New Year resolutions. Pithy inspirational quotes. A sudden boost in planning for the year ahead.
Plagued by chronic pessimism, figuring it’d be a waste of time joining the lemming rush, I was content to sit by the wayside (in a coffee shop) and think about the components of ministry and how one could get better at it. After all, the work of the Lord is far from pointless.
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)
The turkey-and-gammon-stuffed brain threw up an old gem from MY, fount of all pithily-packaged wisdom, though certainly not of the Hallmark variety.
What makes properly fruitful Christian ministry?
“B R I O“
Bible, Relationship with God, Individuals, Oomph!.
(Or “BRIL” = Bible, Relationship with God, Individuals, Leadership.)
First, the Bible.
The gospel is not about we have done, but what God has done for us. This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion in the world. But if the gospel is what God has done, then we need to know what he has done, is doing, will be doing. How can we know this? Through revelation, in God’s word – the Bible. Christian faith and maturity come from understanding what he has said in Scripture.
- therefore, necessary primacy of the Bible in ministry
28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)
Ministry is about telling people what God has said, so that people can be hearing and responding to what God has said. The job of the minister is to proclaim Jesus from his word.
The Bible therefore is absolutely fundamental to ministry.
But there is the temptation to move away from the Word. Why? Because there may not be any evident success in keeping with the Word. God works slowly – and what he does is not always spectacular; we may not see results soon. But only God’s work done God’s way will last. If we are not God-centred, we will be man-centred.
- therefore, necessary familiarity with all God has said in the Bible
16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:17-18)
We need to be familiar with all that God has said in the Bible. The Bible is a compilation of books, but it is not a random collection of truth. It is a narrative – how God is saving a people to be with him in eternity. So we need to know how all the pieces fit together to contribute to that storyline.
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)
We need to know what God has said with regard to some of the issues that we face. For example, the Bible has a lot to say about suffering. We must understand all of what God says about it – we can’t just select some bits, but must have some idea of the whole. So we can’t just say that suffering is normal now, without pointing to the new creation where suffering and death will be no more. Otherwise, there will be despair. Neither can we merely say that suffering will cease in the new creation, but neglect to mention that it is normal now.
To begin to get a good grasp of the Bible, we should get familiar with some of the key books of the Bible. We need to know a Gospel well. Romans is one of the best summaries of the gospel. Colossians and 1 Corinthians – are very important, and contain important truths. Starting with a few books begins to help us to get to know the Bible better. Over the years, we can then build up a portfolio of books that we can get to know. And over time, we can get to know the whole Bible. How very exciting! What alot there is to know.
Knowing the Bible is a lifetime’s occupation.
Therefore, learn to handle the Bible correctly for yourself
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Timothy has been Paul’s right hand man for many years. Still, Paul lists some key things necessary in being a good worker for God. Why is rightly handling the Word so important? See above.
How do we get to know the Bible better and better? By handling the Bible better and better. How do we do so? By working at the text ourselves, and not going to commentaries.
There are so many commentaries around – how do you know which one is right? Also, if we use commentaries, our understanding is always going to be secondhand – we won’t be able to check what is being said. And we won’t have the freshness of God speaking to us; it will be stale. We will be bored because we will always just be relying on someone else’s insight. We will not be excited by the word.
Why do so many people start off with good intentions in teaching the word then give up? Because they have no sense of freshness, of seeing for themselves and saying “oh gosh!”, no extra depth.
Therefore, learn how to teach the Bible to others
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
If you understand the Bible but you can’t teach it, it will be of no value to anyone else.
Teaching the Bible isn’t something you can learn from a book or talk. You learn by just doing it – trial and error. Just like learning to play a sport, to fish, or to ride a bicycle.
It takes a lot of time, and we might think that no one seems to notice. But cumulatively, over the years, this is what will most grow God’s kingdom. It may not seem glamorous or successful, but we must trust that this is the way God wants to do it since he says so in his Word.
The Coffee Academics Singapore (facebook)
TCA at Scotts Square is the Singapore outpost of the much-recommended TCA in Hong Kong. But like the long slow process of training necessary for Bible teachers, it seemed it was still early days for their baristas when we visited.
JWF Blend, ice-drip (S$14 (£7))
Described as a blend of rare Kenyan caracoli beans, the unanimous opinion around the table was that it was extremely citrusy (or sour, depending on how pained you were at having wasted good money). Not quite the “delicate fruity flavours” advertised. Perhaps it was underextracted and needed a higher bean:water ratio.
flat white, TCA blend (Panama geisha, Columbia caturra, Ethiopian heirloom) (S$6.50 (£3.25))
Now any of these beans, by themselves, would have been excellent, so it was baffling why anyone would have decided to blend them. With the FW price index in Singapore hovering about the S$5 mark, the premium price seemed attributable to the brand-name beans rather than any corresponding increase in caffeine bliss.