Search The Fighting Preacher

Tuesday

Unintentional Evangelism Done Intentionally

What images come to mind when you hear the word “evangelism”? Most in our fellowship would immediately have thoughts of Saturday morning cold contact door knocking, caned religious speeches and neighborhood canvassing. There is nothing inherently wrong with these methods, but are they the most effective? In our current society, these methods may not always be best, in fact they may even prove to be detrimental in some cases. The challenge in evangelism is not usually what to teach when they are ready to listen, but instead, how do you find the people who are ready to hear the message? This article seeks to propose a different idea to our traditional approaches to evangelism. This idea being presented can be described as “Unintentional Evangelism Done Intentionally”.

Case Study: The Woman at the Well (John 4:7-14)

The conversation between Jesus in the Samaritan Woman is a prime example of the idea this article is proposing. The interaction between Jesus and the Woman at the Well took place during what could be described as a “normal” or “every-day” type situation. Jesus was at the well and in need of some refreshment. This could be compared to us going to a store or restaurant as part of our everyday activities. This was not an organized “well outreach program”, instead, it “just happened”.

Jesus did not begin the conversation with some kind of canned speech, instead it could be seen as a casual request, “Give me a drink”. Jesus, however, took this unintentional interaction and intentionally steered it toward a spiritual conversation. We have numerous unintentional interactions with people on a daily basis, every single one of these interactions is an opportunity for us to get “intentional” and thus evangelistic!

What is “Unintentional Evangelism Done Intentionally”?

This idea can be summed up as intentionally making unintentional interactions into opportunities for evangelism.


How to Make Everyday Activities Evangelistic

Create a Persona
Persona is defined as “the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others”. In every situation you find yourself, you need to make it very obvious early on that you are a Christian. Most every conversation begins with a question along the lines of “What did you do this weekend?”, “How are you?”, “What are you doing later?”. Every single one of these questions is an opportunity to share that you are Christian. You can mention that this Sunday you are going to the new Bible class your church is offering, you are “tired” from your week at Bible Camp, or excited about this new outreach program you are involved in with the Youth Group. 

This persona is very important, you want to become to go to “religious person” in every situation. Your friends, co-workers and neighbors will at some moment have a spiritual need, or maybe a Bible question, and you want them to approach you with it! 

It makes it easier for evangelism when you are the “Christian” of the group. (People will expect it from you). Everyone has that one mechanic friend that when your car is having trouble you ask him or her for advice. Be the religious person of the group, when they have a spiritual question or need, they will come to you and expect you to have some sort of an answer (1 Peter 3:15). Make sure, however, that this is really who you are, people can spot a fake from mile away. Your Christian persona needs to be genuine. 

Develop Relationships
This author is very much an introvert who would rather lock himself in his house, draw the blinds and watch Netflix all day. My natural inclination is to avoid eye contact with people in public so I don’t have to strike up a conversation. I always have to remind myself “you can’t teach people you don’t talk to!” It is very important to develop relationships with people. Talk to people! Learn about their family, their work and religious background…and actually care what they have to say. Be their friend online (there are some people who will only reach out to you for help on Facebook, but never in person). When the person you have developed a relationship with is having some difficulties, be there for them. If they have a need, meet that need, if they need encouragement, give it, if they could use prayer, say one with them or for them. Let them know you care.

Go Outside of Your “Comfort Zone”
It is normal to feel uncomfortable around groups of people you do not normally associate with,...but all groups need Jesus. At times, it is unlikely relationships that create the best opportunities for evangelism. A homosexual, an atheist, a gang member or a drug user all assume that a Christian “hates them”. If you show them you actually care about them and value them as a person you will find lots of opportunities to impact them with the gospel. Be a friend to those whom most would avoid. Be an unexpected friend to everyone who needs Jesus. 

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

Don’t Start a Fight When Not Necessary
We all have opinions about politics and policies. We all have different preferences from sports teams to restaurants. It is usually wise to keep a lot of these opinions to ourselves. We have all been witness to very heated arguments on social media that end in hurt feelings. The Word of God can cause people to be upset with us enough as it is…why create barriers to evangelism by picking fights over subjects that do not matter in eternity? Unnecessary arguments can prevent deep friendships from forming.

Have an Intentional Plan In Place
As you work toward creating evangelistic opportunities, have an intentional plan on what you will offer if one has a spiritual need. Keep tracts, business cards, DVDs, Bibles and other materials with you. Always be ready to drop everything and offer your time to listen and talk to one who is struggling. Have a regular Bible study group meeting at your house that you can invite one too. Be well acquainted with the church calendar so if your friend says “I really need to get back into church”, you can say “here is an opportunity”.

Involve Yourself in Potentially Evangelistic Activities
This last point is especially important to those who are in full-time ministry. Many times our interactions are only with Christians. It is important for the church to leave the building and get out into the world. Volunteer, join a sports league or social club, take a part time job, do something that allows you to develop relationships with non-christians.

Final Thoughts

Don't give up and don’t get discouraged. As you develop relationships with people you will find that everyday unintentional interactions will become great opportunities for intentional evangelism. As you bring people to Christ, allow these new converts to help you get connected to even more people in other social circles. Have bringing souls to Christ as your primary goal throughout the day and you will find that all of a sudden you will be evangelistic. 

By Cliff Sabroe

Thursday

Baptism and Bible Camps

Baptism and Bible Camps 
(By Cliff Sabroe - From the June 2016 Issue of the Gospel Advocate) 

Summertime is fast approaching, school will be out, the sun will be shining and many Christian kids will begin to make plans to attend their local church camp. Camp is wonderful! Camp provides an opportunity for Christian youth to grow closer to God. Camp provides an opportunity for these young people to start developing their own spiritual lives away from their normal routines. For many, it is the first time that Christianity becomes “their” faith and not just the faith of their parents. 

It is at a summer youth camp that many decide to be baptized into Christ. Maybe some of you reading this article can reflect back with great fondness on the time you were baptized in a pool, lake or stream at your summer camp. Baptism is a time of great celebration! I do not want to lessen the importance of baptism, however, many camp directors, cabin counselors and teachers will tell you that nothing causes more stress, than the question of how to handle the many young people who want to make the decision to be baptized while at camp.

I direct a week long summer Bible camp. It is common for a handful of young people each year to decide to put on Christ in baptism and have their sins washed away. (Praise be to God!!!) One of the things we often worry about at camp is that a young person may choose to be baptized prematurely or because of peer pressure. Many of the teens at camp are thinking spiritually for the first time. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and get baptized without thinking about the lifelong commitment that is being made. I have seen where entire cabins are in tears because they all decide they have to get baptized at camp. Mass hysteria can quickly ensue because large groups of kids have convinced each other that now is the time to be baptized! 

Baptism is a response of the heart (which includes emotion), but we must make sure (especially at Bible camps) that one is not emotionally manipulated into making a choice they do not yet understand. If one is not truly ready to be baptized into Christ, they may later resent how they were “pressured” into the water, or even completely fall away because they never truly obeyed. 

At the camp I direct (Yosemite Bible Camp), we have tried to put some safeguards into place in order to prevent a vulnerable young person from feeling pressured into doing something they do not understand or are not yet ready to do.

7 Suggested Safeguards (How to handle potential baptisms at Bible Camp)

  1. Eliminate the “Invitation” - This may be considered sacrilegious at your camp, but it can help prevent one from feeling pressured or responding exclusively out of emotion. At most camps, the kids are going to hear three or more lessons day. If each lesson ended with a dynamic charge to march down to the lake and “be baptized”, even the most unengaged camper could be easily manipulated into responding. By eliminating the invitation, you can prevent possible embarrassment for a camper, who may, after talking with the preacher, realize they are not ready to be baptized. If they just walked down the aisle, all their peers saw them and are expecting the next announcement to be that their friend is going to get baptized, if that announcement does not occur, questions will be asked and people may be embarrassed. In all reality, is the best place to discuss salvation on the front row of a camp amphitheater while 250 people watch?
  2. Have Spiritual Discussions Away from their Peers - An excited group of teens may come up to their camp director with a friend in tow and all declare with one voice “Billy wants to be baptized!”. It is wise to talk to Billy away from his friends so that others do not answer for him, and so he does not feel pressured to do something he does not understand nor is not ready to do. We do not want one to jump into the water because their friends insist. A private spiritual discussion will also allow you to ask more personal questions without putting the camper in an embarrassing situation in front of their peers.
  3. Ask Questions - When talking to a young person who has expressed interest in being baptized, ask them LOTS of questions. These questions are not at all meant to discourage a person from following God, but instead are designed to make sure a person is ready, and understands what they are doing. Ask “Why do you want to be baptized?”, “Do you believe that Jesus is Lord and understand what that entails?”, “Do you understand the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross?”, “Are you a sinner?” (If they answer “yes”), ask “Since you are a sinner, do you believe that right now, if you were to die that you would go to Hell?” Always be sure to ask “Do you understand the commitment that you are making?”. There is not a set “age of accountability” in Scripture, but it is an age in which one can sin, realize it, understand its eternal consequences and feel compelled to do something about it. It is an age when one is mentally and emotionally able to make a lifelong commitment to God (this is a decision bigger than, college, career and marriage!). They must be at an age where they are able to understand what Jesus did at the cross and how that ties into what they are doing in baptism. Asking lots of questions helps prevent us from baptizing “children” who are too young or immature to make a “grown-up” decision.
  4. Compliment and Encourage - When a young person expresses an interest in being baptized (even when they are not ready), they are showing themselves to be thinking spiritually. For many kids, camp is the first time this starts to happen. Even if you determine that this person is not ready to be baptized, do not discourage them from thinking spiritual thoughts. Compliment their desire to follow God, encourage them to study and to get involved. Let them know that you are extremely proud of them.
  5. Offer a Spiritual Alternative - Even if it is decided that a young person is not mature enough to get baptized, we must acknowledge the fact that they felt like they “needed to do something”. It’s good that they are thinking this way. If they end up feeling deflated after a conversation about whether or not they are ready to be baptized, do not leave them hanging. Instead ask them to pray with you. Pray to God about how excited you are that this person wants to follow Him, mention how they want to continue to mature so that when they are ready they will know it. Look for ways to involve them more at camp, keep stoking the fire that they have developed for God.
  6. Suggest a Small Audience - If he or she is going to be baptized at camp, there is no reason to have the entire camp observe it. Suggest to the young person that only their cabin-mates witness it, or any family that may be at the camp. If other campers witness it, see the attention the one being baptized is getting and feel the energy of the event, they may be compelled to be baptized so they can receive attention and praise too. This is not a good reason to be baptized! I have witnessed a preacher while standing in the camp pool (after baptizing someone) say to the numerous kids present “anyone else want to be baptized while I am in here?!” It is easy for the energy of the group dynamic to quickly morph into a mass group baptism. This can be prevented with a smaller audience.
  7. Follow-Up - Oftentimes, the person being baptized is not from your own congregation, maybe they are from a non-Christian home or have never really been involved before. Do not let them fall through the cracks when they get back home. Help them to continue to grow and to get plugged in to their local congregation. Your job is not to just baptized them, but to help them mature in the faith.

Baptism, when done for the right reasons is a beautiful faith response in which one places their trust solely on what Christ did for them on the cross. It is when one is washed of all their sins and placed in Christ. The choice to be baptized is not one that should be taken lightly. One should never feel manipulated or coerced into making this decision. Let’s make sure our camps could never be accused of rushing someone into the water. 

Monday

A Generation Betrayed (Keeping it Real: The Need to Build Trust When Reaching Millennials)


No generation wants to be lied to, especially those who would be classified as “millennials”. The millennial generation (to which I identify) would attest to the fact that they have personally been affected by the deceit of those in power. Politicians, religious leaders, educators and even our parents are not excused in this matter. You might say that the millennial generation is a generation betrayed. 

This generation has been betrayed by the church through the glaring hypocrisy in many places, betrayed by teachers who promised great opportunities through higher education, but yet only resulted in the opportunity to have large student loans and no employment with which to earn income to pay them off. Sadly, many in this generation would even say they feel betrayed by God. They believe in God, but through false ideas and presuppositions about His nature, they are let down. They soon realize that Christianity is not always like their teenage youth group, the spiritual highs of summer camp and youth devotionals fade into the reality that sin is always a ever-present struggle and many do not overcome.

This group of young adults is the future (and present) of the church. If as a church we are to reach them, we must work to build trust and make sure we are trustworthy. They would refer to this as “keeping it real”. How can this be accomplished?

It must be recognized that God’s Word is always true (John 17:17) and it must always be trusted. To build trust with millennials. the church must allow the Word to work without our dishonesty and hypocrisy standing in the way. Millennials are often characterized as being only concerned with “what works”. Christianity does work! The church is God’s plan, however, we need to demonstrate to these young adults how “it works”, and to do that we need to first get them to trust us. It is hard to develop trust with a group of people so heavily betrayed. This article seeks to present three areas in which we can be more “honest” and thus develop trust with the millennial generation.

Honesty in Bible Study
The greek philosopher Epictetus is recorded as saying “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows”. Part of being honest with Bible study is a willingness to admit that we may not have it all figured out. It is very troubling to a millennial when a person is not willing to at least consider an opposing view point.

The church needs to do a better job in this area. We need have sound exegetical practices and we need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of proof texting our pre-existing opinions. A knowledgeable millennial can quickly see through poor argumentation. 

Be honest, admit we sometimes bring baggage into the text. Our backgrounds, wether cultural, experiential or religious all shape our approach to Scripture. Most everyone would declare that they are being honest with Scripture, but yet with so many differences in doctrine, some would have to be incorrect. Let’s not fool ourselves, let’s be honest and admit that oftentimes we allow preconceived ideas to shape our understanding of the Bible. Often we go to the Bible looking for support for a practice or an idea we already believe is correct as opposed to just allowing the Bible to speak to the reader. Of course, we would most likely vehemently deny such an accusation. 

How can we approach the Bible with more openness and honesty? Let’s not go to the Bible for support of ideas we already believe, instead we should approach the Bible as if it were the first time we ever opened it’s pages, as if we were unchurched, unreligious and had never read a verse before. Ask yourself when reading “If I were living on a deserted island and had never read the Bible before, what would I probably think this verse is saying?” If we had never been to a church service before, how would we organize worship? If we had never heard an invitation, what would we say is the path to salvation? These types of questions need to be asked constantly as we study. Millennials welcome and respect such questions as they help develop trust. Most of all, we need to be willing to say “I don’t know”, when we are presented with questions we cannot always figure out. At times “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” is the most honest answer you can give.

Honesty in Church Function and Practice
Although it may be painful to admit, we are at times very much bound by tradition. Let’s not get angry when this is identified. We must not try to vehemently defend practices that cannot be defended. A millennial can tell when they are being lied to and they hate fakes. It you want a millennial to trust you, be trustworthy. If a Sunday evening service or not clapping after a baptism is not doctrine but tradition, admit it. Be willing to say that you may like wearing a tie to church, but that formal dress in worship is nothing more than a preference. Admit these inconsistencies, develop trust and possibly save a soul. 

Another area where we need to be honest with our church practices is in outreach and community service, or our lack thereof. The millennial generation is very socially conscious and this is not a bad thing. Jesus made it very clear when He said “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and we as a church have always preached that we need to love the lost, but often it is only in word and not deed. 

We need to show we actually care about the lost. Millennials have been betrayed by those in the church who said they cared about the lost, but later were adamantly opposed to using church funds to help the poor. They have sat in services in large multimillion dollar church buildings while down the street they have seen people struggling to have a meal or a coat on their back.

Christians are to be the ministers to the poor, but sadly we have not been trustworthy in this way. The result has been that millennials betrayed by the church in this regard gravitate toward political leaders to help meet the needs of the community, but this too is to no avail. We need to show these compassionate young adults that if an individual cares about the needy, the church is the place for them to develop relationships and involve themselves with other caring individuals.

Jesus sat at the table of sinners (Matthew 9:10), millennials know it, they read it in the Bible! If we are going to develop trust with this group we must be honest in recognizing that we have a tendency to avoid sinners altogether. The church is to reach out and love all. We cannot mock homosexuals and then claim to love them. We cannot preach “no jew nor greek” and still have black and white churches. Let’s be honest and admit that we are not as loving as we claim to be and know we should be. Ask young Christians to help lead the church to reaching those we have neglected to reach in the past. This will allow for greater involvement from members and work to develop trust with those who feel betrayed.

Honesty with Self and Sin
No one likes a fake, and as has already mentioned, millennials especially despise them. We should keep it real by admitting and confessing our flaws. This is a biblical idea (James 5:16). The media is always replete with stories of the secret lives of politicians and religious leaders. We should do everything we can to make sure we never portray ourselves as “better”. Be willing to admit your sins and talk about them. 

Trust can easily be developed through confession, honesty and openness. Do not ever act like you are above needing to keep God’s commandments. Because of social media it is real easy to develop a persona that is not entirely factual. Millennials know this, they are well aware that a picture can be photoshopped and rebel against it. Christians, especially church leaders, often live “photoshopped lives”.

Young adults are looking for something real and authentic. They are hurting and in need of Jesus, if we act like we have it all figured out, we will never reach them. If we develop relationships with these young adults through openness we will help in creating much needed trust that all (especially millennials desire).

Final Thoughts
In a world full of betrayal and distrust, the church needs to shine forth as a beacon of honesty and truthfulness. We need to develop trust with millennials, we need to... “keep it real”.

By Cliff Sabroe - Originally appeared the Gospel Advocate - March 2015 Vol.17, No. 3


Tuesday

10 Practices of Successful Church Camps - (Camp Changes Lives and Shapes Futures)

By Cliff Sabroe - Article originally appeared in the Gospel Advocate

I first attended Yosemite Bible Camp in the summer of 1998. This was the summer between my Sophomore and Junior year of High School and I did not want to go. I did not grow up with the typical “Youth Group” experience. I came from a small rural congregation that consisted mostly of people I was related to, and the “youth group” was my sister and myself. I had never attended a camp of any kind before, but my mother learned of a good camp in our area from a Christian friend and she insisted that I attend. 

My mother nor myself did not realize at the time how much camp would change my life. I had a blast at camp, I learned God’s Word in a way I had never before. I heard devotional lessons from young Christians not much older than myself and I got to play sports, hang out and have fun alongside the same people who were Bible class teachers and preachers. I remember on the way home telling my parents that I wanted to preach. Camp changed my life.

My second year at Bible Camp changed my life more than the first. There was a girl at camp that I had met the year prior that really caught my attention that particular summer.  I knew this young girl was going to be my wife one day (although she took some more convincing). This young lady became my girlfriend on the side of the camp pool, right before we witnessed a young person being baptized into Christ.

I taught my first class of young men at Bible Camp. The first person I ever baptized was at camp. Most of what I have learned about event planning and leadership is due to my time working with camp. Attending church camp as a teen changed my life and shaped my future. I would not be a Christian, married, a preacher of the Gospel, a parent of six children and now a Director of one of the most wonderful camps around if it was not for being forced attend church camp over 15 years ago. 

If you are reading this article, it is most likely because like me you have a passion for church camps. You probably could fill pages with stories similar to my own. Maybe you met your future spouse at camp or were baptized in a camp pool, lake or stream. Many would attest to the fact that they are Christians today because of time spent at a church camp.

The church must continue to invest in shaping the future of generations of young people. Changing the life of just one young person with the Gospel can have a multigenerational impact on God’s people (Deuteronomy 6). Instilling God’s Word in our youth through camps does not only change one life, it shapes the future of the church. 

An Important Task
The task of changing lives and shaping futures through church camps is not always easy to accomplish. Often a camp is merely a church’s afterthought. It is something that is thrown together rather quickly and a small minority end up doing most of the work. A camp that is poorly planned and executed can end up doing more harm than good.
I have served as a director for our congregation’s week at Yosemite Bible Camp for several years. During this time I have learned firsthand what practices work, and what do not. This article seeks to present a few of the practices that work! It is my prayer that these practices will improve all our camps so we can keep changing lives and shaping futures. 

10 Practices of Successful Church Camps
This is not an exhaustive list, but these ten practices are great start to developing a successful summer youth camp. Most of these practices relate to organization and staffing. Most camp directors would agree, that it is the staff, leadership and overall organization that can make or break a camp. 

1. Have a clearly defined purpose.
Long before camp begins, a purpose statement must be defined. This is not the same as a yearly theme. Every year our camp has a different theme and curriculum that helps reinforce that theme. The purpose, however, is the same every year. Normally a church camp’s purpose is to help young Christians mature in the faith. Make sure your staff knows the purpose. There will be others that see camp as a time of reformation for troubled teens or an evangelistic opportunity for reaching kids of the community. Make sure all the staff are on the same page.

2. Look outside of your congregation.
There are great Christians in other congregations. Some do not actively participate in a camp. Reach out to other congregations and recruit staff and campers from them. Your camp can help foster a wonderful support group for area events, activities and programs. Allowing your members to meet members of other congregations lets them know they are not alone in their Christian walk.

3. Recruit a staff “Dream Team”.
Every church has that awesome Bible Class teacher or that great song leader. Every congregation has that energetic young adult that gets things done. Ask him or her to be a part of your camp. Who is on your camp “Dream Team”? Go get them! Ask the most talented speakers to preach. Is there a Christian in the area that runs a large restaurant? Recruit them to run your kitchen. Even if your ideal staff member is already part of another camp, they can always be part of two!

4. Make sure your staff knows what is expected of them. 
Months before camp you should already have your staff selected. Make sure they all receive accurate job descriptions of what you expect from them. This prevents the dangerous statement “I didn’t know________”.

5. Give your staff the authority and resources to get the job done. 
Do not micromanage. If there is a person in charge of coordinating all the classes, let them coordinate. Do you have a head cabin counselor? Allow them to direct the other cabin counselors. I have been a part of camps where all decisions had to be ran through the director. This leadership model stifles creativity and innovation. It promotes apathy among the staff because they view everything as “not my problem”. If you trusted these individuals enough to allow them to serve as staff, you should trust them enough to get the job done.

6. Remove staff and campers who prevent your camp from fulfilling it’s purpose.
Not all of your staff will be the best, however, if any of your staff cause unnecessary drama or prevents you from creating the best camp possible, let them go (or at least don’t invite them back). At times a camper may need to be sent home early due to behavior problems. Camp is not the time to completely reform a defiant teenager. A handful of bad campers can ruin an awesome camp. Some may be upset by this policy, but it is for the good of the entire camp.

7. Do not overwork ANY of the staff.
Staff that is overworked feels undervalued. Give breaks, create rotations and let your staff know all the time how much you love and appreciate them. 

8. Make quality classes and lessons a high priority…not an afterthought.
I recommend that each camp create their own curriculum. You may have an education director create most of it, but allow teachers the opportunity to make it their own. The curriculum needs to be in the hands of the teachers months before camp. Give the teachers the funds necessary to make their classes amazing.

9. Develop future camp staff from current campers.  
Some of my best staff are those who grew up going to our camp. They already know what is expected from them, because they observed it. Let the campers know that a great goal is wanting to come back as a teacher or cabin counselor. Show them how wonderful it is to be camp staff.

10. Empower your campers.
You are not running a juvenile detention camp. The kids who attend your camp love Jesus, they are the future leaders of the church, respect them. Let them know that you expect spiritual attitudes from them, but also that you trust them. If the campers feel respected and trusted, they will often police themselves and live up to your expectations. Reward their responsibility with more freedom. Complement them and utilize their skills just as you would your staff members. They need to know they are making the camp experience great.

Conclusion
For over 50 years the camp that I am a part of has been changing lives and shaping futures. Each one of your camps tells a story too. We will continue to witness a wonderful multigenerational impact on the church if we always seek to better our camps. Camp changed my life and shaped my future.  

If you are interested in being part of our week at Yosemite Bible Camp (July 2nd -9th, 2016) contact us through wvcoc.org

By Cliff Sabroe - Article originally appeared in the Gospel Advocate
Image from yosemitebiblecamp.com.

Monday

Engaging Sermons? Entertaining Sermons?... or Both?

By Cliff Sabroe - Originally published in the Gospel Advocate Magazine 2015 - www.gospeladvocate.com 

What makes a sermon good? Most would answer, “a good sermon is true to the Word”! Is Scriptural soundness all that is necessary for a sermon to be considered “good”. What is the goal of preaching? Is it to deliver information or is it something more? 

Good preaching connects with and transforms its audience. The Gospel is always relevant, however, if a preacher cannot connect with his audience, he will never be able to show it’s relevancy. If the audience is not listening, how will they ever “hear”?
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14). 
The goal of preaching is connection, application and transformation.
A well told story is entertaining to hear and can help a listener make application of a Bible passage, a properly timed joke can alleviate the tension when dealing with a controversial subject and a heart wrenching poem can often motivate an apathetic heart to hear the message. Anytime you mention “entertainment” in regards to preaching, images of mega churches, laser lights, fog machines and worship bands come to mind. The goal of preaching is not to “entertain” but to “engage”. However, it must be admitted, a sermon that connects well with its audience can (dare I say it), be entertaining. A preacher must balance all facets of preaching. The sermon should connect with the listeners, it should teach and apply the Biblical text accurately and it should aid in the transformation of the audience.

Intellectual and Emotional Engagement (Connecting with the Heart, Soul and Mind)
If good preaching was nothing more than the recitation of facts, a preacher could easily be replaced with an audio recording of the Bible. This is not God’s plan. God chose preaching as the means in which the Gospel message is to be delivered. A preacher must take this task very seriously, do proper audience analysis and make sure his sermon engages. A sermon must connect intellectually and emotionally. Most preachers understand this, but understanding the need and meeting the need are two difference things. 

Engaging Sermons and Apple Computers 
A good sermon transforms its audience. This transformation starts with an emotional connection to the material. Take Apple computers as an example. Apple products contain the latest advancements in microchips, batteries and display, as do the products of other companies. People, however, do not line up outside of stores and stand and cheer when a new Samsung is introduced. There may be phones that can accomplish more than my iPhone, but I feel a connection to the iPhone. In the store I was drawn to touch it, I hear people describe it as “a work of art”. A photograph of a flower in a science book will not illicit the same response as a painting by Monet. Both may show a flower, but one connects and the other just informs. “Entertainment” is not usually the term used to describe viewing a fine work of art, however, the connection that one feels to the painting can be entertaining. 

Principles of Design and Sermon Preparation
The chief designer at Apple is a man by the name of Jon Ive. Jon is the brains behind the design of many Apple products that people connect with such as the iMac and the iPod. It is well documented that Ive has adopted the design principles of the legendary German designer Dieter Rams. Both Ive and Rams ascribe to the idea that “Less is Better” and that products must be extremely intuitive. When a product is intuitive, the user connects to it very quickly. A sermon is the same. When a person can quickly see how the message relates to them and their particular situation, they will intuitively become engaged. 

Deiter Rams proposes “Ten Principles of Good Design”, and although a sermon is not a “product”, one can observe how these principles help a sermon engage it’s audience with the Gospel. Rams’ principles are as follows.
Good Design... • is innovative • makes a product useful • is aesthetic • makes a product understandable • is unobtrusive • is honest • is long-lasting • is thorough down to the last detail • is environmentally friendly • is as little design as possible
Once can see how these principles create a finished product like an iPhone that one quickly connects with, but what about a sermon? If one can feel an emotional connection to a device, or feel engaged by the message of a painting, should not a sermon do the same? These same principles will help a sermon to better engage the hearers. Not for the purpose of entertainment, but for the transformation of the hearer. 

An Engaging Sermon is:
  1. Innovative - A congregation over the years will have heard certain biblical passages preached several times. It is the duty of the preacher to dig deep into the passage and unearth gems from the text that the hearer may have not previously discovered or present them from an angle that the audience has never heard. 
  2. Useful - It is the duty of the preacher to help the audience understand how the particular text under consideration can be “useful” to their lives and beneficial to their spiritual well-being. A great deal of time during the sermon should be spent on how the listener can apply, and live out the message being presented. This is what it means to “engage” instead of just “entertain”.
  3. Aesthetic - A well put together sermon truly is a work of art. When the main idea of the sermon is clear, when the illustrations and application make sense and fit together, it is a masterpiece. A sermon must be pleasing to the listener (not in a 2 Timothy 4 “itching ears” way), but in a way that connects with the audience . The iPhone 6 is very sleek in its design  and one cannot help but want to connect with it through touch. Walk into any electronics store and you are almost instinctively drawn to the Apple display. A sleek and well designed sermon will compel its listeners to instinctively connect as well.
  4. Makes the product understandable - Too many easy to understand passages have been made opaque by poor preaching. A good sermon takes a particular Bible passage and presents it in a way that is easy for the entire audience to comprehend. If my child can quickly understand how to use an iPad, my audience needs to quickly understand the point of my lesson too.
  5. Unobtrusive - A sermon must not draw attention to itself but to the text it is expounding upon. This is the difference between just preaching for the purpose of entertainment and not engagement.
  6. Honest - The preacher must do his homework and present the text in the way the original author intended it. A good sermon does not distort the message of the Gospel, but instead delivers it in a precise, clear and honest way.
  7. Long lasting - The impact of a good sermon will last for eternity. A well designed electronic will ultimately fall apart. An engaging sermon will last for a lifetime and into eternity when the hearer makes proper application.
  8. Thorough down to the last detail - A good sermon is well planned and organized. The subject being covered is the Word of God, a preacher must not lessen the importance of any detail of it.
  9. Environmentally Friendly - A preacher must take into consideration the level of biblical knowledge of his audience. Depending on the venue, a sermon will be changed in order to have the greatest impact. A sermon given at a mountain retreat will be different from one in a lecture hall. The way you engage an audience of 7th graders is different from an audience of theology students.  A good sermon is appropriate for the occasion and is thus “environmentally friendly”. 
  10. As little design as possible - A well designed sermon will not force its design upon the listeners. A sermon may be based upon pages of greek exegesis, penciled notes and flow charts, however, the final product will be the concise conclusion presented in the pulpit. The congregation will know the design is there, but it is not forced upon them. One is not worried about how the engineers at Apple made their iPhone work, they just want it to easily and intuitively work for them. An engaging sermon is the same. 
The purpose of preaching is not to “entertain”, but to “engage” people with the gospel. A well designed, properly timed and creatively delivered sermon will often connect with the audience in an entertaining way, but it’s purpose, as all good sermons, is to transform it’s hearers into the image of Christ. 

By Cliff Sabroe - Originally published in the Gospel Advocate Magazine 2015 - www.gospeladvocate.com 

Question Everything (Maybe you are not right).

Have you ever publicly questioned a long-held belief or challenged a traditional practice? Let’s admit it, there is comfort in believing that you are right and everyone else is wrong. It is like a warm blanket that allows you to write-off everyone else and go to bed at night while curling up with a false sense of religious superiority. Ok, maybe that was a little over the top…but you get the point. 

I propose, that although we should have confidence, we need to make sure that our religious comfort is not due to exegetical laziness. If you really believe you have everything figured out…why study? If you think you are right, you never have to work to get better. If you think the way you do things is the best, you will never seek to improve. We have a tendency in the church to gravitate toward apathy. Why? It is because we have stopped questioning, improving, and pushing ourselves to grow. We often instead espouse the old adage “If it is not broke…don’t fix it!”. I propose that if we are not looking for areas to improve, we are already broken. We must question everything in order to grow!

D.A Carson in his book Exegetical Fallacies writes,
Many local Bible teachers and preachers have never been forced to confront alternative interpretations at full strength; and because they would lose a certain psychological security if they permitted their own questions, aroused by their own reading of Scripture, to come into full play, they are unlikely to throw over received traditions. (15)
What was the last practice you questioned or longstanding doctrine you doubted? Spend time in Scripture, allow its living words to speak to you. Seek out meaning and answers from the text and the text only. Forget what other preachers have said or written, ignore what accusations may be thrown your way. They may call you “liberal”, “extreme”, “Pharisaical” or “heretical”. Who cares! They called Jesus a “drunkard” and a glutton” (Mathew 11:19). Don’t just assume the way “things have always been done” is the way things “should” be done. The conclusions of “sound brothers” in the past may have not been so “sound” after all. But don’t get arrogant, you too, may be wrong.

Do you want to grow? Do you want to push yourself into a closer relationship with God and a deeper understanding of His Word? Do you want to be better, live better and serve better? It is time to start asking questions and looking for answers!

By Cliff Sabroe

Tuesday

Let them Eat Cake: Thoughts on Gay Weddings and Romans 14

Preliminary considerations:
  • #1 This article begins with the belief that sexual immorally, in all the different ways it is manifested (homosexual sex, adultery, premarital sex etc.) is sinful. Also, this author believes and teaches that all sin (including sexual sins) can be forgiven in Christ. 
  • #2 This article is not about the legal ramifications or perceived constitutional violations of requiring a baker to bake a cake they feel represents something morally wrong. That is a different debate for a different time and place.
Question Under Consideration: Is it sinful for a Christian to bake a cake for a gay wedding?
Since homosexual relationships are condemned in Scripture, many Christians have trouble engaging in actions they feel may be supporting, or legitimizing a sinful behavior. The argumentation is usually along the lines of, “homosexual relations are sinful, thus homosexuals should not marry each other, therefore, I cannot do something to promote gay marriage (like bake a cake with two grooms on top)”. 

A similar line of reasoning is often manifested in individuals or groups choosing to boycott a business because of behaviors they find morally repugnant. An environmental advocacy group may choose to not buy goods from a company that has a reputation of harming the environment, pro-life individuals will often choose to not support a business that donates large amounts of money to Planned Parenthood. 

An Ancient Debate Revisited (Meat Sacrificed to Idols)
Although the Bible does not specifically deal with baking cakes for gay weddings or organizing a business boycott, it does deal with the question of can a Christian eat meat that was sacrificed to an idol. 

During the writing of the New Testament there were people who worshipped idols. They would offer meat sacrifices to these idols. This author’s understanding is that leftovers from these sacrifices would also be sold to consumers in the marketplace. Herein is the challenge, idol worship is sinful, but would it be wrong to consume meat that was offered to an idol? Would the funds collected from the transaction support an idol priest? If people saw you eating that meat, would they think you worshipped idols?

Questions like these and others were being asked by Christians in the First Century. Most fell into one of two sides on this issue. Some believed it was always wrong to eat the meat because of where it came from and what it supported. Others took the view that it was just meat, thus it is nothing more than a business transaction and you can eat what you want. 

What is a Christian to do?
Just as there was in the First Century, there are those today who point fingers and condemn those who choose to not participate in a boycott or who would choose to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Those on the other side accuse those boycotting as being silly and not able to understand the difference between business and actually supporting a sinful behavior.
Thankfully, the Bible does speak to this debate (although it may not give the answer you would expect). In (Romans 14:3) the text states:
The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
The Apostle does not stop with food, he even deals with holidays. In verse 5 he continues:
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God (Romans 14:5-6)
From the aforementioned passages it appears that one can make a judgment call when it comes to matters of conscience and opinion. 

“But…!”
  • “If I bake a cake for a gay wedding it make me feel like I am supporting something sinful!” - Don’t bake a cake if it violates your conscience. 
  • “I don’t think it is different than baking a cake for any sinner!” - If you do not feel it is nothing more than a business transaction; go ahead and bake it. 
The Big Idea
In many areas in life there is not clear cut right and wrong answer. Some of my Christian friends do not buy coffee at Starbucks because of their stance on gay marriage. It is ok for them to boycott Starbucks. I, however, still buy coffee from Starbucks, because it tastes good and I do not feel that when I am buying coffee I am actually supporting a false idea.

Where sin comes in, is not whether or not you choose to bake a cake or buy a pound of coffee. Sin occurs when you judge the conscientious decision of another as sinful. God has not legislated on whether or not one should bake a cake or support a certain business, thus, we have no place to condemn. If a Christian baker says they cannot in good conscience bake a cake for a gay wedding… that is fine. On the other hand, if a Christian baker says they are just providing service and not endorsing a behavior, I cannot condemn them either. 

Sin occurs when unwarranted judgment is passed or when one is forced to violate their conscience. Romans 14 goes on to state:
 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:13-17).
Conclusion
If a baker chooses to bake a cake, or where a customer chooses to shop are matters of conscience and not doctrine. Don’t feel pressured either way by opposing sides of a particular opinion, instead, use wisdom and be fully convinced of whatever choice you make. In the conclusion of Romans 14 it reads:
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats [or bakes] , because his eating [or baking] is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin”


By Cliff Sabroe - Quotes from NAS Bible. Image from TheBlaze