Why does biblical transformation matter?

New Life

Our first training session in an eastern Asian country was about to begin, in the foothills of the Himalayas. We were waiting for one more pastor to arrive. As I walked up the footpath to the training center, I saw a man trudging up the road towards me. I stopped, thinking: this is probably him. I greeted him with one of the few words I knew in his language. Switching quickly to English, I said ,“we’re ready to begin!” In spite of the language barrier, I persuaded him to follow me.

During that first training session, the pastor, Tham, seemed completely disengaged, as if in a daze. During the morning break when all of the other pastors were greeting one another, Tham sat outside on a boulder staring off into the mountains. What was going on?

At breakfast the next morning I learned from Tham that he was exhausted. He had traveled 4 days to get to the training…2 days by bus and 2 days on foot. But there was something else wearying him…something in him that God’s Word confronted that week, resulting in a profound, personal transformation in his life. We’ll circle back to Tham, but first a question.

Does biblical transformation matter? Jeremiah thinks so…

“For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?” (23:18)

The responsibility of the teacher and preacher of God’s Word is both simple and clear. To see…to hear…to pay attention…to listen to what God says. Verse 18 uses four verbs of attentiveness to capture our attention. Creativity, persuasion, and cleverness are not are our primary responsibilities. Rather, listening is our fundamental calling.

If we listen well, we proclaim well. If we proclaim well, then the Spirit of God in sync with the Word of God does its incredible work.

But if they had stood in my council,
    then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
    and from the evil of their deeds. (23:22)

In Jeremiah’s day, God’s people could have been spared God’s judgment…if only they would have heard the unadulterated words of God. God’s people would have turned from their sin. They would have experienced personal and national transformation through God’s gracious gift of repentance. But it was not to be, because the prophets proclaimed their own words rather than God’s. The result: “Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth…” (23:19a)

Transformation is inherent to God’s Word. His words were given to bring about a transformational intent. God’s words were first delivered to his people by his prophets so that they might respond in a particular way and thus experience God’s blessing. God’s Word for the original audience was not merely informational, it was intentional. As we listen, study, hear, pay attention to God’s Word, we discover the aim…that original transformational intent which then drives the application of the text to our 21st century audience. The very nature of God’s Word is transformational.

Pastor Tham discovered this truth in an unexpected, yet powerful way. Our first training session with Tham and the other pastors focused on the book of Jonah. Pastor Steve Brandon opened the training time by preaching Jonah 1, the story of the disobedient prophet pursued by his gracious, but persistent God.

Just prior to that first training, Tham had decided to leave the ministry. Two factors drove him to this painful decision. First, he felt woefully inadequate in the ministry. Second, he was under terrible financial pressure. In his country, parents must pay for their children’s education. Tham simply wasn’t making enough to pay the school and university fees for his 6 children. He reluctantly decided to leave his church, move to a nearby city and get a decent-paying job. The decision was made by the time we met him…I’m not ever sure why he came.

However, Tham discovered that he could not escape “The Hound of Heaven”. As Tham sat listening to Jonah’s story, it became his story. Tham came under great conviction…like Jonah, he was fleeing from God and God’s good purposes for his life. Of course, we didn’t realize at the time the work that God was doing in his heart. Only later did Tham relate his story and then tell us that that he had changed his mind…he would continue pastoring his people, by God’s grace. Over the next four years, we were able to build into Tham’s life and encourage him along the way. Today, he continues to teach and shepherd his people and has even opened up a training center in his local church. Tham is flourishing because he personally experienced the transformational intent of God’s Word.

Does biblical transformation matter? Just ask Tham and the members of his church.

Craig Parro

Since joining Leadership Resources International in 1989, Craig directed its international ministry, and as of January 2010, he now serves as President. A graduate of TEDS (M.A., Mission), Craig is a stimulating teacher and has equipped and encouraged pastors and churches throughout the U.S., Latin America and Asia. Craig also serves on the Board of Directors of TOPIC (Trainers of Pastors International Coalition), an association of pastoral training organizations focused on accelerating pastoral training worldwide. Craig has authored articles appearing in several magazines. His first book, Unlikely Warriors, was published in 1992. He is also co-author of Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout.