Basic Training, Bible Study, Sermons

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: Bible Studies and Sermons

Originally published January 25, 2019

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

 

When I started the Basic Training series, I thought I’d be writing about foundational theological concepts and practices in Christianity. You know, like baptism or the sufficiency of Scripture. It never occurred to me that I might someday need to explain something so basic that most lost people could define it as well as (sometimes better than) many professed Christian leaders.

But the more “Bible” studies and sermons I take in, the more I think a remedial course in exactly what those things are supposed to consist of might be very beneficial to the church at large, and an unfortunate necessity for many pastors, teachers, and Christian celebrities.

I could be way off base here, but I’d almost bet that if you went up to ten random people on the street and asked them what a Bible study class is supposed to do, at least nine out of ten of them would answer, “Study the Bible.” If you asked those same people what a sermon is, you might get more varied answers, “It’s when the preacher explains what the Bible says,” or “It’s a pastor telling you how to be a good person,” (remember these are random, probably unsaved, people) or “A sermon tells you about God.” But I’m guessing none of them would answer, “It’s when a preacher gives a stand up comedy routine,” or “A sermon is mostly stories about the preacher, his family, and other people,” or “A sermon is when you watch a movie and then the preacher adds a few remarks at the end about what you can learn about God or life from the movie.”

Yet, that’s pretty much where way too many churches are these days.

So let’s take a look at what Bible studies and sermons are and aren’t supposed to be.

It’s All About The Bible

This is supposed to be a “duh” moment for Christians, pastors, teachers, and churches. If someone is teaching a Bible study or a pastor is preaching a sermon, the first thing he should reach for is his Bible. He is to be preaching or teaching God’s written Word. It’s right there in black and white in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:

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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

That’s a very solemn and weighty charge to pastors. In today’s vernacular, it’s almost like placing your right hand on the Bible, raising your right hand, and saying, “As God is my witness, I swear to God I will ______.” (and actually understanding the gravity of that and meaning it). God is witnessing this charge to you pastor – you’d better take seriously your duty to preach His Word.

And notice, there are only two times when a pastor is supposed to preach the Word: in season and out of season. When his people want to hear it and when they don’t. When he feels like it and when he doesn’t. When he’ll be persecuted and when he won’t. When it’s easy and when it’s hard. When it’s a pleasant, encouraging passage, and when it’s a passage that offends people. Pastors, and, by extension teachers, are to preach and teach the written Word of God in every sermon and teaching opportunity. Always.

It’s Not About the Preacher/Teacher/Author

There are a lot of awesome pastors, teachers, and authors out there who labor faithfully to rightly teach God’s Word to His people. I am unspeakably grateful to them and for them.

But let’s face it, there are also a lot of narcissistic gas bags out there who use the pulpit and the pages to pump up their already over-inflated egos by endlessly blathering on and on about themselves, their families, their friends, and their experiences. You can tell by the ratio of personal stories to Scripture who they love best and are most interested in.

I’ve read books and heard sermons that I walked away from thinking, “I know more about that pastor or author, his family, his trips, the charity work he does, and who his important friends are than I do about God and His Word.” (I’ll tell you this, he’s received his reward.)

Pastors, teachers, authors aren’t to preach themselves, they’re to preach the Word.

It’s Not About Gimmicks and Entertainment

A sermon series based on movies. A pastor riding a motorcycle into church. Ziplining during the sermon. Rock concerts and light shows. Raffles and giveaways of cars and other big ticket items. The pastor and his wife promoting a sermon series on sex. On the news. From a bed. On the roof of the church.

Pastors and teachers aren’t charged to entertain people or get them in the doors of the church and keep them there by any means necessary. Pastors and teachers are charged – with God as their witness – to faithfully preach and teach His written Word. Jesus said shepherds who love Him will feed His sheep, not entertain them.

Newsflash – the world isn’t going to find that interesting enough to get out of bed for on Sunday morning. Newsflash – That’s fine. The gathering of the church isn’t for the world. The gathering of the church is for the church – the people who have been saved out of the world and into the body of Christ – to give them an opportunity to worship the Savior they love with their brothers and sisters, to disciple them in God’s Word, and to equip them with God’s Word to go out and share the gospel with the world.

It’s Not About You, Either

The flip side of “it’s all about the Bible” is, it’s not about you. What does that mean? The sermon or the Bible study lesson should not teach us to look down in narcissistic navel-gazing, it should teach us to look up at God, who He is, what He has done, and what He says in His written Word.

Over the years, I’ve had the discouraging duty of reviewing various women’s “Bible” studies. Though some have been better than others, the theme running through the majority of them is “it’s all about you” – your feelings, your hurts, your ego, your opinions, your personal experiences. It’s evident in the way authors insert long stories about their own lives and base their ideas, agendas, and assertions on those personal experiences rather than on Scripture. It’s evident in the questions the reader is supposed to answer at the end of each lesson: “Have you ever experienced _____?” “How does ____ make you feel?” “If you could ____, how would you do it?” “What do you think others’ opinion of you is?”

Good Bible studies give you rightly handled, in context Scripture until it’s coming out of your ears, and then they ask questions like, “What are the attributes of God listed in this passage?” “Verse 3 talks about lying. What are some other verses that talk about lying, and how can we tell from these verses how God views lying and why?” “How does this passage point us to Christ?”

Is there a need for introspection during Bible studies and sermons? Sometimes. But the focus is not you and your feelings and experiences. The focus is on reflecting on the glory of God in the passage you’ve just heard, repenting of the sin the passage you’ve just read has convicted you about, obeying the command in the passage you’ve just heard, and things like that. It’s Bible-focused, driven, and governed, not me-focused, driven, and governed.

Context, Context, Context

It’s not just important to preach and teach the Bible, it’s important to handle the text of the Bible correctly and in context.

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the guy who wants God to tell him what he should do with his life. So he opens up the Bible to a random spot, closes his eyes, puts his finger down on the page, and looks at the verse he’s pointing at. It’s a New Testament verse: “Judas went and hanged himself.” “Hmm,” he thinks, “that doesn’t make much sense.” He shuts his Bible and tries the process again. This time, it’s an Old Testament verse, “Go and do thou likewise.”

We laugh at the silliness of this little story, but it hits frighteningly close to home for far too many pastors and teachers.

Perhaps you’ve read a devotional that quotes a Bible verse (or maybe even just part of a verse) at the top of the page. The author then goes on to teach on that verse or tell a personal story. When you look up the verse and read a little more of the chapter it’s in, you discover it has nothing to do with the author’s story or doesn’t mean what the author was teaching.

Or maybe you’ve sat in a church service where the pastor reads a verse or two at the beginning of the sermon and then basically closes his Bible and shares personal thoughts and stories for the rest of the sermon time that have nothing to do with the verses he read at the beginning. Or a sermon in which the pastor hopscotches all over the Bible (often using a myriad of translations) reading a verse here, half a verse there, in an effort to prove his homespun thesis or support the agenda he’s crafted.

Yes, technically, there’s Bible in all of those teachings, but none of those methods handle Scripture properly or in context. That’s called eisegesis, and it basically means reading your own ideas into the text of Scripture, or twisting Scripture to get it to say what you want it to mean.

The proper method of teaching Scripture is exegesis. Exegesis is taking a passage of Scripture in context, and “leading out” of it- teaching what the passage means. That’s nearly always going to require reading several verses from the passage to catch the reader or listener up on what’s going on in the story she’s just parachuted into.

Good pastors and teachers read and teach the biblical text in an organized way. When you sit down to study, say, a history book, you start at the beginning of the book and you work your way through to the end. You don’t start by reading two paragraphs out of the middle of chapter 7, then move on to the last three sentences of chapter 49, then the first half of chapter 1. That’s how people preach, teach, and “study” the Bible sometimes, and it’s just as crazy to read the Bible that way as it would be to study a history book, or math book, or science book that way, or even to read a novel or a magazine using that helter-skelter method.

Expository vs. Topical

This section is a brief, modified excerpt from my article The Mailbag: Expository or Topical Preaching: Which is better?.

For readers who might not be familiar with the terms, expository preaching and teaching is basically when a pastor preaches (or a teacher teaches) through books of the Bible from beginning to end carefully explaining what each passage means. (Ezra is an example of an expository Bible study.)

Topical preaching can have a couple of different meanings depending on who you’re talking to and what she understands the term to mean. Some people understand “topical preaching” to mean a sermon series, usually in a seeker driven church, that centers around something in pop culture. (For example, popular movies or the Olympics.) Normally, these sermons are very shallow, biblically – sometimes nothing more than a pep talk or self-help tips. This type of preaching and teaching is unbiblical, and if it makes up the bulk of the teaching at your church, I’d recommend finding a new church.

There is, however, a biblical form of topical preaching and teaching that can be very helpful, occasionally. If a doctrinally sound pastor sees an issue in the church that needs to be addressed, or a biblical topic to explore, there is nothing wrong with his taking a break from preaching through a certain book (or when he’s between books) to teach on this issue from the pulpit. (Imperishable Beauty: A Study of Biblical Womanhood is an example of a biblical, topical Bible study.)

In my opinion, the majority of a pastor’s preaching and a Bible study’s teaching should be expository with occasional breaks for (biblical) topical preaching and teaching as needed. There are a variety of reasons for this (more in the linked article):

• Expository preaching models for the congregation the proper, systematic way they should study the Bible at home.

• Expository preaching helps a pastor better preach the whole counsel of God.

• Expository preaching pushes pastors to tackle hard and unfamiliar passages as they come up in the text.

• Expository preaching should keep the Old Testament and certain books of the Bible from being neglected as much as they usually are.

• Expository preaching gives the congregation a better grip on the overall story arc of the Bible and the culture of the period being studied.

Expository and topical preaching are both helpful in their own ways, but the most important thing is that the pastor is “rightly handling the word of truth.”

 

There’s a lot of lousy preaching and teaching out there these days, but if you’ll look for good, solid biblical preaching and teaching (check the Recommended Bible Teachers and Bible Studies tabs above for ideas) God can use it mightily in your spiritual life to grow you to greater Christlikeness.

Discernment

Raechel Myers and She Reads Truth

If you are considering commenting or sending me an e-mail objecting to the fact that I warn against certain teachers, please click here and read this article first. Your objection is most likely answered here. I won’t be publishing comments or answering emails that are answered by this article.

 

I get lots of questions about particular authors, pastors, and Bible teachers, and whether or not I recommend them. Some of the best known can be found above at my Popular False Teachers tab. The teacher below is someone I’ve been asked about recently, so I’ve done a quick check (this is brief research, not exhaustive) on her.

Generally speaking, in order for me to recommend a teacher, speaker, or author, he or she has to meet three criteria:

a) A female teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly preach to or teach men in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. A male teacher or pastor cannot allow women to carry out this violation of Scripture in his ministry. The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be living in any other sin (for example, cohabiting with her boyfriend or living as a homosexual).

b) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with or frequently appearing with false teachers. This is a violation of Scripture.

c) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be teaching false doctrine.

I am not very familiar with most of the teachers I’m asked about (there are so many out there!) and have not had the opportunity to examine their writings or hear them speak, so most of the “quick checking” I do involves items a and b (although in order to partner with false teachers (b) it is reasonable to assume their doctrine is acceptable to the false teacher and that they are not teaching anything that would conflict with the false teacher’s doctrine). Partnering with false teachers and women preaching to men are each sufficient biblical reasons not to follow a pastor, teacher, or author, or use his/her materials.

Just to be clear, “not recommended” is a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum are people like Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth and Kay Arthur. These are people I would not label as false teachers because their doctrine is generally sound, but because of some red flags I’m seeing with them, you won’t find me proactively endorsing them or suggesting them as a good resource, either. There are better people you could be listening to. On the other end of the spectrum are people like Joyce Meyer and Rachel Held Evans- complete heretics whose teachings, if believed, might lead you to an eternity in Hell. Most of the teachers I review fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum (leaning toward the latter).

If you’d like to check out some pastors and teachers I heartily recommend, click the Recommended Bible Teachers tab at the top of this page.


Raechel Myers
Not Recommended

Raechel Myers is co-founder and CEO of She Reads Truth (SRT), “a worldwide community of women who read God’s Word together every day. Founded in 2012, She Reads Truth invites women of all ages to engage Scripture through curated daily reading plans, as well as online conversation led by a vibrant community of contributing writers.” Raechel’s co-founder of SRT is CCO (Chief Content Officer), Amanda Bible Williams. Raechel and Amanda have co-authored two books and collaborated on the She Reads Truth Bible and the He Reads Truth Bible.

I first learned of Raechel and SRT a few years ago through my friend Elizabeth Prata’s excellent blog. Check out part 1 and part 2 of her article She Reads Truth, IF: Gathering, and Women Bible Teachers. Elizabeth adds:

“I had direct interaction with Raechel Myers regarding the concerns I’d written about. She falls far below the ‘unrepentant … false doctrine’ benchmark. As an elder woman attempting to teach her, the younger, sound doctrine and to be self-controlled (Titus 2:2, 4-5) she not only was unrepentant but she was very angry and decidedly UNcontrolled. She would not listen one bit and so, she did not hear. The entire scene made me very sad for all the IF:Gathering women, because they are intelligent and have energy, verve, and dedication. If they’d put all that in the right direction they all could have been role model women and wives for the glory of Jesus.”

Though SRT’s “What We Believe” section boldly proclaims, “we believe God’s Word is Truth,” Raechel has disregarded the Bible’s truths about false doctrine and the biblical role of women in the church by inviting female “pastors” and false teachers such as Sharon Hodde Miller (more on Sharon hereErin Rose, and Lisa Harper (more on Lisa here) to be SRT contributing writers.

Raechel has recommended that her followers attend  Rebekah Lyons’ Q Womenconference, and in 2017, Raechel was selected to take part in Rebekah’s Freedom Challenge along with false teachers Ann Voskamp and Lysa Terkeurst.

Raechel has promoted IF:Gathering on her blog and has been featured on IF’s YouTube channel. Raechel’s and Amanda’s book, She Reads Truth, is sold on IF’s website.

Raechel has appeared at several of LifeWay Women’s Abundance Conferences alongside the likes of Christine Caine, Jennie Allen,  Lisa Harper, Lysa Terkeurst and Curtis Jones (Beth Moore’s son-in-law/pastor who allows her to preach on Sunday mornings) and others.

In 2018, Raechel was a featured speaker at the Inspired for Life Conference alongside female preaching advocate and shepreaches.com founder , “Rev.” Neichelle Guidry and Sojourners social justice activist, Lisa Sharon Harper. (Previous conferences at this host church had featured Rachel Held Evans, female “preacher” and self-proclaimed feminist, Sarah Bessey, and Glennon Doyle, the evangelical mommy blogger most famous for divorcing her husband and marrying her lesbian lover).

 

For someone with such a well known ministry, Raechel has a very small online footprint, so it was difficult to find pertinent information on her for this article. She rarely posts on social media or her blog, there is no calendar of speaking events on her website, and there is little information on her at the SRT website. This could be a positive sign. Perhaps we’re not seeing online evidence of her, for example, preaching to men, because she’s not. On the other hand, perhaps she is associating with or following far more false teachers than we know of but she isn’t posting about it on social media, so there’s no evidence of it. It’s simply impossible to tell.

With so little information available on Raechel, and with very little knowledge of her own theology and handling of God’s Word, I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and withhold the label of “false teacher” until such time as more evidence is available that would support that label. That being said, I believe there is enough evidence that Raechel is sorely lacking in discernment that it would not be wise to follow her, use her materials (and certainly not SRT’s materials, considering their contributors), or attend her speaking engagements.

Furthermore, consider her ties to female “pastors” and false teachers. As I said in the introduction to this article, it is reasonable to assume Raechel’s doctrine is acceptable to these female “pastors” and false teachers and that she is not teaching anything that would conflict with their doctrine. If she were, they would not associate with her. If she were, she would not associate with them.

Uncategorized

The Word on Wednesdays

Hi ladies! I hope you enjoyed our most recent Bible study, 1&2 Timothy: The Structure and Spirit of the Church, which we wrapped up recently.

I’ve been taking a break on Wednesdays, getting ready for our new study. I hope you’ll enjoy it and that it will edify you as you seek to grow in Christ and His Word. (The picture above does not mean we will be studying James. :0) I really had planned to start our new study last week, but I’ve had a family situation come up unexpectedly that I need to devote some time and attention to, and that has to come first. My new plan is to start our new study next week- August 28.

So, if you haven’t quite finished with the 1&2 Timothy study, you can use this time to finish up, and I’ll also be posting some articles from the archives that I think you’ll find helpful as we make our way toward our next study. Here is this week’s article:

sunday school

Sunday School: Chronological Study Lessons

During 2014, I led my ladies’ Sunday School class in a chronological read-through of the entire Bible. Each week I taught a lesson from that week’s reading and posted it here on the blog.

If you’re using the chronological one year Bible reading plan this year, here’s the lesson that roughly corresponds with this week’s reading. (And even if you’re not, I hope you’ll enjoy this lesson anyway.)

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 34 ~ Aug. 17-23
Jeremiah 35-50, Psalm 74, 79, 2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36, Habakkuk
Idolatry: No Turning Back

idolatry

Background:
Israel is gone, carried off into captivity by Assyria. Judah has managed to hang on a little longer, due in part to Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s godliness, but, now, Nebuchadnezzar has besieged and overthrown the last of Judah’s fortified cities, slaughtered the king and the nobles, and carried nearly all the citizens off to a 70 year exile in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar left a small remnant of the poorest of the poor to continue living in Judah to work the land, and set up Gedaliah as governor over them. Gedaliah was subsequently assassinated by the Ammonites, and the remnant decided -against God’s clear instruction through Jeremiah- to go to Egypt, and to force Jeremiah to go with them. This is where we now find them in chapter 44…Continue reading.

Testimony Tuesday

Testimony Tuesday: Alma’s Story

Alma’s Story

Here’s a wonderful story of God’s faithfulness in steering the ladies ministry at my church out of doctrinally weak teachers. I joined my daughter’s Southern Baptist Church about ten months ago to be able to worship with her and my three grandchildren. I met with the pastor a few times and we had wonderful conversations about Reformed theology and the church’s long history. Since I had developed somewhat of a rapport with him I felt comfortable going to him when I found out the ladies ministry leader had chosen, yet again, a not so doctrinally sound study.

Last fall we did Lisa Harper’s Job study which I faithfully attended and early on realized she was not what I needed or wanted in a Bible study. Lisa likes to share a personal story of her life in each of her weekly videos and it soon became burdensome and kind of annoying (I don’t have much patience when it comes to studying the Word). Before Lisa Harper was Lysa TerKeurst, Beth Moore, and Priscilla Shirer, so the church has had a history of fluffy studies.

In late December of last year the announcement was made that we would be doing Priscilla Shirer’s new study One in a Million. I was disappointed to say the least as I’m not a fan of Shirer.

I prayed a lot about how to approach my pastor about this because the woman in charge of selecting our studies is a friend and fellow Sunday School attendee. Since I’m so new to the church I decided to find out who was in charge of overseeing the ladies’ ministry. I assumed it was a deacon but soon found out that wasn’t the case. The head of the deacons told me it was our Discipleship Minister. So I contacted him and he confirmed that he oversees the men’s and ladies’ ministry and when I asked if he oversees the Bible study selection he said that’s left up to the ladies’ ministry leader.

So I decided it was time to talk to my pastor. I did my due diligence and researched the problems and concerns with Shirer and sent him links to Michelle’s critique and also pastors who have written about her to warn the women in their churches.

One of the comments my pastor made in his defense was he assumed if a teacher is promoted by LifeWay, they must be good. I was surprised he didn’t know about LifeWay and all the heretical authors and books they have on their shelves.

I also shared with him the problems and concerns with other studies the church has done in the past. He listened, reviewed the links I sent him and decided he needed to call a meeting with the Discipleship Minister and ladies’ ministry leader to discuss this matter. That meeting hasn’t happened yet (he promised it would be soon) but I’m praying for all to come to the right decision going forward. And, the ladies’ ministry leader recently announced that we will be using a Jen Wilkin book for our next study. I give all glory to God for giving my pastor eyes to see and ears to hear.


Ladies, God is still at work in the hearts and lives of His people, including yours! Would you like to share a testimony of how God saved you, how He has blessed you, convicted you, taught you something from His Word, brought you out from under false doctrine, placed you in a good church or done something otherwise awesome in your life? Private/direct message me on social media, e-mail me (MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com), or comment below. Your testimony can be as brief as a few sentences or as long as 1500 words. Let’s encourage one another with God’s work in our lives!

Uncategorized

The Word on Wednesdays

Hi ladies! I hope you enjoyed our most recent Bible study, 1&2 Timothy: The Structure and Spirit of the Church, which we wrapped up recently.

I’ve been taking a break on Wednesdays, getting ready for our new study. I hope you’ll enjoy it and that it will edify you as you seek to grow in Christ and His Word. (The picture above does not mean we will be studying James. :0) I really had planned to start our new study today, but I’ve had a family situation come up unexpectedly that I need to devote some time and attention to, and that has to come first. My new plan is to start our new study two weeks from today on August 28.

So, if you haven’t quite finished with the 1&2 Timothy study, you can use this time to finish up, and I’ll also be posting some articles from the archives that I think you’ll find helpful as we make our way toward our next study. Here is this week’s article:

Wednesday’s Word

Wednesday is Bible study day here on the blog. In my Wednesday’s Word study, you’ll find miscellaneous, one lesson Bible studies from each book of the Bible. One chapter of Scripture followed by study questions. This sampler series demonstrates that there’s nothing to be afraid of when approaching those “lesser known” books and that every book of the Bible is valuable and worth studying.

Wednesday’s Word ~ Obadiah

obadiah 4

 

The vision of Obadiah.

Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the Lord,
    and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”
Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
    you shall be utterly despised.

 Keep reading…