Should Every Sermon End With Christ?

Should Every Sermon End With Christ?

The Bible is one book with one story focusing on God’s work through Jesus Christ.

In the video below, Peter Adam, Andrew Reid, and Mike Raiter talk about biblical theology and preaching Christ. You will hear their thoughts on preaching Christ, ending sermons with Christ, and sharing the gospel.

A panel discussion on Christ-centred preaching, featuring Peter Adam, Andrew Reid and Mike Raiter. From the Centre for Biblical Preaching.

10 Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives (D.A. Carson)

D.A. Carson, Research Professor of the New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL recently shared 10 Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives. While his article has many valuable thoughts for the church and the academy, preachers should especially take note of the three ways listed below:


An Appeal to Selective Evidence

The most severe forms of this drift are well exemplified in the teaching and preaching of the HWPG—the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Link together some verses about God sending prosperity to the land with others that reflect on the significance of being a child of the King, and the case is made—provided, of course, that we ignore the many passages about taking up our cross, about suffering with Christ so that we may reign with him, about rejoicing because we are privileged to suffer for the name, and much more. These breaches are so egregious that they are easy to spot.

What I’m thinking of now is something subtler: the simple refusal to talk about disputed matters in order to sidestep controversy in the local church. For the sake of peace, we offer anodyne treatments of hot topics (poverty, racism, homosexual marriage, distinctions between men and women) in the forlorn hope that some of these topics will eventually go away. The sad reality is that if we do not try to shape our thinking on such topics under the authority of Scripture, the result is that many of us will simply pick up the culture’s thinking on them.

The best antidote is systematic expository preaching, for such preaching forces us to deal with texts as they come up. Topical preaching finds it easier to avoid the hard texts. Yet cultural blinders can easily afflict expositors, too. A Christian preacher I know in a major Muslim nation says he loves to preach evangelistically, especially around Christmas, from Matthew 1 and 2, because these chapters include no fewer than five reports of dreams and visions—and dreams and visions in the dominant culture of his country are commonly accorded great respect. When I have preached through Matthew 1 and 2, I have never focused on those five dreams and visions (though I haven’t entirely ignored them), precisely because such dreams and visions are not customarily accorded great credibility in my culture. In other words, ruthless self-examination of one’s motives and biases, so far as we are aware of them, can go a long way to mitigating this problem.

Heart Embarrassment before the Text

This is a more acute form of the first failure. Not infrequently preachers avoid certain topics, in part because those topics embarrass them. The embarrassment may arise from the preacher’s awareness that he has not yet sufficiently studied the topic so as to give him the confidence to tackle it (e.g., some elements of eschatology, transgenderism), or because of some general unease at the topic (e.g., predestination), or because the preacher knows his congregation is sharply divided on the topic (any number of possibilities), or because the preacher simply really does not like the subject even though it surfaces pretty often in the Bible (e.g., hell, eternal judgment). In its ugliest form, the preacher says something like this: “Our passage this morning, Luke 16:19–31, like quite a number of other passages drawn from the life of Jesus, depicts hell in some pretty shocking ways. Frankly, I wish I could avoid these passages. They leave me distinctly uncomfortable. But of course, I cannot ignore them entirely, for after all they are right here in the Bible.” The preacher has formally submitted to Scripture’s authority, while presenting himself as someone who is more compassionate or more sensitive than Jesus. This is as deceptive as it is wicked—and it is easy to multiply examples.

Contrast the apostle Paul: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:1–2).

Anything That Reduces Our Trembling before the Word of God

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isa 66:2). “‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Pet 1:24–25; cf. Isa 40:6–8).

The things that may sap our ability to tremble before God’s word are many. Common to all of them is arrogance, arrogance that blinds us to our need to keep reading and re-reading and meditating upon the Bible if we are truly to think God’s thoughts after him, for otherwise the endless hours of data input from the world around us swamp our minds, hearts, and imaginations. Moral decay will drive us away from the Bible: it is hard to imagine those who are awash in porn, or those who are nurturing sexual affairs, or those who are feeding bitter rivalry, to be spending much time reading the Bible, much less trembling before it. Moreover, our uncharitable conduct may undermine the practical authority of the Bible in the lives of those who observe us. Failure to press through in our studies until we have happily resolved some of the intellectual doubts that sometimes afflict us will also reduce the fear of the Lord in us, a subset of which, of course, is trembling before his Word.

Concluding Reflections

So that concludes our list of subtle ways to abandon the authority of Scripture in our lives. I’m sure these ten points could be grouped in other ways, and other points could usefully be added.

But I would be making a serious mistake if I did not draw attention to the fact that this list of warnings and dangers, an essentially negative list, implicitly invites us to a list of positive correlatives. For example, the first instance of subtle ways to trim the authority of Scripture was “an appeal to selective evidence”—which implicitly calls us to be as comprehensive as possible when we draw our theological and pastoral conclusions about what the Bible is saying on this or that point. If “heart embarrassment” before this or that text (the second example) reduces the authority of Scripture in my life, a hearty resolve to align my empathies and will with the lines of Scripture until I see more clearly how God looks at things from his sovereign and omniscient angle will mean I offer fewer apologies for the Bible, while spending more time making its stances coherent to a generation that finds the Bible profoundly foreign to contemporary axioms. It would be a godly exercise to work through all ten of the points so as to make clear what the positive correlative is in each case.

Read the full article on Themelios.

Fighting the Prosperity Gospel in Africa through Bible Training

Fighting the Prosperity Gospel in Africa through Bible Training

“…the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity.” —Albert Mohler

One of the great deceptions in the world today is prosperity theology. Thankfully, the best antidote to false teaching is the sound teaching of the Bible, and there is great work being done to equip pastors to rightly handle God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).

I recently conversed with Leadership Resources’ Doug Dunton (Regional Director of Africa) and Joe Paglia (Director of Operations) about how our ministry equipping African pastors in biblical exposition fights against prosperity theology.


How prevalent is prosperity theology in Africa? What are some of the devastating effects you have seen?

Joe Paglia

Joe: Unfortunately, it is very prevalent. Sadly, it’s one of the US’s largest exports. It is a false gospel and not even worthy of the term ‘gospel’—because it is not good news and only draws people away from the one true gospel. Prosperity theology also manipulates a great many who are already struggling with severe poverty. To them, it is an alluring trap that makes their poverty even worse because many send in their last few pennies to a TV preacher and then can’t feed their kids the next day. Prosperity theology wreaks holistic devastation, impacting the spiritual and material lives of victims.

Doug Dunton

Doug: The devastation is hard to measure, and in some way, all are influenced. Everyone has some level of attraction to the prosperity gospel. MacArthur wrote a book many years ago called Reckless Faith that talked about the inability or unwillingness to discern the difference between right and wrong doctrine. This is the issue that we are dealing with. When things come from the west or things blossom from within the continent of Africa, many uneducated pastors have no ability to discern the difference between right and wrong, or good, better, and best.

This is the impact our Training National Trainers program has. Trainees can look at the core principle we teach about Staying on the Line of God’s Word and it becomes very simple for them to discern that most of the time prosperity preachers preach ‘above the line’ [that is, they add to God’s Word]. Pastors are able to discern very quickly and share with us how their mentalities are changing.

Joe: One way we try to help guys discern is by understanding if something is biblical versus biblically true. Prosperity preachers preach verses from the Bible and other passages they choose, but they are not preaching those passages in a biblically true way.

Can you share how Training National Trainers (TNT) is impacting individual pastors?

Doug: A Congolese guy came to a large prosperity church in Kampala, Uganda to investigate how it worked. Immediately following this church, he came to a Jonah session of TNT and was confronted with the difference in ministries between prosperity gospel church and a biblical ministry model as we were teaching in TNT and the book of Jonah. He told us he was going to change his philosophy and reject the prosperity gospel. So, he went back and shared with leaders in his church the emphasis on building a church on expository preaching. They rejected him, and shortly he rejected expository preaching. Now he is trying to duplicate the prosperity ministries he deems as successful.

A story with a happier ending is that of John, a pastor from Nairobi, Kenya. When we studied 2 Timothy and the command to ‘preach the word in season and out of season’, John repented before our eyes and said that he never was concerned about Staying on the Line [that is, faithfully preaching the message of the Bible]. He called himself a “rhema” preacher—and he said he was a good one at that. He said every Sunday morning God would give him a word. He would say his “hallelujahs” and preach whatever came to his head at the moment, and people said they were refreshed by that special word he was receiving. Then he repented and went back to his church. He started preaching Jonah (after studying Jonah in TNT). People looked at him with heads cocked to the side. “Is pastor John OK today?”

“It’s not the same kind of growth, it is growth of transformation and regeneration in people’s lives.”

After a few weeks, people began to realize he didn’t do his rhema preaching anymore. Before you knew it, people started leaving—a lot of people. He came and told us the story and said that even though people were leaving, he was not going back to be the rhema preacher.

Many months passed until my next interaction with John and I wondered, “Was John continuing in preaching the word?” When we talked to him, he shared that he is still preaching the Word. And his church is experiencing growth that he has never experienced in his life before because he is staying on the line. So I asked John where the church growth was coming from, and I love this, he said, “Through new converts.” He’s now measuring growth through professions of faith and baptisms. “It’s not the same kind of growth,” he said, “but it is growth of transformation and regeneration in people’s lives.”

John has now become the coordinator for the group of pastors who are partnering with us from Go Ye Africa. He has become an influential leader due to the strength of his conviction.

TNT is addressing the prosperity gospel and helping strengthen churches by fostering convictions rooted in the Word of God.

TNT is addressing the prosperity gospel and helping strengthen churches by fostering convictions rooted in the Word of God.

What other aspects of TNT fight against prosperity theology?

Joe: The whole training program fights prosperity theology as we develop biblically literate pastors, but the principle Text and Framework has a special power in helping pastors see what may be negatively influencing their interpretation of the Bible.

The second workshop we do is 2 Timothy. Paul wrote to his beloved son, Timothy, who was fighting for the survival of the Ephesian church. Elders were departing, people were attacking him, and he was suffering and in despair. This book confronts the prosperity mentality because Timothy’s situation doesn’t match the promises of prosperity. This book’s message to persevere in gospel ministry and faithfully preach the Word amidst suffering is a game-changing book for many pastors. Other books we study bring up suffering (Mark, Habakkuk, Ephesians), helping expose wrong frameworks in regard to prosperity and showing God’s power to preserve us in difficulty.

What resources have helped your ministry in Africa?

Doug: The one thing we try to get in the hands of every TNTer is a Bible with a reference column. Sometimes giving them a study Bible too early in the training process will tempt them to preach the notes and take their attention off of seeing the text clearly—that’s why this Bible is so helpful for us.

We have also used a variety of resources from The Gospel Coalition’s Packing Hope program including:

  • The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
  • A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper
  • God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

We have given the ESV Global Study Bible as a graduation gift to several of our groups and are thankful for TGC-International Outreach’s partnership and making it available. [The Gospel Coalition has also made the eBook available of Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel.]

The Gospel Coalition - International Packing Hope Resources

What are some ways we can pray for Africa?

  • Pray for more African brothers and sisters to embrace the true gospel and reject the lies of the prosperity movement.
  • Pray for the spread of God’s life-giving Word through churches across the continent of Africa.
  • Pray for many more gospel workers to be equipped to rightly handle God’s Word and enter the harvest fields.
  • Pray for many prosperity preachers to repent and desire to minister the Word faithfully.
  • Pray for our 32 key trainers in Africa to expand our ministry of equipping pastors to teach God’s Word with God’s heart.

What our students are saying:

Francis, Church Planter in Togo

“The training helps to avoid heresies and helps focus on the word and avoid your framework. Most of the time in Africa, because of the background in Animism, we try to enforce our points of view on the text, instead of letting the text speak to us. We want to speak on behalf of the text.” Watch Francis tell his story.

Alex, Pastor in Ethiopia

“This training changed my perspective of seeing God’s Word, studying God’s word, and passing it on to others. This precious word. The change is very personal. The training is very personal. If it changed me, if it really convicted me that I’m loosely handling God’s Word for my life and for my ministry, there are also other people who are easily distracted by a lot of eloquent speakers. They can copy many different sources, but that doesn’t give life. That is the major thing I’ve experienced in my life. This training leads me to focus on the Bible text.” Watch Alex tell his story.


Learn more about our event at The Gospel Coalition National Conference: Unlock the Potential of Your Missions Strategy.

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How a Biblical Theology of Work Can Transform Your Life: Interview with Dr. Jim Hamilton

Biblical Theology of Work - Dr James Hamilton

Understanding how key biblical themes develop over time is essential for reading the Bible correctly and living faithfully.

One biblical theological theme that can transform our daily lives and identities is that of work. To discuss how a biblical theology of work can transform our work lives, I conversed with Dr. James Hamilton, author of a new book in the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series from Crossway called Work and Our Labor in the Lord.

Dr. Hamilton is the Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of several books, including God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and What is Biblical Theology? among other commentaries and books on biblical theology. He currently serves as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY in addition to responsibilities at Southern Seminary. The transcript of our conversation is below.


Kevin Halloran: On the first page of Work and Our Labor in the Lord, you write this: “Biblical theology…is the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors…to attempt to understand their worldview.” Can you explain how biblical theology shapes our worldview and why that’s so important?

Dr. James Hamilton: I can do that easily by contrasting it with a movie I watched last night on an airplane: Interstellar.

If you’ve seen this movie, the underlying premise—which I found so unbelievable that it took away from my enjoyment of the movie—is that our world cannot sustain life anymore. The earth is dying and there is a new Dust Bowl coming, and no one will be able to survive on earth. That kind of eschatology (or understanding of where things are going) then informs the work people try to do in the movie, and they actually think that they are trying to save the world—to save humanity. They accomplish it through supernatural feats of the manipulation of time, and it involves relativity and gravity (it’s a little complex, but honestly it was unbelievable).

Our worldview is the big story of where things came from, what we understand to be wrong, how we understand those things might get better, and where everything is going in the end—it is going to inform all of our lives. I think the Bible’s account of all those things—in spite of the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, and the so-called ‘sexual revolution’—is still the most compelling one available.

KH: The part of your book that most drove me to worship was the chapter on creation. It made me ponder the wisdom and glory of God in creating work. My question is this: why did God ultimately create work?

Dr. James Hamilton: Life would be pretty slow if we didn’t have any tasks to do… In the very good world prior to the fall, I don’t think we would know the frustrations, difficulties, feelings of lethargy, and lack of desire to do work. Minus all of the negative effects of sin, God created a world where there would be a rhythm of diligent labor followed by rest, and then more diligent labor where you actually accomplish something. You actually get to see something completed.

I can remember years ago, Elizabeth Elliot contrasted sweeping the floor with writing a book. She said, sometimes I really love to sweep a floor because I can see the fruits of my work. Whereas, if I sit down to write, I might not see that book for years. It’s great to mow the grass and see the fruits of our labor and see the lawn nice and trimmed. Work is a gratifying thing; it can be a physically exhilarating thing to engage in, depending on what kind of work we are talking about. And so, this may sound strange, but work is a gift, a mercy from God, something good that he created for us to engage in.

KH: Like you express in the book, working is a way to reflect our working God. He created six days and rested on the seventh. That being said, what are some misconceptions Christians have about work that a biblical theology of work can clear up?

Dr. James Hamilton: I don’t know how widespread these misconceptions are, but I think people tend to think it stems from the judgment spoken on Adam’s work in Genesis 3:17–19. This overshadows the fact that Adam was supposed to work and keep the garden in Genesis 2:15 prior to the fall. Then their own experience of work being frustrating and perhaps misreadings of the book of Ecclesiastes where “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity” can lead people to the conclusion that the world is going to burn, my work doesn’t matter. They might also misinterpret that poem that concludes ‘only what’s done for Christ will last’—this kind of idea.

The Bible teaches that everything that we do has value and that our labor in the Lord, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:58, [and I do in] the subtitle of the book, is not in vain. This is because we are created in the image and likeness of God and we are to bring God’s character to bear on all creation in everything that we do.

KH: In addition to clearing up negative misconceptions of work, biblical theology also provides a positive power for believers as they think about work. How might a biblical theology of work encourage someone perpetually discouraged in his or her work?

Dr. James Hamilton: The Scriptures encourage us that, ultimately, we work for the Lord—[as] that classic statement in Colossians 3 says, “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as for the Lord and not for men.” Discouragement tends to come from, maybe an overbearing boss who never says anything positive; a lack of acclaim or commendation… We counter that by remembering that ultimately we are working for the Lord and not for men. There’s an audience of one that I’m seeking to please.

The whole Bible’s framework teaches that work was in the garden and continues after the fall. Now that Christ has come, there’s a possibility for the redemption even for the things that we engage in, and our hearts are renewed. We come at this as a remade humanity. In the new heavens and new earth, we’re not going to be these cloudy, wispy ghosts, we are going to be resurrected bodies in the new heavens and new earth, engaged in grand projects for the glory of God. If we have this broader framework, it will reinforce and inform the idea that we are really working for God’s glory.

KH: My last question might be a challenge because you wrote an entire book on the subject, but if you had to give a one-minute biblical theology of work, how would you do it?

Dr. James Hamilton: I would start with what Jesus said in John 10, “My Father is working until now and I am working.” A biblical theology of work starts with the idea that God is a worker. From there, I would say that as those made in the image and likeness of God, we are made to work. We are going to be most satisfied and most fulfilled when we are doing what we were created to do. From there, I would walk through that big story where God created good work in the garden. That work was judged as the result of man’s sin—it was made more difficult—and yet the man was mercifully allowed to do that work. The warning was that in the day you eat of it, you will die. He died spiritually, but I think through God’s words, he began to trust the Lord and he began to continue his work.

Christ came and has set in motion the renewal of all things in such a way that we live as children of God. We live in a manner worthy of the gospel in everything we do. I think that in all kinds of jobs there are ways to lay down our lives to benefit other people spiritually, and we work in anticipation of a renewal of all things when all tears will be wiped away.

When as the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “Would that I had thorns to battle” (Isaiah 27:4)—there will be no more thorns and thistles on the ground, and all things will be made new, and we will know as we are known, and we will be the Lord’s.

KH: Thank you Dr. Hamilton for the time to discuss Work and Our Labor in the Lord.


On April 3–5, Leadership Resources will have a booth at The Gospel Coalition National Conference in Indianapolis, IN.

Tuesday, April 4th, LRI will be presenting at 7:45am on the topic of Unlocking the Potential of Your Missions Strategy.

If you plan to attend TGC17 and want a reminder email for this event, sign up here.

Stay tuned for more information, or save $20 on your registration with the discount code “LRI”. TGC.org/2017.

10 Hindrances to Transformative Expository Preaching

hindrances-to-transformative-expository-preaching

The call to preach is both a glorious and fearful one: glorious because God uses His proclaimed Word to give life and transform hearts, and fearful because we are imperfect vessels with the potential to hinder God’s transformative work in the world.

The following ten hindrances to transformative expository preaching* will undermine faithful ministry over the long haul.

1. Unbelief.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6)—a truth for preaching and all of life. To faithfully preach the truth, you must believe the truth and be compelled by it. While God backs His proclaimed Word no matter what, the effectiveness of preaching can be greatly hindered if people sense insincerity or artificiality in the preacher. Preachers need to exercise faith in and out of the pulpit in order to please God, set a faithful example (1 Timothy 4:12) and persevere under trial (2 Timothy 3:12). As sinful people prone to faithlessness, we must make the prayer of the man with the sick child in Mark 9:24 our own, “I believe! Help my unbelief.”

2. Lack of personal holiness

“It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.” —Robert Murray McCheynePaul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 to, “Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching.” Preachers must exemplify the message they proclaim in Word and deed, and if they don’t, they not only disregard qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, but also will hinder the work of God through them over the long haul. A preacher that fakes holiness and love for others will undermine and hinder the fruit God desires to bear while storing up judgment for themselves (James 3:1).

3. Prayerlessness

A preacher who is prayer-less misunderstands the task of preaching. God calls preachers to proclaim His life-giving word to the spiritually dead—and only God’s Spirit can bring the dead to life. With the enemy of our souls on the prowl, we must pray, and call our people to pray, for the powerful proclamation of God’s life-giving Word.

Charles Spurgeon comments on the need for prayer:

The bell in the steeple may be well hung, fairly fashioned, and of soundest metal, but it is dumb until the ringer makes it speak. And … the preacher has no voice of quickening for the dead in sin, or of comfort for living saints unless the divine spirit [Spirit] gives him a gracious pull, and begs him speak with power. Hence the need of prayer for both preacher and hearers.

4. Lack of clarity

“Remember that to attain simplicity in preaching is of the utmost importance to every minister who wishes to be useful to souls,” writes J.C. Ryle in Simplicity in Preaching. “Unless you are simple in your sermons you will never be understood, and unless you are understood you cannot do good to those who hear you.” The Apostle Paul agrees, and that’s why he asks for the Colossian church to pray “that I may make it [the gospel] clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

This is one reason Leadership Resources uses the hermeneutical principle called “Finding the Big Idea.” One Indonesian pastor confessed that before learning this principle, “I would preach thirty minutes to an hour and still have no right direction to the sermon.” But now, sticking to his Big Idea gives him clarity—and his people are understanding God’s Word more deeply.

5. Not laboring for author’s intent

Preachers must resist the urge to use the Bible as a launching pad for their thoughts or ideas. We need to diligently and deeply study Scripture to uncover the main message that God, through the biblical author, wants to communicate through a text. Once we find that message, it is our task as preachers to shepherd hearts with it.

Many preachers stop just short of the Scripture’s authorial intent. In their preaching, they will answer the question, “What does the text say?”, but will avoid taking the needed step to ask, “Why does the text say what it does?” Asking why a text says what it does leads to the transformational intent God of the passage (or book).

6. Lack of application

“The exposition of Scripture remains incomplete until a preacher explains the duty God requires of us.” —Bryan ChapellGod’s Word is meant to be heard and obeyed. In sharing specific points of application, we can help connect the transformative intent of the Scriptures with the daily thoughts and actions of our hearers. When studying a passage to preach, we need to ask, “What transformation was God seeking to accomplish through this passage in the life of the listener?” This is the Intended Response of a passage, fleshing out the passage’s transformational intent for the lives of your hearers.

7. Preaching a Christ-less sermon

Jesus Christ is at the center of not only the Scriptures (Luke 24:44), He’s at the center of the entire universe (Colossians 1:16–20). If we preach a message that fails to present how a particular passage testifies to Christ, we fail to communicate the full meaning of the Bible, we fail to point people to the only Way to the Father (John 14:6), and we fail to testify about the living Savior who alone has the power to save and transform.

Our preaching must help people encounter the risen Savior, and not merely preach morals or steps for a better life. The law (i.e. God’s commands) was never meant to transform hearts apart from the context of God’s grace to us in Christ (Romans 7:7–12, 8:2–4).

8. Not communicating the tone of the passage

Preachers need to dial into the underlying mood and emotion of a text. For example, when preaching Ephesians 1:3–14, preachers need to rejoice as they unpack the glorious riches of God’s love for us in Christ, while preaching a passage of judgment will mean a serious tone and emotive plea for repentance. Helping people feel what the author of the text felt in a certain situation will help shape biblically-informed emotional lives.

9. A lack of knowledge of the audience

For preaching to be transforming, it must rightly apply God’s Word to the lives and circumstances of the audience. It also must be accompanied in love. The more a preacher knows the lives and struggles of his congregation, the more he can apply the truth and grace found in Christ to their situations.

Consider how Jesus’ personal knowledge of the woman at the well in John 4 informed His words that led to her transformation. He knew she tried to quench her spiritual thirst with men, and offered her Living Water from which to drink. Tim Keller says it another way, “It is also impossible to understand a culture without discerning its idols.”

The apostle Paul is another example. He knew and loved the churches he planted and applied God’s Word to their situations, even being stern with them if the situation required—just ask the Galatians (Galatians 3:1–3)!

10. Impatience for God to work

A lack of patience will lead preachers to frustration and discouragement. It also may demotivate them from the hard work of faithful ministry. Scripture calls preachers to “preach the word…with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, emphasis added). Patience is needed because transformation doesn’t always (or usually) take place immediately. We need a steady diet of God’s Word week after week to continually work toward full maturity.

In which of these ten areas do you most need to grow? Since the preaching of the Word has eternal ramifications, dedicate yourself to prayerfully pursue growth in each of these areas. As you grow, God will work His transformation in both you and your listeners.


*This list presupposes getting the content of the text right.


On April 3–5, Leadership Resources will have a booth at The Gospel Coalition National Conference in Indianapolis, IN.

Tuesday, April 4th, LRI will be presenting at 7:45am on the topic of Unlocking the Potential of Your Missions Strategy.

If you plan to attend TGC17 and want a reminder email for this event, sign up here.

Stay tuned for more information, or save $20 on your registration with the discount code “LRI”. TGC.org/2017.

Interview with Graeme Goldsworthy on Biblical Theology

help-me-teach-the-bible-coverNancy Guthrie recently interviewed Dr. Graeme Goldsworthy on the topic of biblical theology on the Help Me Teach the Bible Podcast.

Their conversation talks about what biblical theology is, how it affects our understanding of the Bible, the history of the discipline, as well as comments on Goldsworthy’s specific approach to biblical theology.


Right Click to Download the Audio


“God’s kingdom is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” —Graeme Goldsworthy

Goldsworthy’s Definition of Biblical Theology:

Essentially, it is about understanding the theology of the Bible, the way it [theology] is presented in the Bible. It’s not a systemization of doctrines, it’s looking at the way the theology is unfolded [throughout the Bible story].


Books mentioned:

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Seven Biblical Definitions of Ministry Success (Part Two)

lightstock_169198_medium_kevin_halloran

Continued from Part One.


4. Success is Believing.

“For me [this truth] points to one of the great needs of Christians—which is not to believe more and better things, but to believe what we already believe. During my bout with success, my faith had slipped so miserably that I was not believing the things I actually did believe.” (63)

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 (63)

“Whether these great people of faith [from Hebrews 11] were called to focus their belief on God’s rewards in history or in eternity, they all believed that God was actively working in them and through them and for them, and would reward them even though they could not always see or understand how.” (64)

Hughes proceeds to offer an extended meditation on the implications of Colossians 1:15–18 on our lives and ministries. How does believing Christ as Creator of everything, Sustainer of the universe, the Goal of all creation, and the Lover of our souls change our outlook on ministry?

Gauge your belief by answering these three questions truthfully (70):
1. Am I believing that God can take care of me?
2. Am I believing he loves me?
3. Am I believing that he rewards, that he is morally active on the part of those who seek him?

5. Success is Prayer.

Like a lumberjack’s work would be less effective with a dull axe, “God’s servants fail in their appointed tasks because they do not take time to sharpen their lives in prayer.” (71–72)

“Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.” E. Stanley Jones (73)

We must pray because (72–77):
1. …of what prayer does to us.
2. …of what prayer does in the church. “Prayer brings power to the church and to ministry.”
3. …Jesus prayed.

“Fellow servants, we know that the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray, even making intercession for us, but we also know that there is our part, which is discipline. Surely we can do nothing in our own power; nevertheless we are called to be fellow workers with God.” (81)

Hughes also drew from Ephesians 6:18–20:
“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

6. Success is Holiness.

“The logic of Scripture is unavoidable: God calls his people to be holy (Leviticus 19:2). Holiness is foundational to true success. No one can be regarded a success who pursues a life contrary to God’s will. Therefore, we come to this irony: there are untold numbers of successful pastors and Christian workers who are abysmal failures.” (84)

“I have known Christ-professing, Bible carrying men and women in Christian ministry who were adulterous, even incestuous, and saw no contradiction in their lives. I have known Christian workers who have led a secret pornographic existence: fundamentalists at church and X-rated cable voyeurs at home. Even more tragic, their delusion is so deep that they admit no inconsistency in their behavior.” (87)

“Lay this maxim to heart: when lust takes control, God is quite unreal to us…When we are in the grip of lust, the reality of God fades. The longer King David gazed [at Bathsheba bathing in 2 Samuel 11], the less real God became. Not only was his awareness of God diminished, but in the growing darkness he lost awareness of who David was—his holy call, his frailty, and the sure consequences of sin.” (89)

“Understand, servants of God, that some of life’s choices, especially those that have to do with sensuality, have irreversible consequences. You may be making that choice now. For your sake and for God’s sake, do not take the fatal step!” (91)

“During our difficult time in learning about success, Barbara and I were encouraged as we came to see that holiness is foundational to true success. We were also heartened. Although holiness is not easy, the fact that God demands it means that he helps those who seek it.” (93)

7. Success is Attitude.

“In Christian ministry it is no exaggeration to say (with some common-sense qualifications, of course) that attitude is everything. There are two attitudes that particularly characterize ministry failures: negativism and jealousy.” (96)

[Paul’s response to suffering in prison:] “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).” (98)

“Next to our free salvation in Christ, our attitude is the most important thing we possess. Attitude is more important than circumstances, the past, money, successes, failures, our gifts, other’s opinions, even the ‘facts.'” (99)

“Jealous, envious hearts are unhappy, for there is a miserable pathology to jealousy. The Bible unforgettably commemorates this in the case of the prodigal’s older brother. His jealous heart makes it impossible for him to share in his family’s joy. In fact, he misses the party of his life! (Luke 14:25–30). Then, unable to share in the things that please his father, he suffers further estrangement…He is miserable. A heart subject to such pathology can never be successful, regardless of its outward performance.” (101)

“Those who have negative attitudes in the ministry never truly know success, regardless of their accomplishments. Their negativism sours the proper sweetness of their desserts…They are unable to enjoy the pleasant things that come their way, for they always manage to dwell on what might have been and fear the worst in what is to come.” (103)

“Through the example of Paul and others, Barbara and I became aware of how important a role in our mind-set played in our ministry. We had learned that a positive attitude and an encouraging attitude are foundational to a truly successful life.” (104)


*Page numbers taken from the 1988 edition of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.

Summary: Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

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In his early life as a pastor, Kent Hughes faced a personal crisis. He seemed to be doing everything right in ministry, but his church wasn’t growing—at least not compared to the church across town. This lack of ‘success’ ate at him and made his efforts seem worthless. What else do I need to do to be successful?

Many—if not all—pastors face a similar crisis. Is this just part of the grind of ministry, or is there a better perspective?

Kent and Barbara Hughes sought God for answers from the Scriptures for their dilemma and what they found make the backbone of their important book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.

The Hughes’ tell their story of liberation from the success syndrome of ministry by sharing rich examples from biblical characters, powerful illustrations, and God’s eternal perspective that will energize and refocus readers. Instead of measuring success with worldly standards, the authors share seven biblical definitions of ministry success, which we share below in the form of a quote summary.

“…the miserable yoke of worldly success is so crushing because it is a burden that God’s servants were never meant to bear.” (106)


Seven Biblical Definitions of Ministry Success

1. Success is faithfulness.

“As Barbara and I searched the Scriptures, we found no place where it says that God’s servants are called to be successful. Rather, we discovered our call is to be faithful.” (35)

“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2).” (35)

Using the episode from Numbers 20 when Moses struck the rock to provide water for Israel instead of speaking to it, Hughes explains that, “one can be regarded as hugely successful in the ministry and yet be a failure.” (36) Moses was not faithful to God’s word and faced the consequence for it: not being able to enter the Promised Land.

Two Essential Elements of Faithfulness:

1. Obedience

“Obedience (knowing and explicitly doing God’s Word) is the key to true success.” (38)

2. Hard work

“No one keeps track of a pastor’s time…if a man is not a self-starter, it is so easy to come in late and go home early. It is also very easy to let prayer and sermon preparation slip, and, generally, to imagine that extraneous interests are ‘ministry.’ There is more sloth in the pastoral ministry than we would like to admit.” (42)

[Commenting on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–20]:
“The Lord has nothing good to say about lazy servants; they are unfaithful.” (42)

2. Success is Serving.

“Whenever we may be on the path of servanthood, there is one thing we all must do if we are to be servants, and that is to look to the cross. It is the crowning event of Christ’s servant life, just as Jesus had said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)…So here’s one secret of successful ministry: When we keep our eyes upon the cross, we want to serve. Friends and co-workers, if we have been chafing under our ministerial burdens, possibly wondering if we have followed our own fancies, we need to envision Christ washing the feet of rough, unlettered fishermen. We need to see Christ on the cross washing our sins away as the Ultimate Servant. And then we need to whisper, “Lord, you washed their feet; you washed away my sins. I will serve you and your church. Amen.”” (50–51)

Three Essential forms of service:

  1. Preaching. “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), tell us that a primary avenue of servanthood is preaching the truths of the gospel.” “Faithfulness in the pulpit requires a vast investment of time and energy and is a great service to Christ and his church, whether recognized by the church or not. Those who would honor God in the pulpit must be servants.” (51)
  2. Administering. “Do we see our executive duties as opportunities to serve Christ? If we do, we will be encouraged to give our very best to him in loving, efficient administration.” (52)
  3. Counseling. “Paul charges us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Here the pastoral ministry provides vast opportunity for servanthood because we are very often the ones to whom people turn to unburden themselves…pastoral counseling compels us to serve others much in the way the Lord would if he were still here on earth.” (52)

3. Success is Loving.

“Before all things, even service to God, we must love God with all our hearts. It is the highest priority in life! It is the first question for every theologian, every pastor, every missionary. It is the quintessential question for everyone who wants to please God.” (58)

“What appears at first glance to be success, is not necessarily success in God’s economy.” (58)

Love liberates us in four ways (59–60):

  1. It places our lives and ministries beyond the fallible, oppressive judgment of the quantifiers—the statistic keepers.
  2. It liberates us from the destructive tendency to compare ourselves with others.
  3. It frees and motivates us to live our life’s highest priority [loving God].
  4. It is freeing to the whole church, regardless of status, because loving God is something equally open to all.

3 Ways to Cultivate More Love for God (60–61):

  1. Be honest in examining yourself and your current love for him.
  2. Cultivate earnestly the conscious inner ability to love him while we serve him.
  3. Spend special time with him.

Part two shares four more biblical elements of ministry success.

Don’t Let Your Bible Keep You From the Bible

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In a recent interview with DesiringGod, Glenn Paauw, the Executive Director of the Biblica Institute for Bible Reading and author of Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, shared how “Bible clutter” can provide a framework that warps how we engage with Scripture.

(“Bible clutter” refers to anything added to Scripture including chapter and verse numbers, study notes, cross-references, concordances, etc.)

The interview overlapped so much with the “Text and Framework” hermeneutical principle that we are compelled to share the interview mp3 and our notes below.



Unintended consequences from “Bible Clutter”:

  • Chapter numbers (added in the early 1200s by Steven Langdon, a church leader in England) and verse numbers (added in the 1500s by Robert Essien, a Frenchman working on a Bible concordance) can cause Bible readers to see books as fragmented collections of verses rather than an entire book.
  • Concordances, while being great reference tools, can change the way people interact with the text and hurt the plain reading of Scripture by neglecting the immediate or whole-book context of a passage.
  • While cross-references are helpful, they might prevent a reader from focusing on the text in front of them and wrestling with meaning. Again, what is primarily lost is a sense of context—something vital for faithful interpretation.
  • Many modern Bibles are designed for people who aren’t readers and who may not be very biblically literate. This pushes Bible publishers to make Bibles with helps, notes, and highlights because that is what buyers want.
  • While we may boast a confidence in Scripture, our true confidence might rather lie in a certain study Bible we align with theologically more than Scripture itself. Many feel Bible reading needs ‘guide rails’ to keep people from falling off of the theological cliff.
  • A temptation of using Study Bibles is engaging with study notes more than Scripture itself. Research on Study Bibles proves this is the case for many.
  • All of the colors and special designs common in many Bibles today (study notes, graphics, special sections, etc.) can draw people’s attention more than Scripture, which is generally left untouched.
  • We want to read Scripture and apply it to our lives fast. Our desire for quick application can short-circuit the study process by jumping to application to early or buying a study Bible that will apply it for us.

Two flawed approaches to engaging Scripture:

1. Seeing Scripture as a collection of inspirational quotations.

Many who do this take favorite verses like Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11 out of context and virtually ignore most other passages of Scripture. This greatly misrepresents what the Bible is and deforms us spiritually just like a pure cotton candy diet would. (Interviewer Tony Reinke deems these using verses in this way as “Scripture McNuggets.”)

2. Seeing Scripture as a self-help manual.

Some want to gather all of the Bible verses on a certain topic and create messages from those verses. This also strips verses of their context and fails to take Biblical Theology into account. Biblical theological themes develop throughout the Scriptures in various genres, and, as Paauw reminds, some accounts are not to be taken prescriptively but rather descriptively. (For example, Paauw says we wouldn’t build a doctrine of marriage on the example of patriarchs.)

A Better Comparison

A better comparison for the Bible is “the collected papers of the American Antislavery Society” because,

“the Bible is a collection of different kinds of writings, each of which exist in its own context, its own literary form, and they have to be taken as this kind of a collection. It is true that the collection of the Bible comes together to tell this amazing, redemptive, restorative narrative of what Jesus the Messiah has done. But the books themselves are the core units. The Bible is the collection of those things. It is not a collection of verses, so not a collection of little how-to passages. Again, it is a matter of receiving the Bible on its own terms, receiving the Bible in the form that God actually chose to give it to us. That, I think, is something that our modern format tempts us to move away from.”


How can we fight against “Bible clutter”?

“The first and the primary and the most natural thing to do with the Bible is to read individual books at length in their own terms. So understanding the kind of literature it is, who was the author, who were they writing to, what was the issue, those kinds of things are necessary.”

“We need to make sure we are always ready to listen to the text first…[not] our material [or thinking], which is not inspired… A real high view of Scripture says: Let the text be the text, and always seek to let it speak to me, even on things where I think I might have my mind settled… But we need to always be willing to say: What does the Word of God say? Not: What have I always said that the Word of God says?”

The true spiritual riches are found in engaging God’s Word directly, not going through another’s explanation of God’s Word.


Related Story from Honduras: “Take that Bible Away from that Man!”

The Word, the Spirit, and How God Speaks to Us (John Woodhouse)

Leadership Resources’ ministry is built upon the fact that God speaks through His Spirit-carried Word.

Understanding the dynamics of this can be a bit tricky. Consider the following thoughts:

Evangelicals seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘the word of God’. It is one of our catchcries. Are we mistaken in having this emphasis? What is the place of experience and the Spirit? Does ‘the word of God’ equal ‘the Bible’?

We have been greatly helped by the work of John Woodhouse, former principal of Moore Theological College.

Woodhouse’s work on the Word and Spirit is available in three formats:

1. Read articles from The Briefing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

2. Buy the Brief Book from Matthias Media or on Amazon.

3. Listen to the conference audio below or download from The Proclamation Trust.



Description from Matthias Media:

“Evangelicals seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘the word of God’. It is one of our catchcries. Are we mistaken in having this emphasis? What is the place of experience and the Spirit? Does ‘the word of God’ equal ‘the Bible’? In this stimulating Brief Book, John Woodhouse offers some fresh insights into what ‘God’s Word’ is, and what it means for the modern Christian.”

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