaned by studying the Scriptures as they were originally written. It helps us to be precise. It removes ambiguity. It gets us a little bit closer to the world(s) in which the Bible was written.

So the church needs people who can read the Bible as it was written. Some of these people will serve as Bible translators, whether into English or some foreign language. Others will serve as theologians who carefully examine the Scriptures to be sure our debates don’t get off track. Most of the people who know Hebrew and Greek will be teaching the Bible to other people, and the languages help them teach with greater insight and accuracy. And then there are those who have learned the languages and sit in pews (remember those?), getting a little more out of what is being taught, taking their study of Scriptures a step further, enabling themselves to interact more intelligently with commentaries and works of theology.

Whichever group you fall into, I encourage you to try out the languages. Not everyone can or should do this, but maybe you should. Consider it.

 

Greek BibleHow Eternity Can Help You Learn the Languages

Here’s how we can help you. We are offering Hebrew and Greek courses online. It is notoriously difficult to teach the languages, and this can be especially hard in an impersonal online setting. So we are offering these courses on a self-paced, pay-as-you-go, work-directly-with-your-professor basis.

Our online language classes are offered through a monthly subscription: $100 per month. During each month of your subscription, you will have access to all of the course material you need. You will also be in contact with a professor, who will have regular online “office hours” and will set up times to work with you when you need it. Once you feel confident with your knowledge of the material, you pay a $100 exam fee and take your final exam—it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the course for two weeks or a year. Once you have passed your exam, you will receive three or four units of college credit (depending on the course).

We also take a unique approach to teaching the languages. Our Hebrew and Greek professor, Josh Grauman, focuses less on memorizing paradigms and more on understanding the way these languages work. He has also developed a unique interactive parsing program (Scroll Tag) that shows how morphology and parsing relate, and this program integrates tightly into the curriculum. This program gives students something to work through on their own, and students enrolled in the course will be given free access to the program.

Students will also have access to recorded lectures which will help them grasp the content at their own pace.

This method allows students to study at their own pace, to focus on those concepts and lessons that they find most challenging, and to get as much out of the class as possible (as opposed to keeping up with the rest of the class and passing a test).

 

Click here to learn more or to sign up.

 

 

Francis Chan 1Because I work with Bible College students, I interact with a lot of people who feel called into ministry. Many have been inspired by the ministry—and particularly the powerful preaching—of Francis Chan and similar Christian leaders.

Few admit it, but I have known a few students who want to be the next Francis Chan. They see what God is doing through this man, they have been personally moved by his preaching, and they want God to use them in the same way. So they set out to become preachers.

For these would-be Chans, preaching is equated with what they saw Francis Chan do. So when they feel God calling them to preach, they understand this to mean that they are going to be preaching to many thousands of enthusiastic and responsive people. When they are inspired by Paul’s command to Timothy to preach the word, they picture themselves in front of a sold out conference crowd. When they learn about pastoral ministry in school, they think about praying with convicted listeners after a rousing sermon.

Thank God for Francis Chan. I stand with millions of Christians in that I am a more godly person because of his ministry. But God only made one Francis Chan. He may well be calling you to be a preacher, but he is not calling you to be a Francis Chan.

I think we have imbibed an unbiblical standard for what success in ministry looks like. Our responsibility is to use the gifts that God has given us to represent him in any and every opportunity he places before us. But the results are up to him. Numbers are not a fool-proof indication of a godly ministry.

Did you know that Jeremiah faithfully fulfilled the ministry that God set before him, yet he didn’t see a single convert? Does this make him a bad minister? By God’s standards, no, but he probably wouldn’t last long as the senior pastor in any of our churches.

Or consider Jonah. He ran away from God, then preached a single sermon (the Bible records this as an eight word sermon) and saw an entire pagan city dramatically convert on the spot. Does that make him a good minister? By God’s standards, no, but he would probably launch a popular model for church growth in the U.S.

Faithfulness has always been our responsibility. Results have always been God’s.

Francis Chan 2When I run into students that hint at wanting to preach like Francis Chan, I remind them that they if God is calling them to preach, then they need to preach as faithfully and powerfully as they can, but they need to be okay with God setting the size of the congregation.

And this leads to a great question for each of us to ask ourselves on a regular basis. If it so happens to be the will of God, would you be satisfied with faithfully serving God and impacting only a few individuals? If not, you should examine your motives for serving the Lord. If so, you may well find that God brings more people into your sphere of influence.