Practical Benefits of Plurality Leadership by Pastor Joe

Posted by Shannon Ferguson on August 14, 2018 @ 1:55 PM

Our first three posts surveyed the biblical data supporting plurality leadership:

1. The churches in the New Testament were each led by a team of pastors.

2. Jesus’ teachings about divine Fatherhood and natural fatherhood most naturally support the plurality approach.

3. Team leadership best reflects (and models to the congregation) the relational heart of the Christian faith.

We turn now to consider some practical reasons for having a plurality of pastors at OCF.

Even if the Bible supported a variety of approaches, I would still opt for a team of leaders over one lead pastor. Plurality leadership benefits both leaders and church members in some very important ways.

BENEFIT #1
Team Ministry Undercuts “Celebrity-ism”

A colleague of mine was hired to consult with the elder board of a Southern California megachurch with a large ministry and a massive campus. These leaders wanted to make sure that Walt understand their church’s  “cultural DNA” at the outset. With great pride they informed him, “This whole ministry is designed to serve and support the gifts of one man.”

American culture used to have heroes. A hero is a person whose life serves as an example for others. Abraham Lincoln was a hero. So was Martin Luther King, Jr.

Few of us have heroes anymore. We have traded heroes for celebrities. A celebrity is a bigger-than-life person whose followers generally have no lives of their own. They live out their lives vicariously through the lives of their favorite celebrities.

Celebrity-ism is patently foolish when your favorite celebrity is a Kardashian. But it is downright dangerous when he is a spiritual leader whom you put on a pedestal and imagine to be a sinless saint of some sort.

Israel cried out, “Give us a king!” (1 Samuel 8:6). Against his will, God gave his people what they wanted. A real superstar. Saul was the handsomest and tallest man around (9:2).

That didn’t work out very well, did it? It never does.

The antidote to celebrity-ism is shared ministry. The following story from my own pilgrimage as an OCF pastor pretty much says it all.

I love to teach the Bible. But when I finish preaching on Sunday, I am spiritually exhausted and emotionally vulnerable. One morning after the service I was walking up an aisle to leave the auditorium. Someone ran up and told me how much they liked the message. They concluded, “I just love it when you preach, Joe!”

I began to feel pretty good about myself. Until I walked through the lobby toward the front door, where I heard someone say to Denny O’Keefe, “When is Brandon preaching again? I really like it when he preaches.”

Ouch! After I got over myself, however, I thought, “Exactly! This is precisely why we have a teaching rotation on Sunday mornings. At OCF no one becomes a celebrity.”

We all have our preferences and favorites, in every area of our lives. But where OCF’s preaching is concerned, we hope that you will learn to come to church for the message—not for the messenger.

Hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian leadership. Bonhoeffer shares timeless truths that are painfully fitting for an evangelical culture that continues to be enamored with large, visibly successful ministries and big-name church leaders:

“Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for ‘episcopal figures,’ ‘priestly men,’ ‘authoritative personalities’ springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.” (Life Together, 108, my italics).

Note the italicized phrase: “a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men.”  Powerful stuff. But so very true.

You won’t find spiritual celebrities at Oceanside Christian Fellowship. But you will find plenty of heroes. OCF’s heroes are the spiritually mature Christians in our midst, whose lives serve as an example to the rest of us: the O’Keefes, the Yetters, the Schramms, the Hutchisons, Margy Emmons, and many more!

Astute readers will notice that I failed to mention our #1 spiritual hero, whose life will always be a perfect example to the rest of us at OCF. Interestingly enough, he would have been labeled a failure as a megachurch pastor. His congregation dwindled from thousands to just eleven guys during the course of his ministry. But we will always be proud to call him our Senior Pastor at Oceanside Christian Fellowship.

His name is Jesus. He is our hero. And someday he will even become a celebrity of sorts: “Every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is  Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Next week we’ll consider a second benefit of the team approach, namely, the accountability it provides for those in pastoral leadership.

Is Plurality Leadership Biblical? (Part 3) by Pastor Joe

Posted by Shannon Ferguson on August 07, 2018 @ 12:41 PM

This is our third and final post examining the biblical evidence for plurality leadership in the local church. The first post surveyed the numerous descriptions of team-led churches in the New Testament. In the second installment, we traced the model to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Today we turn away from specific passages about leadership, in order to consider how plurality leadership fits with the broader scriptural contours of Christian life and ministry. As it turns out, the very essence of our faith in the God of the Bible virtually demands a team approach to pastoral ministry.

What follows has been excerpted (and slightly edited) from Joseph H. Hellerman, Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the  Early Church and Why It Matters Today (Kregel, 2007).

 

The Heart Of The Faith 

Ministry is no easier for me today than it was nearly forty years ago, when I accepted my first paid position in a church. It is, however, a lot less complicated. It would likely have become simpler much earlier in my pilgrimage as a pastor, if I had just listened to Jesus. Jesus boiled the whole Old Testament down to two basic commandments:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands (Matt. 22:37–40)   

There it is. A simple, twofold job description for the ministry of a local church pastor. I am to encourage my flock to love God. And I am to encourage my flock to love others. Simple on paper. But what does this actually look like in practice?

Let’s take the first commandment. How will I know when the people of Oceanside Christian Fellowship are loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind?

Their time alone with God?

The way they spend their money?

The movies they choose to watch?

The kinds of beverages they consume?

Love for God certainly manifests itself in the relative vitality of our devotional lives. And I would not want to minimize the importance of sound financial habits or moral purity, as evidence of a living faith. Yet the Bible does not identify a Christian’s devotional life as the primary indication of love for God. Nor do personal morality or financial generosity make the cut.

Instead, Scripture turns repeatedly to the quality of our relationships—particularly with our fellow Christians—as the foremost evidence of genuine love for God. Jesus put it like this: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The New Testament unequivocally maintains that healthy human relationships are to be the natural and indispensable response to God’s great work on our behalf in salvation history. Here are just a few of the familiar “one anothers” from the Bible:

Love one another (John 13:34)

Show family affection to one another (Romans 12:10)

Be in agreement with one another (Romans 12:16)

Let us no longer criticize one another (Romans 14:13)

Accept one another (Romans 15:7)

Instruct one another (Romans 15:14)

Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)

Be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32)

Forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32)

Submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21)

Encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9)

Since our love for God is evidenced primarily in our love for others, there is a sense in which the first great commandment (“Love the Lord your God”) cashes out, in practical terms, primarily in the way we relate to our fellow human beings (“Love your neighbor as yourself”).

Paul apparently saw this quite clearly: The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14). The apostle elaborates in Romans 13:8–10:

[T]he one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.

It is the second of Jesus’ two great commandments (Matthew 22:37–40), then, that becomes the mark of the Christian, the primary tangible evidence of the reality of our relationship with God.

Suddenly my twofold job description as a pastor has become even simpler. I am called as a pastor to encourage and equip my people to engage in healthy, sacrificial, mutually edifying relationships with their fellow human beings, in response to what God has done for us in Christ, that is, to love one another. Pretty straightforward, at least in theory.

 

You Cannot Lead Where You Will Not Go

But here’s the rub. Just where do I get the credibility, Sunday after Sunday, to tell my people to love one another, if I am a CEO senior pastor who answers to no one during the week? If I answer to no one in the church office, how can I credibly tell others that they need to answer to one another in the pews?

I can’t. Not with any real integrity, at any rate. The seriousness of the problem cannot be overstated, yet I suspect that few church leaders give it much thought.

What we have in the corporate model of ministry is a pastor who relates intimately to no one in the church, but who nevertheless exhorts his people to engage relationally with each other. The glaring disconnect that inevitably results threatens to undermine the most basic virtue of the Christian life: our love for one another in the family of God. Maybe this is why so many pastors and boards remain content to take the corporate approach and evaluate the success of their ministries by (1) Sunday attendance and (2) financial viability. Neither criterion requires anyone in the church—leaders or followers—to engage in healthy, mutually edifying interpersonal relationships.

Community is at the very heart of the Christian faith. And community in our churches must begin at the top. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch write unequivocally about the need for church leaders to model the kind of community that we so often extol in our Sunday messages:

[W]e need to recognize that an authentic community can only be founded on changed relations between people; and these changed relations can only follow the inner change and preparation of the people who lead, work, and sacrifice for the community. In other words, it must begin with leadership. (Frost and Hirsch, The Shape of Things to Come, 156).

This is hardly rocket science. A pastor who has no genuine brothers in his congregation will lack the prophetic platform necessary to challenge others in the church humbly to engage in the kind of surrogate sibling relationships that God intends for His people. This disconnect proves particularly problematic in a culture where people are cynical about their leaders, and where church-goers are highly attuned to any perceived disparity between a pastor’s “Sunday talk” and his “weekly walk.” Frost and Hirsch elaborate:

We simply don’t believe that people in our ‘crap-detector’ generation, savvy people who understand what it means to be constantly targeted by hundreds of thousands of clever sales messages, are going to follow other people who don’t live out their messages. If leadership fails to embody the message, no one is going to follow. Leaders, you cannot lead where you will not go; you cannot teach what you do not know. (The Shape of Things to Come, 342)

Strong words, to be sure. Yet as we all know, the principle is inviolable: “you cannot lead where you will not go.” And this will be particularly the case where risky, vulnerable interpersonal relationships are concerned.

Consider, in contrast, the credibility inherent in a community of leaders (a) who share their lives together as brothers in Christ, (b) who share the public ministry of their church, and (c) whose people see their pastor-elders sticking it out and making peer relationships work at the top, in the real world of day-to-day pastoral ministry. Here brotherly love—that central Christian virtue—is modeled by church leadership. And a preaching pastor suddenly possesses all the credibility he needs to challenge his people to join him in enthusiastically embracing Jesus’ primary charge to His followers: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).       

 

Conclusion

Is Plurality Leadership Biblical?

A brief summary of our three blog posts leads us to reply to this question with a resounding YES!:

1. The churches in the New Testament were each led by a team of pastors.

2. Jesus’ teachings about divine Fatherhood and natural fatherhood most naturally support the plurality approach.

3. Team leadership best reflects (and models to the congregation) the relational heart of the Christian faith.

Next week we’ll switch gears a bit to consider the practical benefits—for both leaders and members of OCF—of the plurality model of pastoral ministry.

said...

Posted on August 11, 2018 @ 3:32 PM -
Thanks for the great information and time and thought you put into it’s content !
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Plurality Leadership in the Teachings of Jesus? By Pastor Joe

Posted by Shannon Ferguson on July 31, 2018 @ 12:38 PM

Plurality Leadership In The Teachings Of Jesus?

I ended the previous post with a question: What led the apostles to adopt plurality leadership as the preferred option for church structure?

The model is radically counter-cultural, given the universal preference for one-man leadership across the empire. So, where did it come from? Did Jesus instruct his disciples to organize the early Christian congregations like this?

We really don’t know for sure. But we can tease some hints out of the Gospels, where we see Jesus preparing his disciples for their future role as church planters.

Jesus had a whole lot to say about the character of leadership (leaders as servants). But there are some intriguing hints that he may have given instructions concerning the number of leaders he anticipated in a local congregation, as well.

Leadership characterand numberare not unrelated. We’ll see in future posts that the team approach (number) provides precisely the kind of community and accountability that encourages servant leadership (character). But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s return to our topic for the day. Can we find any evidence that Jesus may have instructed his disciples to establish churches with a plurality of pastors?

We’ll begin by considering Jesus’ take on fatherhood.

 

Jesus & Fatherhood

Sole male authority was the norm everywhere in the ancient world. The concept was rooted primarily in the culture’s patriarchal family structures. Every natural family had an earthly daddy who exercised absolute authority over everyone in the extended household.

The role of the father was so culturally defining for people in the ancient world that paternal imagery proved serviceable far beyond the boundaries of the natural family. The Roman Senate gave to the emperor Augustus the title “Father of the Fatherland” (Pater Patriae). Religious groups, like the worshippers of the god Mithras, appointed a pater, a single “father” figure, to oversee the community. A father-figure of some sort headed up nearly every social institution in the New Testament world.

This background makes Jesus’ command in Matthew 23:9 radically counter-cultural: “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).

Jesus has two fathers in view in this command: a natural father (“on earth”) and a divine Father (“in heaven”). The distinction is instructive, because as we read the Gospels we discover:

(1) Jesus emphasized the fatherhood of God more than anyone had before in Israel’s history.

(2) Jesus had some rather scandalous and disruptive things to say about natural fatherhood.

The evidence for (1) God as Father in the teaching of Jesus hardly needs mentioning, since it is on page-after-page of the Gospels. We are less familiar with the fact that (2) Jesus undermined paternal authority in a way that would have made a profound impression on his disciples and others who heard his teaching. Here are just three of Jesus’ striking statements related to natural fatherhood:

Mark 1:19–20 — He saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Matthew 8:21-22 — Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

Luke 14:26 — “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus (1) emphasized the Fatherhood of God in his teaching and actions. But he (2) intentionally destabilized natural fatherhood, both in passages like those cited above, and in his insistence that natural descent from Abraham (the ultimate Jewish “father”) counted for little in God’s relational economy (see John 8:34–59). Our key text (again) summarizes Jesus’ viewpoint on divine and human fatherhood:

Matthew 23:9 — “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”

 

Jesus & Leadership

Does Jesus’ take on fatherhood/Fatherhood have anything to do with leadership structure in the family of God? There is a piece of evidence that suggests that it does:

Mark 10:28-30 — 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Peter and Jesus here discuss the sacrifices made by some of Jesus’ disciples who had to leave their natural families (who likely disowned them) in order to become part of Jesus’ new family of faith (v. 29). Jesus assures Peter that these natural family relationships will be replaced by relationships in the church family (“in this time” [v 30]). A comparison of the two lists is quite revealing:

Five Relationships Sacrificed:

“brothers or sisters or mother or father or children” (v. 29)

Four Relationships Gained:

“brothers and sisters and mothers and children” (v 30).

 

Don’t miss what’s missing. Sometimes what the Bible does not say is as important as what it does say. Among the Four Relationships Gained, “father” is conspicuously absent.

Did Jesus just forget to include “father”? A simple oversight? Hardly! Jesus left “father” off the second list because he anticipated that there would be no human father in the church family. That role is reserved for God alone.


Summary

 

The blog title asks, Plurality Leadership In The Teachings Of Jesus?

I included the question mark, because most of us assume that Jesus had virtually nothing to say about church structure. The passages cited above suggest otherwise.

Jesus gave his disciples a lot of instruction that did not make it into our four Gospels. Luke tells us, for example, that after the resurrection Jesus spent forty days with his disciples, “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). It is only reasonable to assume that Jesus instructed his disciples about church leadership and organization.

In the Gospels, we encounter some residual hints of such teaching. In the Epistles, we see Jesus’ instruction bearing its intended fruit, in the form of team-led churches throughout the Roman Empire.

As a historian trained to look for cause-and-effect, I am convinced that what we see in Acts and the Epistles finds its origin in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus intended for God—not a human senior pastor figure—to function as the sole father of the early Christian congregations. Jesus’ disciples “got it,” and they organized their churches accordingly.

By way of conclusion, let’s expand our horizons and place what we have learned about God and fatherhood alongside two other key images of the church in the New Testament. The agreement is rather striking:

The Church As The Flock Of God — Jesus alone is called “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), which translates a Greek word (archi-poimen) that can equally be rendered “lead pastor” (“shepherd” = “pastor” in the Bible).

The Church As The Body Of Christ — Jesus alone is the head of the body (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18).

The Church As The Family Of God — God alone is the Father of the church (Matthew 23:9)

The idea that one person—lead-pastor or senior-pastor—should teach, shepherd, and make decisions for a whole local church community flies in the face of every Bible passage we have examined here and in the previous post. And we have yet to touch upon what is perhaps the most important reason that plurality leadership is biblical. We will do so next week, as we conclude our survey of the biblical evidence for shared pastoral leadership at Oceanside Christian Fellowship.

Is Plurality Leadership Biblical? By Pastor Joe

Posted by Shannon Ferguson on July 24, 2018 @ 12:27 PM

Is Plurality Leadership Biblical? 

Our last post explained why we preach through the Bible the way we do at OCF. In this and the next several posts we will consider another OCF “non-negotiable,” namely, our team approach to pastoral ministry. 

OCF has no senior pastor leading our church for two reasons:

  1. BIBLICAL: We believe that shared ministry is God’s ideal for his church.
  2. PRAGMATIC: We believe that having a plurality of pastors is healthier for both the leaders and the members of OCF. 

The first three posts will outline the biblical data. PART ONE (today) looks at specific New Testament passages that portray early church structure. PART TWO will consider Jesus’ contribution to the team approach. PART THREE will tackle the issue as part of the broader emphasis in the Bible on community and relationships in God’s church. In the weeks to follow we will consider the pragmatic benefits of having a team of pastor-elders lead a local church.

PART ONE — New Testament Passages On Leadership

The most common take on church leadership structure assumes that the Bible does not prescribe a single model. Those who take this position instead find a variety of structures in Scripture. They conclude that leadership today can (and should) be tailored to the cultural settings in which we find ourselves.

This may very well be the case. It is true that what we read about leadership structure in the New Testament is descriptive (how they did it back then), rather than prescriptive (how it should always be done). There is no verse in the Bible that reads, “You shall have a plurality of pastors leading your church.”

There is, however, a whole lot of description. And this description is quite consistent. We encounter next-to-none of the variety of approaches to leadership that the popular view claims to find in the Bible. Instead, a distinct picture emerges, one which portrays a plurality of elders leading each early Christian congregation. I have assembled the data below, providing some context for each of the biblical texts.

Plurality Leadership In The Gentile Congregations:

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:23).  [Paul and Barnabas appoint leaders in the Galatian churches on their way back from the first missionary journey.  Notice the emphasis upon elders (plural) in each church (singular).]

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church (Acts 20:17).  [Refers to the leaders of the church at Ephesus, where Paul ministered for several years.]

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons (Philippians 1:1).  [Paul’s churches in Europe reflect the same model of plurality leadership. Note that “elder,” “overseer,” and “pastor” refer to the same office in the New Testament.]

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you (Titus 1:5).  [Again, notice the contrast between the plural (“elders”) and the singular (“every town”).]

1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:1-4).  [Peter simply assumes that all the churches that will receive his letter in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (v. 1) are each led by a group of elders. By the way, “Chief Shepherd” actually means “Head Pastor” in the original Greek. Looks like OCF has a Senior Pastor, after all. His name is Jesus.]

Plurality Leadership In The Jewish Congregations: 

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17) [Unknown author, writing to Jewish Christians, assumes plurality leadership.]

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14).  [James, addressing the Jewish Christian communities in the eastern diaspora (1:1), can assume the presence of elders in every congregation in which his letter will be read.]

That is a whole lot of churches, each led by a plurality of elders. The model proves to be the norm among Jewish and Gentile congregations, located in Asia and in Europe. No variety. No cultural adaptation. No senior leader in sight anywhere.

A possible exception is Jesus’ half-brother James, in the Jerusalem church. And it is standard fair for those who favor the senior pastor model to appeal to Acts 15. What unfolds in this passage, however, is a collaborative approach to decision-making that differs markedly from what generally transpires in today’s large, senior-pastor-led churches. 

The use of Acts 15, moreover, to support one-man leadership brings up the broader hermeneutical issue of the relationship between biblical interpretation and theological synthesis. Frankly, I get a bit nervous as a New Testament scholar, when interpreters defend a position by drawing upon a single biblical text that can be read in more than one way. I think we are on safer ground leaning on the larger group of clear passages outlined above.

So, as our blog title asks, Is Plurality Leadership Biblical? 

As we have seen, the New Testament consistently describes the apostles establishing churches led by a team of elders. I would be a bit hesitant to cite the above passages as categorical, prescriptive evidence for the plurality model. However, I think there is enough solid description for us to take the biblical data very seriously as we develop our theology of church structure—especially since team leadership was so utterly countercultural in the broader world of the New Testament.

Anticipating PART TWO:

As a historian, I have been trained to look for cause-and-effect. In the case of plurality leadership, we would want to ask, “Why did early Christian leaders adopt this model?”

The question is a particularly thorny one, since every other social institution in the ancient world—from empire to family—was markedly patriarchal, with a single male leader at the top. What led the apostles to adopt such a counter-cultural alternative for church leadership?

We really don’t know for sure. But we may be able to tease some hints out of the Gospels, where we see Jesus preparing his disciples for their future role as church planters. Next week we will continue our survey of the biblical data by considering Jesus’ contribution to early church leadership orientation and structure.

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Posted on July 28, 2018 @ 9:08 PM -
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Random Reflections On The Road To Glory by Pastor Joe

Posted by Shannon Ferguson on July 12, 2018 @ 12:54 PM
Welcome to OCF’s Pastor’s Blog. We hope you enjoy our thoughts about studying the Bible and living the Christian life. Pastor Joe will do most of the writing, with other OCF Pastor-Elders occasionally chiming in. 
We will randomly address everything from politics-to-parenting-to-prayer-to-panhandling-to-preaching-to-pastoring-to-philosophy. Posts will commonly tackle topics related to theology or biblical interpretation. Thorny cultural issues will be fair game, as well. Other posts will unpack the nuts-and-bolts of church ministry, or they might consider how we can walk closer to Jesus in our daily lives. Comments are welcome but will receive no written response. You’ll need to grab Joe on Sunday, if you want him to interact with him about the content of a post.

Sunday Teaching
What I Want to Hear. . .What I Need to Hear

Some years ago, after Brandon passed around the Fall preaching calendar, someone asked, How do you guys decide what to preach on from Sunday to Sunday?  The answer to this question affects a lot of what we do at OCF and it has an eternal impact on all of us who consistently worship together on Sundays.  So, I thought I’d take a moment to let you in on some of our reasoning along these lines.  I will share three “principles we live by” and two “extremes we try to avoid.”  These values are “on the table,” so to speak, before we even get around to picking Sunday topics and passages.  Once you read them, you’ll see why we preach the way we do:

Principle #1 — We come to church to meet with God, so the Bible must remain central to what we do in our Sunday teaching.  After all, God’s Word is our only trustworthy source of information about God and His ways with us.  If church is all about God, then church had better be all about the Bible.  Pretty straightforward.

Principle #2 — It is not enough for OCFers to come and receive Bible truth from trained pastors on Sunday morning.  As your pastors, we must also equip you to feel increasingly comfortable with the Bible yourselves, so that you can read and study God’s Word on your own during the week. 

Principle #3 — Your pastors must connect the eternal truths of God’s Word with the daily circumstances and needs of your lives, and we should do so in such a way that everyone—skeptical seeker or seasoned saint—has something to take home and think about or work on during the week. 

As you might imagine, remaining consistently and equally faithful to all these principles on any given Sunday is an almost impossible task!  But we do the best we can over the course of a year and, in the process, we try to avoid two extremes, each of which would compromise one or more of the principles outlined above:

Extreme #1 — Focus too much on where WE are at. 

            People generally find topical preaching (addressed directly to felt needs) very attractive.  Frankly, I am quite sure we could attract more people to our Sunday services, if we took a hot-button/current events approach to our teaching ministry. But there are some pitfalls associated with preaching topical sermons every week. The first problem is that a person can attend church for several years, hearing sermon after sermon dealing with themes like Success on the Job, Having a Healthy Marriage, and Finding Fulfillment in Life, and never gain the kind of familiarity with the Bible that would encourage him to study God’s Word on his own!  The Bible remains a foreign book full of tidbits of Godly wisdom which only the ‘paid professional’ (the pastor) can discover and deliver, as he prepares and preaches his messages each week. 

            The second pitfall of a topical approach is less obvious.  But it may be even more serious.  Preaching that is intentionally preoccupied with our felt-needs tends to start with us and end with God.  This kind of “teaching trajectory,” in turn, subtly but effectively communicates a whole worldview—one that is diametrically opposed to Scripture.  It says:  We are at the center of the universe, and God is here primarily to meet our needs and to fulfill our agenda.  Well, this is the just kind of thinking we want to avoid here at OCF, not the kind of thinking we want to subliminally reinforce by the way we craft our sermons! 

Extreme #2 — Focus too much on where the BIBLE is at

            Did a pastor just write that?!  Did Pastor Joe just write that?!!!  Yep.  At some point in our preaching we have to get out of the first century (or the eighth century B.C., in the case of 2 Kings 18) and into the twenty-first.  This means that Sunday morning will always be a worship service and never become just a classroom. 

            Don’t misunderstand.  We hope you learn something on Sunday.  But we do not want our preaching to impart only information.  We want you to meet your Lord in the Biblical text and come away with hope and direction for your life.  So we try to be relevant.  [Commercial Break:  You say our Sunday sermons are not technical enough, deep enough, theological enough, or heavy enough for you?  Hey, I know a Christian university not too many miles from OCF that would love to collect your tuition money in return for some real heavy, in-depth theological training!]

Putting It All Together

            Now how do these Principles and Extremes cash out in the way we plan our Sunday sermons?  Well, they make things pretty simple.  In an effort to be faithful to Principle #3, we will, at times (typically January & summer) program some topical sermons. But when we do, we try real hard to keep God at the center, where He belongs.  Over the course of a year, though, you won’t hear a lot of topical messages on Sunday at OCF.  Instead, we are usually preaching right through a book of the Bible (Principle #1), generally rotating from year-to-year between Old and New Testaments. (We’ll begin the Gospel of Luke this Fall) After we finish our survey of the historical books this summer (12 Samuel, 1-2 Kings), for example, we hope you will be familiar enough with the text to go home, read these books with understanding, and make them your own—for the rest of your life!  Hang out with us consistently for a few years. . .and just think of how much of the Bible you’ll know!  The Goal:  For you to have access to the Word of God to find hope and direction for your own life on a daily basis (Principle #2)—something you’ll never get from hearing topical sermons week after week.  

            So, you might not get what you WANT every week at OCF:  something that scratches your felt-needs right where they itch.  But we promise to do our best to give you what you NEED:  a big-picture exposure to God and His Word that gives you a basic biblical foundation for a lifetime of study.  Because the Christian life is not a 100-yard dash—it’s a marathon. 

            You’re part?  (1) Be there consistently, to get the whole flow of the Bible book, (2) Be there attentively, to actively think and reflect on what is being said, and (3) Be there openly, to let God have His way with you on Sunday mornings!  God will be honored and we’ll all be better for it! 

In Christ our Servant King,

Pastor Joe

said...

Posted on July 19, 2018 @ 2:26 PM -
Joe, thank you for taking the time to put this in writing and share it with all of us. It is so helpful to have clarity from the pastor-elders about the principles that guide the approach to teaching on Sunday mornings at OCF. I love everything you included in this, however, I couldn't help but feel like it there was something important missing... the role of the Holy Spirit! I would love to have you, or one of the other pastor-elders, articulate the role you see the Holy Spirit playing in our worship services and in our daily lives. I feel that without this clarification, some might interpret the OCF philosophy as "all about the Word" with "no room for the Spirit." From personal experience with you and others, I know that is not an accurate portrayal of OCF's theological viewpoint, so I hope you consider writing up a blog post to incorporate this important aspect.

- John Ludwig

said...

Posted on July 18, 2018 @ 8:24 AM -
Nicely explained Joe. Our family is extremely blessed to be a part of God's church where servant ministers like you, Brandon, Chris, Mark & John use your God-given gifts for His glory & for the benefit of His church. Thank you. Denny
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