During my years in ministry, I have made mistakes, and I have had successes. These things have caused my ministry philosophy to go through testing and revision. In essence, these events have helped me become more effective, and to better consider ministry scripturally, theologically, and practically in order to minister within the church and to individuals.
As I have considered ministry, it seems that God definitely wants ministers to serve – to serve God, to serve others, all while not serving one’s ego. In this, God provides ministers a variety of situations which prompt growth in the minister. As such, when ministers face these situations, it seems the best way to respond is with humbleness.
Knowing that, ministers must be willing to re-think and re-examine. Even when doing such results in modifications to individual and congregational Biblical interpretation and understanding, which should become evident in Christian worship and living. In essence, a minister is best capable of leading others when he first is willing to change and comport to God’s Will and God’s Truth.
It is true that ministers are responsible to the church and to the community. But, it is my conviction that a minister has three levels of responsibility. First, a minister is responsible to God and the truth God wants. Then, second a minister is responsible to himself and to his family; and then thirdly a minister is responsible to the church and community. Any other order lacks awareness of God’s intent for home, then community (Mark 12.29-31, 1 Timothy 3.1-7).
American culture is in a different era, which brings with it some unique challenges to finding spiritual truth. This is because American Culture changed from being primarily influenced by a Christian worldview into being influenced by many worldviews. These worldviews range from paganism to hedonism, from atheism to various theisms.
As such, there are many “voices” competing to define social, scientific and spiritual truth. Evidence abounds that America Culture wants truth. Our society seeks and wants truth, in particular spiritual truth, yet wonders which spiritual truth is True. When one becomes a follower of Jesus, it is my belief that as disciples we accept that the Scriptures identify and explain ethical, moral, social, and spiritual truths.
As for the Scriptures, I believe that when God revealed his words to their authors, he did so through inspiration (2 Timothy 3.16). I also believe that God’s Word was originally communicated without error: from God to man, and from that man to his first audience. Yet, there is an uncomfortable truth. English is not the Bible’s original language, and as the Bible has come down through the ages, it has gone through the hands of many scribes. As such, when under diligent scrutiny, there are possible and probable scribal edits which can create confusion and doubt.
Consider the Book of Isaiah. The field of Textual Criticism has revealed that, at times, there are multiple hands in books historically attributed to one author, like Isaiah. These editorial (scribal) changes are found in items like: word choice and other grammatical issues. These items affect the flow of writing style, and are evident from time to time within a given book.
Because of the reality of Bible languages and translations, it is my belief that Believers must do two things. First, Believers must place their faith in God. Second, Believers must accept that God has allowed the essence of his Truth to be communicated in English. As such, if there are times that the Bible seems confusing or contradicting, Believers must seek God’s help. Giving diligent efforts to understand the original intent by seeking an understanding of the Hebrew and Greek languages; and asking God for clarity through the Spirit, to better understand the English.
The goal of my study is to seek a sound exegetical lesson based on an analytical and critical study of a Bible passage. My preparation includes the use of:
- multiple English Bible translations including Jewish, Messianic, and Aramaic;
- Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek lingual studies;
- references to theological dictionaries and historical texts; and
- Bible concordances and relevant philosophical and worldview sources.
For my preparation, I prefer primary source material (e.g. research materials about culture, history, society, and linguistics), instead of secondary sources (e.g. commentaries, sermons, and pre-packaged study materials). I do not have anything against secondary sources, they just are not my principal or primary materials used for research and study. Secondary sources like commentaries have value; but secondary sources, by their very nature, separate the people from the Scriptures.
Consider how I attempt to understand Bible words. I use the Greek OT (LXX, Septuagint) to understand the Greek NT. I do this because the Greek OT is the first Bible translation ever, and was completed circa 250 BC/BCE, decades before Jesus was born. Additionally, the Greek OT was translated by Jews who took their Hebrew language into Greek. Through their efforts, we can understand how they believed Greek best represented Hebrew. English Bible translations, as we might recognize them today, did not begin until the Middles Ages (around AD/CE 1100-1300), ten or more centuries after the NT was left in Greek.
In essence, I seek to identify Greek NT words, defining them, as best as possible, from the Hebrew perspective, through the Greek OT. I use the LXX as an intermediate lens working backwards: from English to Greek to Hebrew. Allow me to give a very brief and concise example for understanding the English words: covenant, testament.
From the English, I find which Greek word gives the English translation. Then I research that Greek NT word in the Greek OT, seeing if the Greek OT uses that word to translate the Hebrew.
Here are the three languages and words:
English NT words: covenant, testament
Greek NT and OT word: diatheke (G1242)
Hebrew OT word: bereeth (H1285)
Stated another way, the English word covenant translates the Greek word diatheke, and the Greek word diatheke translates the Hebrew word bereeth. We can know this, because the Greek OT uses the word diatheke to translate the Hebrew word bereeth.
This means that Greek OT translators believed that the Hebrew word bereeth was best translated by the Greek word diatheke. Thus an English understanding of the Greek word diatheke falls short of full understanding; we must seek an understanding of the Hebrew word bereeth. In essence, this means that to best understand the English words covenant, testament, we need to understand the Hebrew word bereeth.
In doing this, I form my own understanding, and then reveal my understanding, helping bring us closer to God by examining the Scriptures. As such, I aim to be well studied, and teach from the heart. My entire ministerial goal is to present the whole counsel of God (Acts 20.27) in the most tactful, compassionate, yet firm and uncompromising manner possible, hoping to limit human abrasiveness and offensiveness.
Individual righteousness before Jehovah has absolutely nothing to do with the sinfulness or unrighteousness of any other person or any other group of people, no matter their practice of faith (Catholic, Protestant, Islam, et al.). If, in measuring one’s worthiness, one measures themselves against the failures of others, then that individual is no better than the Pharisee praying that he was better than the publican (Luke 18.10-14). One’s righteousness will be judged solely against Christ and His word (John 12.48), because He is the standard by which Christianity is known. He is the Master. He is the Teacher. As for preaching, according to Jesus (Matthew 7.1-5) and his teaching about judging, this means that a minister really has no right to use the failures of others to emphasize or prove points in the pulpit.
While the Scriptures contain ideas that Disciples should follow, I present lessons from a theological and philosophical point-of-view, seeking to build the person’s trust of God, his Messiah, and God’s truth. I seek to avoid the authoritarian, dogmatic, doctrinal presentations and, if possible, avoid theological arguments. I seek to engage the hearers, encouraging them to draw their own conclusions, thus empowering their faith. My lessons are intended to motivate and persuade the heart of both believers and non-believers toward personal submissiveness to God and Messiah.
While questions regarding spiritual truth have remained relatively the same, the church’s standard answers have, in some instances, become so commonplace that the answers have little persuasive ability within a society influenced by existentialism, experientialism, and relativism. Knowing this, answering spiritual questions requires skill and knowledge not previously required. I am aware that hearers have existential and experiential needs, and thus want discussions and presentations that assist them in reconciling major life issues.
As such, whether class or presentation, the aim of any lesson is to have the message engage emotionally, morally, intellectually, and spiritually helping individuals receive understanding so they make application of the Bible’s content. Knowing this, classes and sermons become a communication event with Jehovah and His Word. It is an event intended to stir within the soul self-reflection, while coming face to face with the Almighty Creator. This is intended to be both fresh and timely, yet upholding relevant eternal spiritual truth. This approach lends itself to a relevant personal application.