Posts Tagged ‘ministry’

Hebrew-BibleI am not at all naturally inclined to study languages myself so I’m not writing as a language buff. But I think “correctly handling the word of truth” means a certain level of knowledge about the way that word was written and how it can and cannot be handled.

What is the semantic range of this word? Do I realize how meaning can change depending on which prepositions are attached or what verb stem it’s in? Do I at least understand the arguments for why the New World Translation gets John 1:1 wrong? I think a pastor should have a handle on this kind of stuff – not that they can necessarily weigh in with great scholarship but that they at least know why the NIV says what it says and can justify it if they disagree.

And it can have revolutionary significance.  Think of Matthew 4:17 – the Vulgate says ‘Do penance’ but when Luther sees it’s actually “Repent” it becomes the very first of his 95 theses.

I’m not saying someone can’t have a hugely powerful ministry without knowing the original languages (who can deny that in places where the church is growing fastest, pastors very often don’t). And I’m not saying every pastor needs to get to the level where they do all their prep and quiet times in Hebrew. But if our pastors have been given significant formal preparation for word ministry then studying those words in the original languages should be a key component of that. It’s surely not right that pastors have a hundred opinions on the new perspective but don’t actually understand the linguistics behind “pistis Christou” for instance.

I think the tools of a pastor’s trade are words – the bible’s words more specifically. I wouldn’t have confidence in a car mechanic who said “We just need to twist the doo-hickey until the thingumy-jig pops out.”

I’m not suggesting that pastors need to be fluent or anything like it.  You don’t need to be able to speak these languages or hear them or even write them.  Just to read them, painstakingly slowly and usually with some bible software close to hand!

But it pays off. Very quickly you’re able to see a thousand links that are there to see in the original languages but (necessarily) obscured by translations.  Let me give some examples:

Last week I preached on Isaiah 2 and then 1 Corinthians 7:

Isaiah 2:

All translations conceal just how much ideas of highness, loftiness are repeated in verses 11-17. Reading this in the Hebrew definitely allowed the word to dwell in me more richly. I was more impacted by the word because of reading in the Hebrew.

Searching for a theology of trees and hills was easier to do with knowledge of the Hebrew. (Of course it’s not impossible to do without Hebrew but it takes longer and you end up relying on things like bible dictionaries – and I’m never sure if I’m always on the same page as the bible dictionary contributors (esp on OT)).

In v10, ‘The Rock’ vs ‘the rocks’ – I might decide to prefer ESV because of many factors, but surely the best factor is that the Hebrew says bazur not bazurim. This was a key point in my sermon – a big talking point afterwards. I’m glad I know something of Hebrew when those conversations come up. If you’re going to argue for Christ in OT (which I am), the majority of your biblical scholarship / commentary help is at least 300 years old. It’s brilliant stuff, but a lot of the contemporary stuff is just not that interested in christocentric detail. But, learn Hebrew yourself and you’ll see it on every page.

1 Corinthians 7:
There are so many minefields here – and so many ethical issues that depend on language debates. I’m nowhere near in a position to contribute to these debates, but it’s very helpful to be able to follow them especially when I’m telling certain people they can’t marry or can’t divorce and telling them on the basis of these ten Greek words which have multiple interpretations.

e.g. what’s the difference between ‘separating’ in v10 and ‘divorcing’ in v11-13? What does it mean for the woman not to be ‘bound’? in v15? Is that relevantly similar to the word for ‘bound’ in v39? Your stance on divorce and remarriage is fundamentally affected by that question.

Now the language alone is not going to decide it and not everyone needs to have language knowledge. But I’m recommending an investment of time in languages that better places you to think through all these issues.

On the one hand learning languages saves you time. It really does – searches are far faster, technical commentaries are much easier to read. If you’re at all interested in the detail of the text, knowing some Greek and Hebrew makes things faster not slower. On the other hand, it slows you down in the right way. Reading the passage in the original allows you to see details and emphases and repetitions that are necessarily filtered out in translations, to see things of Christ that aren’t usually picked up on. It comes home a bit stronger. Maybe none of that will translate to the pulpit, but it translates to my heart – and that’s good for my ministry.

So here’s what I’m saying: It is a tremendous help in correctly handling the word if you know enough about Greek and Hebrew to at least be able to read the technical commentaries and use the bible software. This will mean that, with help from commentaries and Bibleworks etc, you are preparing sermons from the Hebrew and Greek and not simply from the English translations. I really think this makes a significant difference to your word ministry. Enough difference that it is worth the expenditure of, say, 160 hours in training – i.e. 4 hours a week (2 in classroom, 2 in homework) for 40 weeks or something? To be honest you could probably get away with less. And you do NOT have to be a language buff to be able to get to this level. I am in no way naturally gifted for languages, but I found huge payoffs in forcing myself to do it.

Now put that 160 hours (or less) in context. I’ve spent many times over that amount in studying church history, many times over that amount simply reading theologians, simply reading systematics, simply reading Christian paperbacks. I’ve spent hugely more time blogging!

I’m not talking about secret knowledge that takes decades of training and special anointing. I’m talking about learning alphabets and a bit of vocab, learning some verb and noun tables and then figuring out how clauses and sentences fit together. Most of that is dead boring – but these are the nuts and bolts of God’s revelation to us. And pastors deal in God’s revelation. Yes we deal in people and that is crucial (Tit 1:6-8). But we also deal in the word (Tit 1:9). We find time for all sorts of other nonsense in preparation for word ministry (JEPD anyone?!) languages is a really good investment of time. If you have the chance to do it, do it.

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“Who here has never heard teaching on the Trinity before?”

My translator asked the question of our audience after my first session.  In a room of 60 Malawian overseers, about 50 hands went up.  Each of them had responsibility for between 6 and 30 churches but very few had learned even a basic doctrine of God.

In May I travelled with Ian Milmine, my boss, to Malawi and Kenya, preaching the gospel and training pastors.  It was a tremendous opportunity and I’d be keen to go back, especially for the chance to support African ministers.  As one professor of theology in Kenya told me, few of his students – most of which are ordained ministers – could actually articulate the gospel.  In a country where 80% claim to go to church, the preaching they hear is a steady diet of ‘holiness teaching’ with a heck of a lot of altar calls thrown in.

As an evangelist I must have prayed with hundreds of people to become Christians on our trip.  But at times it felt like Luther’s experience of climbing the “Scala Sancta” steps in Rome.  It was years before Luther’s conversion and as he said the Lord’s Prayer on each step, he thought he was earning time off purgatory for his relatives.  But when he got to the top he proclaimed “who knows whether it is so.”  I have to admit the same statement crossed my mind when scores of folk indicated “decisions for Christ” – Who knows whether it is so?

It worked like this: whenever I finished a talk, the host of the meeting would either invite a response himself or ask me to do so.  Hands were raised, people stood up or came forwards, dozens would repeat a ‘prayer of commitment’.  Yet it seemed obvious to me that they’d ‘given their lives to Jesus’ many times before.

One evening at a university I decided to preach very strongly that “the gospel is not our life given to Jesus but His life given to us.”  After hammering that point for 45 minutes the host of the meeting got up and – I kid you not – asked “If you want to give your life to Jesus now, please raise your hand.”  I found myself in the strange position of praying that no-one would.  And no-one did!  Never have I been so sure that the word was received as when no-one “made a response”!

While I was dubious about the constant push for “mass conversions”, seed was sown and people rejoiced to hear the good news.  There was often a response to the word of liberation and joy, very different from the forced response of ‘the altar call’.  Anyway… rant over.

In addition to our preaching, Ian and I had separate opportunities to lead hotel staff to Christ in the course of our trip.  These one-on-one opportunities were wonderful gifts from God.  There is undeniably a spiritual openness in Africa that reveals the darkness of the West all the more!


This is an extract from my most recent prayer letter.  If you’d like to receive my prayer letter, please email me: glenscrivener at gmail dot com.

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We all affirm that God speaks in preaching.  For Steve Levy, it oozes out of every pore.  His opening prayer is a plea:  “Father, please talk to us!”  His introduction is a plea: “I want everyone to hear this… children at the back, look at me…”  His conclusion is a plea:  “You need to call on the Lord who is calling your name!”  Every illustration is employed to grip the congregation and say – You!  You!  I’m talking to You!  And throughout he is constantly anticipating objections from the congregation, voicing their thoughts and answering them.  As a passionate believer in church, Steve does not prepare abstract messages for abstract people.  He never, for a minute, forgets that, through his preaching, Jesus is addressing these particular people here and now.   

As a member of his church said to me yesterday, “He looks at who’s in front of him, gets their attention and grips them with the Word. No nonsense!”  (For an example, check out this sermon preached with 70 non-Christian guests for a child’s thanksgiving).

Steve’s obviously a big believer in Christ in all of Scripture (see his book with Paul), but for he and Paul this isn’t a hobby horse to be ridden – it’s a deep conviction about the nature of revelation.  God does not so much communicate plans and programmes and patterns.  He gives us His Son.  Jesus is not some unifying principle of Scripture – He is the Content of what God offers in His word.  Therefore preaching is the communication of Jesus Himself.  As Steve says, “You can sum up the Bible in a word: Jesus.”  Steve’s preaching is a relentless offering of Christ with the (very!) pointed aim that we receive Him / look to Him /believe only in Him.  “Christ alone” preaching is “grace alone, faith alone” preaching.

If you imagine that this concentration on Christ makes for boring preaching, you’d be wrong.  Partly this is because Steve believes that the original authors of the Scriptures themselves were proclaiming Christ.  Therefore he’s not trying to rip gospel illustrations out of the Law and the Prophets (which gets very same-y).  Instead he preaches Christ in the distinctive manner of Moses and the Prophets (e.g. recently they built a tabernacle, dressed people up as priests and walked everyone through the gospel in Leviticus!).  When you preach Christ as intended by the Law and the Prophets it’s always variegated and interesting.

The other reason his preaching is never dull is a foundational belief in law-gospel.  I don’t think I’ve heard him phrase it as “law-gospel”, instead he’s told me he preaches a “raw gospel.”  But it’s the same thing!  His sermons are full of the exposing, death-dealing condemnation of Scripture’s demands.  He is brutally honest about his and our total inability to be who we should be.  And this is where he really connects.  He preaches the law not to spur us to goodness but to expose our badness.  And as he does so, it’s utterly compelling.

For instance, in his Hebrews 4-5 sermon below, he speaks, obviously, of Christ our great High Priest.  But his preaching brings out the wonder of Christ’s mediation because, first, he speaks of the double-edged sword of the word which puts us to death.  He allows the law to drive us to Christ and it makes the comfort of the High Priest all the sweeter.

The conservative evangelicalism with which I’m familiar is a thoroughly middle-class affair.  And maybe “law-gospel” doesn’t really happen in our churches because no-one’s bold enough to preach “raw gospel”!  A drug addict would feel completely understood under Steve’s preaching.  I wonder if he’d feel understood under mine.

So put it all together and you’ve got a Christ-obsessed, church-loving, shouty, Lloyd-Jones loving Welshman who preaches the gospel Sunday-in, Sunday-out.  What’s not to like!

Recent Sermons:

John 6:1-15

John 6:28-40

John 6:40-60

Hebrews 4:12-5:4

Mission Strategy


Classic Sermons:


Revelation 5

Isaiah 1


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Mike “Badda Bing” Reeves

Having appreciated Paul Blackham’s Christ-centredness we come to the Trinitarian riches of Mike Reeves.

Here’s a man obsessed with Christ who simply loves his Father in the infectious joy of the Spirit.  While other great minds are liable to dazzle you with technicalities and confuse you with the breadth of their knowledge, Mike uses his penetrating intellect to simplify.  He really only preaches the basics: God and Christ, grace and love.  Without doubt, they are profoundly set forth, but it’s the foundational truths which Mike proclaims.

And what’s terrifying is that, having heard the basics from Mike, we all realize “We didn’t know the basics!”  Not really.  We had assumed God, we had neglected the Trinity, we had missed our union with Christ… and the lack of grace and love in our lives was testimony.  We had thought that our foundations were fine.  We were messing around in the garden shed and Mike has called us back to the Centre.  Now that he’s drawn us back, nothing looks the same any more.  And we realize now the nature of the Christian life.  It’s looking again to Jesus.  Every day I forget.  Every day I seek life elsewhere.  And through the word proclaimed, I’m called back.  Mike concerns himself with the basics.  And in doing so, reminds us that the basics  are everything!

As a preacher Mike is the king of the “cheeky flick” – taking us to some obscure verse in Judges that ends up illuminating the whole passage.  With Mike, Scripture is a vast cathedral and he’s a very adept tour guide.  We don’t simply stare at the stained-glass window in the Lady Chapel, we get a sweep of the whole building.  But when we return to the window it’s all the clearer now.  This is such a healthy view of what “exposition” means and has certainly liberated me from a mechanical  practice of ‘verse-by-verse’.

Perhaps the element of Mike’s preaching most important to me is his obsession with the freeness of Jesus – given to sinners.  Given to me – even in all my wretchedness.  This is what’s so liberating about his preaching.  He is wonderfully trinitarian and has a thoroughly affective anthropology – seeing the centrality of the heart to our Christian lives.  But without our sure possession of Jesus by faith, these things would only end up condemning me.  What secures the Father’s love for me is my sure possession of Christ by faith – and Christ’s of me.  Our gracious union with Jesus is central to our enjoyment of all things in the Christian life.  And Mike preaches this to us relentlessly.  For that I am very grateful.


Recent Sermons:

Philippians from CEC Leeds


Classic Sermons:

Trinity part 12, 3,  4


The Loving Father

The Beautiful Son

The Heart-Melting Spirit


Mission from John’s Gospel

Why Go?


Job 42

Psalm 1

Luke 4:1-13

Matthew 26:36-46

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I don’t think I’d ever heard preaching until I heard Paul Blackham.  I’d heard a thousand exhortations.  I’d heard hundreds of expositions.  I’d heard autobiographical apologies and inspirational tales and world-weary battle-plans and state-of-the-nation addresses but not preaching.  Not a heralding of the living Christ.

And then I saw Paul Blackham climb into the All Souls, Langham Place pulpit.  He was younger then than I am now, but he opened his mouth like a prophet of old and said “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”   Then something unprecedented happened.  He preached as if he actually believed his introduction.  He spoke as one speaking the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11).  He didn’t weary me with the debates of the commentators, he didn’t show off his knowledge of the original languages, he didn’t waste my time trying to appear culturally relevant, he just – amazing to say it – he just preached.

I’d never, ever, heard anything like it.  And I rarely hear the like of it today.

Paul’s preaching is declarative in tone, doctrinal in content, devotional in aim.  In Old Testament or New, he is crystal clear that Christ is the point.  His life, His work, His blood, His glory.  This is the fire in his bones which he cannot hold in (Jeremiah 20:9).

I know that none of us are going to match his gifting – but can we please aim for these characteristics. Otherwise, really, why bother.


Recent Sermons:

Christ’s Sayings From the Cross (Seven 20 minute talks)


Older Classics:

Why isn’t good, good enough (Philippians 3) – video  audio.

Jesus Christ: Hope of the Ages (Genesis 3) – video  audio.

What of those who have never heard?  (Colossians 1)  audio.

To A City That Repented (Jonah)  audio.

Romansfest – 15 talks on Romans with Tom Parsons


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So, as we’ve seen, God does not treat the world as a tool to be used.  He’s not in the whole creation-salvation thing for what He can get out of it.  He’s in it in order to pour Himself out.  This is His glory – it is His eternal nature to love the other.  That’s what it means to say He creates for His glory.  i.e. He creates that He might sacrifice and give of Himself (Revelation 13:8).  In other words God is for us.  Really and utterly and to the depths of His being, the living God is for us.  This isn’t just window-dressing for a more fundamental narcissism.  It is God’s uncreated and eternal glory to live for the other.

Once we’ve grasped this, we’ve learnt the secret of life.  Kant wasn’t so far off really.  Treating people as ends in themselves is absolutely right and good.  If even God does it, then it must be the good life.  But such living is the fruit of the gospel.  It’s the good life that comes about with this good God.

Yet it runs counter to all the ways we’re tempted to think and act in the world.  Here are some of my temptations to treat things as means rather than ends in themselves…


Like a gold-digging wife, I eye  up Jesus in terms of the heavenly blessings He has to His name.  I conceive of salvation as “escape from hell, forgiveness of sins, feelings of love, assurance and purpose…” and I think of Christ crucified as the mechanism that secures these ultimate benefits.  I use Jesus to serve myself.  But I forget that He serves me.  And that He is salvation Himself!


I can use godliness as a means – and not just for “financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). I have all sorts of motivations for “being godly” – salvation, self-righteousness, status, self-protection.  And so, I don’t do good “for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10), I do it for my sake.  Yet in all this I forget that godliness with contentment is itself great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).  There’s much truth to the saying “a good deed is it’s own reward.”


I move out into the world to “gain converts”.  Every friend has a target on their back.  Every act and engagement is calculated according to its evangelistic potential.  I love unbelievers only to the degree that they are winnable to the gospel.  Essentially I conceive of mission as “gaining converts” rather than “offering Christ.”  Much of this stems from the delusion that I can “give the growth” when all I’m called to is “scattering the seed.”


I enter into ministry for “shameful gain” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  Perhaps for money.  Perhaps to seem like a big-shot. Perhaps to exercise authority over others.  Perhaps to escape into a nice little ecclesiastical life.  But Paul had it right when he identified his flock as his crown (Phil 4:1; 2 Thes 2:19).  The people to whom he ministered were his joy.  They were the gain which he saw in all his ministry.


I preach the gospel in order to give people law.  I use the gospel as a spoonful of sugar.  It helps the medicine of arduous “discipleship” go down.  “We mustn’t forget grace…” I say at the start of the sermon.  And then lay down the law.  But in doing so I’m essentially saying that Jesus is a means towards something more vital – moral rectitude.  What would pastoring look like if my ultimate goal was to give away Christ for free?  (1 Corinthians 9:18)


Can you think of other realms in which we live conditionally and suffer for it?  How does the self-giving life of the Trinity release us into living free?


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Dave Bish has five seminars I gave to some UCCFers on Monday and Tuesday.  I had no idea at the time, but apparently they add up to six and a half hours!

It was basically Three-fold Word stuff with some other teaching thrown in – Doctrine of God, Christ in Exodus, Trinity in Isaiah, David & Goliath, Christ in the NT, Luke 15, What is repentance?, etc.

It was a brilliantly enjoyable time – so thanks Bish for having me.  Good interaction with the guys and exciting to see how God’s word will continue to work in us (1 Thes 2:13).

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