IVP - Online Pulpit - November 2011 Archives

November 11, 2011

The Lectionary: Giving the Narrative of Scripture Another Chance

By Todd Hunter

Having a sister and brother that are both almost a decade older than me, I’ve been hearing, since the 1960s, about the New Age. Of course I also heard a lot of hand-wringing preaching against it in the 70s and 80s. More recently, I’ve been hearing the related notion that “I am spiritual but not religious”.

I am not angry with these movements. I am actually glad to see that the spiritual side of humanity still gets some airtime in our culture. These movements, for all their errors when viewed against orthodox Christianity, have kept alive the notion that a purely secular worldview does not make sense of reality and is not fulfilling.

For all the energy and spiritual promise attached to these two sister movements, I think we could all easily recognize that there does not seem to be a tidal wave of goodness, a revival of righteousness or resurgence of morals happening in any sector of human living—including the church.

Why might this be the case? I don’t think it’s because the people creating designer religions are insincere. I don’t believe it is because they don’t work at their chosen approach to spirituality. I believe transformation is not happening for one crucial reason: these movements have, for the most part, cut them selves off from the text, the story, the only revelation that has the power to pull into alignment all the various aspects of our lives.

Seeking spiritually without the Bible leaves us like a musician without a score, an actor without a plot or lines of dialogue, like an athlete with no lines on the field to confirm what is inbounds or out. The Scriptures are the primary source material for spiritual formation in the way of Jesus. Our sacred text shows us what such formation looks like and the wider story in which it occurs—for instance, that God is main character, not us. This one insight would be enough to completely rearrange the thinking of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd.

When I began to give church another chance, one of the most cherished gifts given to me was the weekly reading of God’s story: Old Testament, a psalm, an epistle and a Gospel. Reading the Bible with the lectionary tells the whole story, the main plot lines of the Bible.

This was a big deal to me. I think it would be to others too if they could experience it. Here’s why: hearing the Bible as the overarching story that was supposed to make sense of the little story of my life broke the power of spirituality that was becoming too self-referential. Without the Bible all our spiritual work is about us. With the Bible it becomes about God, about others—and us only within that context.

The Bible has a special quality to it. It is alive and powerful. It reads us as much as we read it. It is not merely understandable. It is livable. Approaching the Bible in a read-to-be-lived manner, we find the source material missing from so many contemporary spiritualities. We find the only story with the authority, clout and ability to remake our heart, tame our unruly will, heal our misshapen soul, educate our mistaken mind and then place us into our various roles in society as spiritual in the Way of Jesus.

hunterOP.jpgBishop Todd D. Hunter (D.Min., George Fox University) leads Churches for the Sake of Others, a church-planting initiative of the Anglican Mission in the Americas. He is also a teacher, writer and consultant for his ministry, Society for Kingdom Living, which helps pastors and lay leaders reach a generation that has been disenfranchised from the church. He is the author of Giving Church Another Chance, The Accidental Anglican and Christianity Beyond Belief.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:07 AM

November 1, 2011

Ministry Apps: Using LifeGuides

By Douglas Connelly

If you have used IVP’s LifeGuide Bible Studies, you know that the strength of this series is the way the guides lead people into a deeper interaction with the biblical text and then to relevant application of the text to their lives. You should also know that LifeGuides can be used to enhance and enrich your ministry as a pastor.

I’ve used quite a few of the study guides in my own preparation for teaching. As I led a small group focused on prayer, I worked through Lynne Baab’s guide Prayers of the Old Testament to nurture my own soul. I also modified three or four studies and used them with the small group to give us better insight into how we can pray for our own and others’ needs. A friend of mine led a prayer retreat for denominational leaders and passed out copies of the LifeGuide on The Lord’s Prayer at the end. He wanted the study guide to prompt the participants in the retreat to a continuing commitment to prayer.

Occasionally I get a letter or e-mail requesting a copy of one of the LifeGuides I have written. Most often the request comes from a man or woman in prison. There is usually an explanation attached about how the Lord found them in the darkest of life’s circumstances. Now they are filled with a new desire to know Christ in his fullness. Those requests led me to begin to use LifeGuides more consistently in my counseling and in my discipling of young believers. I have a supply of guides in my office and often put one into the hands of a new convert or a struggling believer, and encourage them to get into the Word on their own as they grow in their spiritual walk.

My point is that LifeGuides can be great tools in any pastor’s ministry and can be used in a wide range of situations and applications. They work wonderfully in traditional adult education and small group settings, but they can also help you minister more effectively to specific needs in your congregation.

LifeGuides will also enrich your own spiritual development and stir new insights to help you prepare that next sermon series. If you are considering a series on David, work through Jack Kuhatschek’s excellent guide on your own or with your staff or your worship team. You will find yourself thinking more clearly about how the series can be applied more personally and powerfully to your congregation. Prepare a series on the Ten Commandments by carving out time for a personal retreat. Take your Bible, Rob Suggs’s LifeGuide The Ten Commandments and a notebook. Leave the commentaries behind for a while and just let God’s Word and the Holy Spirit speak into your life. The message series will come alive in you before the congregation ever hears a word from the pulpit.

I enjoy the discipline of writing LifeGuides, but their influence on my life and ministry is far greater than the few guides I’ve been privileged to write. They work in so many situations simply because they lead people into the riches of God’s truth and that truth changes lives—even a pastor’s life.

connellyOP.jpgDouglas Connelly is the senior pastor of Parkside Community Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan. He is the author of several LifeGuide study guides for InterVarsity Press and has also written The Bible for Blockheads series for Zondervan.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:00 AM | Comments (1) are closed