When Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens and proclaimed the grace of God to the lost, he preached to a crowd of skeptics, critics, and those we might call “sophisticated eggheads.”
(The Acropolis in Athens, with Mars Hill in the foreground. By Χρήστης Templar52Templar52 at el.wikipedia, from Wikimedia Commons)
Rather than beginning with the Scriptures, Paul began with the created world in which these unbelievers lived in order to introduce Jesus to them. He began with their spiritual hunger and pointed them to Jesus as the satisfaction for their longings . . . and the payment for their sins. Paul even quoted a well-known pagan poet as a means of building a bridge between the lost and the Lord (see Acts 17:16–33).
A number of ministries have adopted for their churches what I call a “Mars Hill philosophy of ministry.” Modeled after Paul’s message on Mars Hill, their goal is to connect with the unbeliever, or the postmodern, or any person they would call a “seeker.” In recent years the emerging church movement has attempted to “do church” (or be the church) in a new way amidst our postmodern world. Their purpose is “missional living,” that is, to get involved in the world in hopes of transforming it. This style of ministry engages the culture in a “conversation” rather than preaching to people like a prophet. A wide range of theologies and strategies exist within this current movement. Some individuals hold to orthodox beliefs but have adopted very unorthodox ways of communication.
I have read of sermons that use language that would make most believers cringe . . . and cover their children’s ears.
Are we to minister as those in the world?
In late 2007, Pastor Bill Hybels and the leadership team of the Willow Creek Community Church shared the startling results of a study they conducted of their own church—as well as other so-called “seeker churches.”
(Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com)
The results, Hybels said, were “the greatest wake-up call of my adult life.” Among other findings, they discovered that their ministry to “seekers” was very effective for introducing Christ to those who were new to church.
No big surprise.
But they had not been as successful in fulfilling their mission statement to turn “irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.” That is, they had not been as strong in developing the spiritual lives of those who had trusted Christ. As a result of a conversation Hybels had with his executive pastor, Greg Hawkins, they realized:
Today marks the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps—November 10, 1775. It’s a day I always pause, look back, and call to mind some of the great memories of days gone by. Ah, those were the days . . .
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As my buddies and I always screamed in unison before the 10th of November ended:
ONE for the Corps . . .
TWO for the Corps . . .
THREE for the Corps . . .
HOO-RAH for the Corps!
Exactly fifty-seven years ago tonight, I was in my full dress-blues uniform, brass and medals shining, shoes spit-polished, playing first-chair clarinet in the 60-piece, Third Division Band for Major General David Shoup, our base commander—and Medal of Honor recipient. We played into the night for the annual Marine Corp Birthday Ball at Headquarters’ Company, Camp Courtney, on the American-held island of Okinawa. What a celebration!
That was November 10, 1958. And, believe it or not, even though the final large battle of WWII had been fought (on that very island) and the Japanese had surrendered over 13 years earlier, we were STILL digging Japanese soldiers out of dark caves and deep bunkers located on that island. They stumbled into the sunlight emaciated and bearded, uniforms torn and tattered, boots rotting on their feet. They had no idea the war had ended … and they were still clinging to their rusty rifles, still existing in hiding and living on stolen rice and rodents and roots.
I was a 24-year-old Marine. I had been a husband for a little over three years. And I was living 8,000 miles away from Cynthia, ultimately, for 16 long months.
Ah . . . those were the days; I thought they’d never end! The following April, 1959, I mustered out of the Corps with an honorable discharge (followed by six years on active reserve) . . . in June of ’59 I applied as an incoming student at Dallas Theological Seminary. In July ’59 I was accepted (on probation my first year!), and in August ’59 we moved to Dallas where later that month I began as a first-year student with a Marine Corps flat-top. (Cynthia got a job as secretary to a vice-president at Preston State Bank.) The following summer I hired in as the lawn boy for Dallas Seminary, where I had the privilege of beautifying the grounds for the school I loved. And since the seminary’s president, Dr. John F. Walvoord, loved blooming, colorful flowers, I planted lots of ’em . . . everywhere! It was through his and my early-morning conversations during the summer of 1960 that he actually learned my name. Ah . . . now THOSE were the days!
Thanks for traveling with me along this brief, nostalgic journey through the past. Every November the 10th I pause to give God thanks for His hand on every detail of my life—His hand of SOVEREIGN grace.
I wrote my new book primarily for you—for speakers in general and preachers in particular. After five decades of honing the craft, I feel that I’m finally ready to put into print much of what now works for me as a preacher and public speaker.
I wanted to communicate everything I’ve learned, but that’s unrealistic. Some things—let’s face it—can’t be put into words on a page; they must come naturally from within. Each of us has an inimitable “style” that is ours and ours alone. But there are some things I mention that might be of value to you; I certainly hope so.
Our own individuality is what makes our message compelling and our delivery unique. Let’s never forget that. From this point on, it’s important that you release yourself from the straitjacket of others’ expectations. Furthermore, you must determine to overcome your fear of not sounding like some other person you admire. You can learn from each of them . . . but don’t waste your time trying to be them—or acting a little like them. That’s phony. The goal, remember, is authenticity. Until you free yourself from that trap, you’ll not find your own voice. I repeat: you are YOU and none other. Never forget that each insight or principle or suggestion—whether from me or another author—must be fitted into YOUR style and YOUR way of expressing yourself when YOU speak or preach.
How I wish someone in my formal education had told me these things! Because no one did, I spent far too much time trying to look like or sound like someone I wasn’t. Thankfully, all that is behind me—and I hope the same is true of you. If not, maybe my book will help to free you to become the preacher God created you to be.
I pray the book is a major encouragement to you and an enhancement of your pulpit ministry.
Let me ask you a tough question:
Do you struggle with internet pornography?
If you do, you’re not alone. Many pastors today are caught in porn’s deceptive tentacles and they feel there is no way to escape.
But there is.
I want to recommend an article that we recently published on our Insight for Living Web site. It’s Pastor Darrell Brazell’s candid story of his addiction—but more importantly—of his freedom from pornography’s grasp. You can read his story here.
Let me also add that if you want to contact someone in complete confidentiality, you can connect with our pastoral counseling team on our Pastor-to-Pastor line at 972-473-5102 (Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. central time). They are well-trained and can offer you some practical steps.
You will also find encouragement and resources on our Men’s Purity topical page.
If you struggle with porn as a pastor, I know that you want to break free. I’m certain that you want to honor the Lord. Freedom is possible.
I urge you to begin right now.
My fellow pastors,
I’ll be overseas for the next couple of weeks, leading our Insight for Living Reformation Tour. During that time, I won’t be posting my regular pastor’s blog.
However . . . I invite you to follow along with our tour by subscribing below to our Reformation Tour Video Blog. The blog will feature daily video of sites we’re seeing and lessons we’re learning. I believe you will enjoy it!
Please pray for me as I teach at many of these locations. Pray that God’s Word would take firm root in the hearts of those who travel with us.
P. S. Although I won’t be posting to this blog, I will post regular FaceBook and Twitter updates throughout the trip. If you are interested, you can follow me on FaceBook and Twitter.