My Greek Is Ok, But My Preaching is Rubbish

I thought I would put the equation around the other way and see if how satisfactory it sounds.  And it sounds dreadful, does it not?

Why am I doing that?  To be cheeky obviously.  But my last post touched a nerve. It’s certainly run its course on Facebook, that’s for sure. The nerve it touched indicated that there are hundreds of preacher/pastors out there who get more than a little ticked off by what they perceive to be a disconnect from their day to day ministry experience among theological educators.

My post appeared to give voice to a quiet resentment felt toward academics who tell pastors what they need to get right, and that includes Greek.  It at least gave permission for people to go “Phew, I’m not the only one!” Especially when every other conference is telling them how their church planting skills can be better, or their leadership skills can to be better or their whatever needs to be better.

We all know we need to be better –  but we’re going to hear that from people walking in our shoes a lot more readily than from specialists in the academy. Now of course we are grateful for those whom God has gifted in particular ways, but care needs to be taken by specialists when they speak to generalists.

The average professional church ministry in Australia is not a specialist role, but a generalist one.  Hey that’s not ideal, but it’s the reality.  And unless giving increases fivefold in most churches, that’s the way it’s going to stay.

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The Holy 8-ball of Antioch that decides between different readings

So when you’ve only got one big plate to spin it’s easy to see why that plate is the most important.  But when you’re spinning eight smaller plates, as many ministers undoubtedly do, they all need a measure of attention.  If you don’t do that you’re going to have more smashed plates than a, er, Big Fat Greek Wedding.  So we have to decide what percentage of each week to give to which tasks. The more task there are, the more the pie has to be sliced up.

Unless you are in a church of many hundreds in which you have a specific role then ignore those other spinning plates to your detriment. Ignore the ones you don’t like at your absolute peril. Pay too little attention to the difficult, but necessary one, and eventually it will come crashing down, and it might bring your ministry with it.  (Did anyone mention “prayer”, btw?)

Preaching is a necessary plate, so it must get attention, but how many ministers go into ministry because they are gifted to preach, only to find by week’s end their time and their minds have been swamped by other stuff?  The primary reason you go into ministry then becomes a millstone around your neck.

The general ideal is to have amazing koine Greek and be a fantastic communicator of the Word.  My ideal is to be the preaching pastor of a large church in which all of the admin, the pastoral care frameworks, the day to day thinking of and running of the “stuff of church” outside the preaching process is not carried out by me.

But not only is that my ideal, it is my idol. It is a pipe dream during the long stretches of week-in/week-out in ministry, and it presupposes that if I could slice up ministry into discrete portions, and hive off the ones I don’t like, I would be on to a winner.

And if you’re reading this thinking “Just put the Five Ms or the Three Whatevers into place and fill the roles with other people“, then you’re probably riding on the coat-tails of Christian white collar professionals whose trained in administration and leadership was undertaken in a secular tertiary setting.  Those people don’t inhabit working class areas such as mine by and large, though I’m open to offers of those who want to relocate.

But then again many in your church are heading to work tomorrow wishing that the part of the task they love is the only part they have to do, and that they could slot other people into the stuff they don’t like.  Most of us have to muddle by.

By far the best comment I received  was from a pastor who said:

One day, I’d like to do a public lecture and assert: “unless you’ve worked in ‘the real world’ with ‘the average Aussie’ for a minimum of 10 years, please don’t be a pastor in that context.”

That picks the eyes out of the issue as far as I am concerned.  There’s a growing disconnect between those of us who can preaching about Babylon, and those who have to drive there tomorrow morning to work in the king’s court.  And unless you even understand what is going on in their settings, then your preaching won’t connect, Greek or no Greek.

6 Comments

  1. I wasn’t going to comment but…
    I have taught NT studies and koine Greek at seminary level for more than a decade, so I am one of those academics that people like to complain about. But I have also been in pastoral ministry and am currently in a church in a low socio-economic area where I regularly preach, so I am not completely disconnected from the “real world”.
    I once heard someone say that a good sermon must have a “what” and a “so what”. It needs to have a base in the “what” of scripture “what does the bible say?” But it also has to have a “so what does this mean for us?” Component. The first without the second is a lecture; the second without the first is an motivational talk; neither are a Christian sermon.
    There is no question that you will gain a better understanding of what the text says and what it meant to its original audience if you have an understanding of the language and culture in which it was written. But that does not automatically transfer to an understanding of it is saying to us today.
    I think it is a good thing for a pastor, especially one who does a lot of preaching and teaching, to have an understanding of the original languages, but it is not the end of the world if they don’t. After all there are good commentaries around that will alert you any translation or interpretation difficulties that might be there. Remember though that those commentaries wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the academics who write them. We all have a role to play.
    I believe that God calls us to do the best that we can in whatever ministry and life situation that he places us in. If we have had the opportunity to gain a seminary education, including languages, then we should use that to the best of our abilities. If we have not had that opportunity, we should not feel guilty about it. Because of the education I have been privileged to have, there are people that I can communicate with who would not listen to someone less educated. But also there are people who would not listen to me because I am educated.
    God gives each of unique gifts, training and opportunities. We should use those to the best of our abilities.

  2. Before responding, Stephen, I wonder if you encountered one David Shepherd in Sheffield?

    Having studied Greek and having a faint memory of having studied Hebrew, I concur that it is of limited value. When you finish your parsings and conjugations, your translation yields essentially what any good English Bible has already given. But that careful work has value in the larger endeavor of reaching the meaning that ancients understood quite easily. Study of the ancient cultures, its history, government, religion, etc. enables us to hear the text for meanings that would often elude a modern reader. Language and rhetorical studied help bridge that gap.

    Sometimes the gains in Greek come in scholarly theological studies that manage to surface meanings the are missed by the lexicographers (my connection with D. Shepherd fits here). A good example will be seen in a historical survey of the meaning of the word-group related to justification/righteousness. Older approaches favored a forensic meaning such as would apply in a courtroom; newer readings see a meaning linked to the dynamics of relationships. This is a vital word in Christian theology, and the difference in understanding is important.

    While fully sympathetic to sundry responsibilities that burden preachers, preaching must be given priority as more than just another task among many. The apostles gave it priority when “serving tables” called them. And the preacher has to hear the original text for its truth before he can yield anything of value by applying his own creativity. Consider, for example, the meanings of “baptism now saves you” in 1 Peter 3:21 that might surface depending on whether the exegete takes into account the Book of Enoch. That really changes a lot. There is much missed by poor exegetes who bring their “three points and the gift of gab.”

    The goal of preaching is to speak for God, to declare to the audience what He has to say to them. That goal is missed if God is not first understood, even if everyone thought the sermon was good.

  3. Steve there is so much I resonate with in this and your previous post,
    I like you believe there is much more to preaching than Greek exegesis, Greek Exegesis being profoundly valuable but useless without communication skills and cultural empathy, etc…

    I have come to the conclusion that Con Campbell is absolutely right, but in a ‘Solomon like’ sense (wisdom saying) rather that a ‘Moses like’ sense (Divine imperative).

    Under the category of wise saying I have no problem with the comment “You must understand Greek to be a pastor” or “You must have 10 years experience working in a factory to pastor blue collar workers”, etc…

    But when its under the category of law I have a real problem with it, because while it is wise to know Greek, many fine pastors don’t, and while it is wise to study theology full time in community, there have been great pastors (Martin Loyd Jones, etc…) who haven’t, and while it is good to have working class experience I’m not sure J.C. Ryle did and he was a great pastor/preacher to the working class.

    Could it be that Con said what he did as a wisdom saying which generally holds true but has exceptions, and yet has been taken as a rigid immutable law?
    Or is Con presenting this as an immutable law?

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