I am one of those pastors who came into the Christian ministry a clear sense of call. I could point to a particular moment in my life when I sensed God’s calling on my life. It was both surprising and overwhelming at the time. But, over time, it became the settled conviction of my heart that God was calling me to preach the Gospel in some way. And, I need to make that clear: in the earlier stages of my life the call I felt was toward preaching. When I started out I had very little conception of what pastoral ministry was and what it might entail. I had come to Christ at the invitation of an evangelist at a holiness camp meeting. The message of Christ had made a profound change in my life for the better. And, I wanted to share that message with others. I felt that a great favor had been done for me — a message of hope had been given to me — and I wanted to extend that favor to others. My attitude was the same as that expressed in the often quoted line from D. T. Niles: ““Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
Biblical preaching had been crucial in re-directing my life. So, it was something I assumed would be the focus of my future ministry — and it was something I wanted to learn to do well.
I sure have met a lot of people over the years for whom evangelical Christianity — and, I might add, holiness Christianity particularly — was an oppressive reality in their lives. It was something imposed upon them. It was a almost-constant threat of Hell. It was legalism. It was a rigid authoritarian mindset from which they later emerged with relief.
I get that. I have heard the story so often — in so many different forms. I understand.
But, that is not my experience. (more…)
I originally found this quote in the Appendix to Daniel Steele’s The Gospel of the Comforter. (It is the first part of Note H.) Horace Bushnell was a Congregationalist pastor and theologian, who was quite important — and controversial — in his day. See: Wikipedia, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Many a time nothing is wanting but to speak as to a soul already hungry and thirsty, or, if not consciously so, ready to hunger and thirst, as soon as the bread and water of life are presented. If the problem is to get souls under sin inspired again, which it certainly is, then it is required that the preacher shall drop lecturing on religion and preach it, testify it, prophesy it, speak to faith as being in faith, bring inspiration as being inspired, and so become the vehicle, in his own person, of the power he will communicate; that he may truly beget in the gospel such as will be saved by it. No man is a preacher because he has something like or about a gospel in his head. He really preaches only when his person is the living embodiment, the inspired organ of the gospel; in that manner no mere human power, but the demonstration of a Christly and divine power. Such preaching has had, in former times, effects so remarkable. At present we are almost all under the power, more or less, of the age in which we live. Infected with naturalism ourselves and having hearers, that are so, we can hardly find what account to make of our barrenness.
— Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural: As Together Constituting the One System of God (1858).
When I was just starting out in Christian pastoral ministry (long ago) I was drawn to the writings of Paul for preaching material. It read more like theology to me — it seemed more about ideas and morality — and seemed a better fit for the needs of a three-point sermon outline. I could simply draw from Paul’s writings my point #1, point #2 and so forth. All my points were Biblical (from my point of view at the time) since they each had a verse or a phrase from one of Paul’s letters attached to them.
What I was missing was that all these assertions Paul makes, all the apparently abstract theology and moralizing, was, in truth, reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — working out its implications for first century believers. The Epistles must take us back to the Gospels — or else, we are just not getting it. The Gospel message we need to communicate is the story of Jesus. (more…)
This is one of several items I re-blog every once in a while. And, here’s why. It illustrates one of the huge gulfs between contemporary Methodism and the original Methodism that arose under the leadership of John Wesley. Methodism originally combined: serious Biblical study, impassioned preaching, a personal experience of faith, a serious discipline for spiritual formation and the service of God in the world.
This is from a letter by Adam Clarke to a young man contemplating the ministry. Readers will find this advice a bit (ehem!) challenging. Actually, I think it is good advice myself, though I’d (of course) update the reference works, and have to acknowledge I’m quite a bit more “rusty” on biblical languages (and thus much more reliant on secondary sources) than I wish I were.
First (after the divider rule) I quote Adam Clarke at length. Then (after the next divider) I give some reflection on why I think these remarks are important. (more…)
Guest blog by Allan R. Bevere. Allan is one of the most widely-read United Methodist bloggers — and he’s been doing it for a long time. He blogs at: Allan R. Bevere. He is a clergy member of the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. He pastors the First United Methodist Church in Akron, Ohio and is also a Professional Fellow in Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. He received his Ph.D in theology from the University of Durham, U.K. He has also written several books including The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World. (more…)