The Classroom

About two years back we did an assessment on the state of the church in this area and determined that the the area that needed great focus was their understanding and ability to grasp and preach the gospel. Since then we have been conducting a training to help move them towards this end. Being by and large a semi literate group of preachers serving in a by and large illiterate community we opted for storying as the best approach to equipping these men with a broad biblical theology view of the gospel as well as a method of presenting that gospel to their own people. More on how we got to this decision can be found in earlier blog posts.
On the first day of training, we spent our time giving updates on life, community and ministry. Most of the men kept it general but a few opened up and shared with the group the struggles they had gone through and their battles for faith in the midst of those struggles. One of the men had lost the son to a short illness at a time when he was going through severe financial troubles and had to battle depression for a while but then shared how God had helped him battle through it. I am reminded that these men minister in the midst of exceedingly difficult situations, their faithfulness is a great challenge and encouragement to me. We took count of the number of times each man in the room got a chance to preach in a week and for most of them it was two or more.
In our conversations and my times listening to their preaching I noticed two things. One, they have grasped the core message of the gospel very clearly. They understand man’s sinfulness in the face of God’s holiness and righteousness which demands our death. They preach the need of a sacrificial substitute to take our wrath from us as taught in many pictures in the OT pointing to Christ. They preach the ideas of the propitiation and imputed righteousness clearly. This is a great improvement from the time that we first met. However I also noticed that all their sermons sounded the same, they would tell a story in the bible and then show the gospel in the story with very loose exegesis. This kept their sermons from having that fresh exciting aspect of preaching the bible. It would also make them shy away from texts where they could not see all these aspects clearly displayed. The other problem that I feel continues to exist is a casual approach to the mission of the Church. Not much evangelism is taking place in the community, there is no great sense of a burden to plant churches either. How to help them towards that end in a two week trip is unknown to me. We do a short missions trip to a village or two every time I come, do open air preaching in the marketplace and I hope these things will spur the men to seek to do the same but it does not seem that there is much of that going on. One of the men did plant a church in his village at the beginning. Of they year and the feedback that I have received is that the work is going on, another is planing to do the same in his village some time before the end of this year. These are encouraging and might be evidences that God is doing His work in that area. We shall keep praying and trusting that God will build His Church through His Word.
We took the opportunity in our reviewing time to begin to help them allow the stories to talk as opposed to plastering their pre-planned gospel message onto every story. As we went over the stories with which they were already familiar we saw that different stories emphasized different aspects of the gospel in different ways. One example we looked at was the bible’s teaching on sin. In the first story we saw temptIon’s deceptive nature, at it’s core all temptations are a lie, and the path to sin is to lose focus on the truth. The path to sin for Eve was a matter of “Who do I believe?” God, the serpent or my senses? She chose the last two. Her thinking was that it looks good, it will feel good, and it will make her look good/wise…she used her senses to determine what was good instead of relying on what God said. Then we took a look at the results of sin, the separation from God which lead to fear, guilt, shame, pain etc. The second story’s teaching on sin has some different aspects to it. We saw that Cain’s sin was in offering to God less than his best. We saw that it begun with comparing himself with Abel and then proceeded to envying Abel culminating in killing Abel. We saw the escape time frame that Cain had and the exhortation by God to kill his sin…the fact that it was not inevitable that Cain because of his sinful nature had to kill his brother but rather he had the opportunity to avoid his sin. We saw the desire of sin was to destroy. In Noah’s time we saw that the sin that God was angry with existed in the thought life of man. We saw that the sins of the mind are as wicked as another sins because God destroyed the earth because of them. With every one of these we took time to make application to ourselves and our congregations. We did the same thing with truths about God’s holiness, righteousness, love and mercy. It took time but the point we sought to make was that we should not muzzle text with a pre planned message, neither should we corrupt the text with our creativity, we should simply let the text have its say. My hope is that by here time we begin to look at new material they will be able to make fresh observations in the stories allowing them to be faithful handlers of God’s Word.

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