A few weeks back, I was asked to preach Acts 18 as part of Howick and Papakura Baptist’s teaching series through Luke’s account of the early church. The preaching commitments had been organised months beforehand. But in God’s providence, I preached Acts 18 at Papakura Baptist the week after it was announced that their Pastor, Richard Cutforth, was the Senior Pastor candidate for HBC.
Being at Papakura, meeting people and hearing how they were doing was awkward, emotional and encouraging all at the same time. It reminded me of how we felt last year when three different men left Howick for various reasons – shock, denial, anger, grief, uncertainty, trust, resolve, acceptance (sometimes all in the same day!).
Before I got up to preach, the service leader did a quick interview. Tell us about your family. What are your plans for the future. Then…
“How have things been at Howick with the transition?”
As I looked out to meet the gaze of the saints at Papakura, there was a church family waiting to hear what this guy (from the church that’s taking our pastor!) would say about it all. The question behind the interview question was simply this: “What’s it like to lose your pastor?”
There are lots of helpful truths to dwell on when considering this subject. But I told them I could only share what it was like as a member of Howick going through something similar. God brought to mind two truths that’s helped me through our time at HBC without a pastor.
The church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
Now I’m not saying that church leaders don’t matter. God gives elders and deacons, and other servant leaders. And with elders specifically, God calls them to shepherd the flock, to get amongst them (1 Peter 5). And when you love a pastor, it hurts to see them go. But at its very core, the church isn’t built on one man, or a group of men, but the Man, Christ Jesus. He’s the cornerstone and foundation of every gospel-preaching community.
Ultimately, Christ is the head of your church, my church, any true church. He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) that appoints under-shepherds to oversee His flock. God the Father has put everything: church leaders, ministries, results, everything – under the authority of Christ. That’s the big picture. Even without a pastor, the risen Jesus will sustain and nourish through the Word explained and applied. He’s left believers with the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth (John 14:25-26). Jesus leads His church, because He died for her.
2. God has adequately equipped the saints to do the work of ministry.
In Ephesians 4:11-14 we read:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
So the goal of all our endeavours as a church is to present men and women mature in Christ (see also Col 1:28-29). But whose job is it? On first glance, we assume it’s the pastors that do ministry. It’s the gifted ones. That’s not what the text says though. The text says that their role is actually to “equip the saints for the work of ministry”.
I think sometimes we’re scared about being without a pastor because we hold on to the assumption that the paid staff pastor does the ministry, while the church receives and is ministered too. No pastor = no ministry. But that’s not true. The job of ministry, of building one another up in Christ, actually belongs to the whole church.
At Howick, one of the most encouraging things we saw when pastors left was how different people stepped up to serve. Our homegroups became training grounds for bible study leaders and outreach and discipleship. We’ve actually had more members join HBC this year than in 2013 and 2014.
Pastors and other church leaders will lead and facilitate ministry. But every church member is competent and equipped to do the work of the ministry.
Awhile back, our interim pastor asked me to have a go at preaching a Sunday morning message. It was as terrifying as it sounds, and I truly believe that God spoke His Word far more clearly than humanly possible that morning.
Even as I write this it’s a struggle. I want to draw as little attention to it because I struggle with pride and don’t want to feed this temptation. And everyone knows how annoying it is to see a young preacher “humblebrag” their own preaching… certainly couldn’t imagine Charles Spurgeon or George Whitefield getting on social media saying: “Just had the privilege of preaching sermon. Humbled. Link here. #unnecessaryhashtag”
So I hope this isn’t that kind of post. I’m really just journaling my thoughts about the difference mentally between leading a service and preaching a sermon – as a reminder to myself, but also while wondering how others who lead worship or preach regularly feel mentally in the lead-up to and following Sunday.
When worship leading
The anxiety and adrenaline accumulates during the week and peaks in the hour before the worship service. (I know this as I’m running around all stressed out 15 minutes before the service starts). This stress and tension is released song by song, element by element. As each part of the service progresses, I grow more and more relaxed knowing that my role in the service is winding up.
Once the church is dismissed, Sunday afternoons are a time to relax, unwind and share life with church family. Other than the odd comment or concern about a particular song, I’m chilled out by the end of the day.
It’s actually reasonably relaxed during the week – sermon preparation is a self-directed, self-paced activity. Even on Sunday morning it’s not so stressful. The anxiety and adrenaline accumulate slightly later, from when the first song starts. It’s actually really difficult to focus on the sung praise, particularly in the song before the sermon “slot”. In my head I’m preoccupied with last-minute adjustments to my sermon notes. Tense and nervous. As I preach, some of that tension dissipates as God miraculously calms nerves, smooths out phrases and the Spirit works on the hearers of His message. The adrenaline flows freely.
But it’s after the service when the questions and comments come through. The stress and tension ratchets up as I think about what I didn’t say that I should have, and what I did say that I shouldn’t have. By Sunday afternoon there’s a big slump in my energy levels as the adrenaline from the morning wears off. I feel like hiding away in a room and talking to nobody else. The next few days I’m still pondering over what was preached: the content, delivery, the response, everything. Eventually the next thing comes into view and the stress of preaching dissipates.
This was all pretty new to me so I’m sure my experiences will change over time as I gain some more experience. For example, perhaps as God works on my fear of man, the post-sermon questions won’t be as daunting. And most importantly, I need to keep preaching the gospel to myself, that my identity isn’t in what I do – worship leading or preaching – but is ultimately found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the perfect Worship Leader and Preacher.
STAND for the Gospel, a weekend conference hosted by my home church, is a highlight for me each year as I get the chance to serve and build relationships with men and women from across NZ (and overseas) who share a common love for Jesus.
This year it’s only $30 (I pay for more dinner for my family some nights!) for a weekend’s worth of fantastic teaching, new and strengthened gospel friendships, and wonderful times of gathered worship.
On Saturday morning and afternoon, STAND 2013 attendees will get the chance to participate in two out of six different seminar sessions. We previously had Costa and Rob share a bit about what they’ll be talking about in their afternoon seminars.
This year, William Chong will be leading the third afternoon workshop, titled “Hymns: Roots and Wings for the Next Generation”.
In the rest of the interview I share a bit about how I became a Christian, and about what I hope to explore during the seminar session.
I’ve recently been tuning in to this fantastic lecture series taught by Kevin Twit, held at by Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO.
Kevin Twit is the founder of Indelible Grace (a group that re-tune hymns; we’ve sung a few of them before in our worship services). He presents a 9 lectures covering the rich heritage of hymns and its use in Christian worship. Here’s what he covers:
Why Hymns in a Postmodern World
Musical Style and Hymns, Early Church Hymns (Augustine, Jerome, St. Hilary of Gaul)
German Hymns (Martin Luther)
German Hymns continued (Martin Rinkart, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf)
Hymns in Geneva (John Calvin), English Hymnody (Isaac Watts)
Christian Experience in the Hymns of Anne Steele
More of Anne Steele, Hymns in the Great Awakening and Victorian Eras (John and Charles Wesley, William Williams, Augustus Toplady, Joseph Hart, John Newton, William Cowper)
Hymns in the 19th century onwards: Oxford Movement, Victorian Hymns, Better Music Movement, Sacred Harp, Gospel Songs, African-American Hymns, Hymns Today.
Listening to these lectures fuel in me a greater appreciation about hymns in Christian worship (elsewhere Kevin Twit calls them “theology on fire!”). I had no idea that there could be universities where you can take classes like this! I definitely don’t know anything of the sort here in New Zealand. It’s also intellectually refreshing in a different sort of way to my school and uni days, where sometimes the things we were taught in class felt more like studying music for music’s sake (e.g. avant garde trends, Schenkerian analysis).
I do wish there were study guides/handouts available, as I’m finding lots of helpful quotes and book references I’m keen to explore further.
You can listen to the first two lectures straight away, and it only takes a free sign-up to listen to the rest.
The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship – Benjamin Keach (1691) – first English guy to reintroduce hymns in worship. “Singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs proved to be a holy ordinance of Jesus Christ, with an answer to all objections.”
Fasola.org – more info about the American tradition of Sacred Harp singing (the tune for Amazing Grace came from this movement)
Dr Watts Singers – a uniquely African-American style of hymn singing. The hymns are sung in a slow, ornamental style, with each line being “lined out” (chanted in a quick, rhythmic manner) by one of the singers before it is sung together by the congregation.
(On Sunday we watched the video “How Great is Our God” at church; I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to share some some previous thoughts on why we should be more discerning about the claims made in that video concerning laminin, a particular molecule. I wrote it 2 years ago on another blog – so here it is again, condensed into one article.)
The renown of this particular molecule has partly been fueled by this particular presentation by evangelist Louie Giglio (watch the presentation below):
Many Christians have since then leapt onto this observation as the fulfilment of Colossians 1:17. Some go so far as to proclaim this cell-adhesion molecule as an ad hoc gospel. However, I have some genuine concerns for the way this particular section of Colossians has become exegeted in the majority of the laminin-loving blogosphere, and the ramifications of this for thinking, believing Christians.
Here’s a number of reasons (both scientific and spiritual) why more discernment would be helpful regarding laminin.
1. A molecule’s illustrated shape varies from its real-life shape.
I’m a medical writer by trade, so when Louie Giglio flashed the cross-shaped diagram of laminin on-screen I recognised it as a scientific illustration. Those who study chemistry and molecular biology will understand that diagrams like this don’t actually represent accurate protein shapes, but are drawn out to help the scientist or student see the main components of a biological structure.
You then also have to take into account that proteins move and change their conformation frequently. Giglio’s electron microscope photograph of the laminin in real life is at best, a chance capture of laminin’s genuine shape at and worst, a misrepresentation of the truth – consider the following thoughts by author of the “Exploring Creation…” textbooks, Dr Jay E. Wile:
Indeed, the electron microscope picture that Louie Giglio gives in his sermon represents just one possible shape for laminin. Consider this image, which contains two different electron microscope images of laminin:
It looks to me like the bottom one is the one that Louie Giglio used, rotated 90 degrees. This makes me wonder if he intentionally edited out the other image. In any event, the top one shows what any molecular biology graduate student would know: proteins change conformation in order to do their job. The shape at any given time is most likely transitory.
The impression that Giglio gives that all these molecules in our body just sit around being cross-shaped is actually far from reality. In fact, I’m more encouraged that God created laminins to be far more complex than a stylised diagram: to me, it serves to magnify his greatness. Why would I worship a God that would design cell-adhesion molecules to be so inflexible as to hold a singular shape? Is it not more amazing that laminin molecules were designed with the ability to change their shape to do their job?
2. We don’t need laminins to be cross-shaped to affirm the truth of Colossians 1.
The biggest concern for me is when Christian T-shirts, blogs and facebook threads conclude that Colossians 1:17 directly refers to the laminin molecule. This divorces the verse from the rest of the section’s context (Col. 1:15-20), where one can read a moving description by the Apostle Paul of the lordship of Christ in relation to both creation and redemption. What we can draw from verse 17 is that Christ does continually sustain his creation, preventing it from falling into chaos and disintegration (Heb. 1:3). What we can’t conclude from this verse is that Christ is primarily using vaguely-cross-shaped molecules to hold all things together. Indeed in Hebrews 1:3, we see that Christ does this instead by “the word of his power” – not just Giglio’s stylised version of laminin molecules.
If God really wanted us to affirm the truth in Colossians 1 by stating that laminins were his signature, He would have made this clear in scripture. In the meantime, Colossians 1:17 is not just about laminins. I’d encourage everyone to read the passage in its entirety, particularly through to verses 21-23 which ties up the passage beautifully with the offer of Christ’s reconciliation through “the hope of the gospel”.
3. There are better examples of observable molecules that point to our Creator.
If Christian evangelists like Giglio really wanted more substantial candidates for purposeful design and creation, the laminin molecule is a poor choice. While the bulk of Wikipedia editors and neo-Darwinists will beg to differ, some better examples of observable molecules in the body that have been mooted to show evidence of design include:
the blood clotting cascade – Dr Michael Behe coined the term “irreducible complexity” to describe biochemical systems that comprise of many interactive and well-matched parts that are unlikely to have evolved naturally, as “the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning”.
DNA – the linked article gives an informed overview of the intricate nature of DNA. Even since my undergraduate studies there have already been new things discovered about DNA that show that it is far more complex and purposeful than just “a genetic zipper”. The ENCODE project published its findings in Nature, basically stating that DNA is immensely more complex than previously thought (you can read the abstract here: it’s quite technical)
the white blood cell – check out this video by Harvard University’s Bio Visions team. It illustrates complex cellular functions such as kinesins motoring along microtubules, mitochondria doing its work as the cell’s “energy pack”, and so on – much like a finely-tuned automobile.
The problem is that it takes a lot of work to try and help someone understand the intricacies of something like DNA, which even today scientists do not fully grasp. On the other hand, any layperson can easily be told that an object is a particular shape. Perhaps the reason why laminin is so popular is not because it inherently shows more evidence of purposeful design, but because Giglio has told everyone it is cross-shaped. In this case it has become less about science and more about subjectivity.
4. A preoccupation with laminins overshadows the Bible and the Gospel.
Some people who discover this message will literally say that they have fallen in love with laminin. When this is at the expense of loving Jesus I have to say I become less enthused by the ramifications of Giglio’s message. In fact, when you think about it carefully, Giglio’s self-described “left hook” actually didn’t lead to us learning anything new about God. Sure, it made us feel that God is a big and vast creator of everything (particularly earlier in the show when he makes the comparison between the sizes of planets). But you don’t need a cross-shaped laminin to tell you that: you could have just read the Bible and got it straight from the Creator’s mouth (2 Chronicles 2:5-6, Isaiah 44:24, Revelation 4:11).
This draws the bigger question: for proponents of the laminin-gospel, is the Bible not enough to convince them of God’s greatness? Dr Georgia Purdom from AnswersinGenesis.org notes the following (emphasis mine):
The main problem with this type of argument is that it appears that something outside of Scripture (in this case, laminin) is vital to know the truthfulness of a biblical truth. Laminin is used to prove a biblical truth. However, we should never use our fallible, finite understanding of the world to judge the infallible Word of God. What we observe in the world can certainly be used to confirm God’s Word (and it does), but our finite observations are not in a position to evaluate the infinite things of God. Only if we start with the Bible as our ultimate standard can we have a worldview that is rational and makes sense of the evidence…
… certainly God can use signs to reveal things, and that is evident from Scripture. In Luke 2:12 an angel tells the shepherds, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” However, Jesus also admonishes those that improperly seek signs (Matthew 16:4). In today’s “fast food” society, many people prefer the “drive-thru” when it comes to knowing God’s truths. A sign is much quicker than studying and reasoning from the Scriptures, taking the time to pray, and discussing God’s Word with other believers.
When folks are resorting to editing the Wikipedia article to defend their laminin-driven pareidolia, then perhaps we as Christians may have an unhealthy fixation on signs and symbols. It’s as much an indictment on our generation’s short attention spans and inability to apply discernment that we baulk at doing solid research into the Scriptures, yet readily put our weight behind spurious images of Jesus “seen” in objects from Marmite to cat’s fur. Unfortunately, there are other Christian speakers out there who will teach in the same way – with an intense focus on obscure conspiracy theories fuelled by questionable Scripture interpretations.
Yet here’s the most important point: all this fixation on laminins is time-consuming and is at the expense of the gospel “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:1-4). I know some will argue that talking about laminin is a good way to then start a conversation about the gospel – but once I’m called out for using a poor and untrue argument, why would they want to listen to anything else I tell them? If I witnessed to a science graduate and tried to pull the laminin wool over their eyes, I would be laughed off and lose the opportunity to present anything further. Therefore our integrity and witness is lost, along with the chance to evangelise to those who need to hear it.
In closing: the way we would want to delve carefully into something like laminin is the same thing we ought to do regarding other topics in future. Without trusting and depending first and foremost on God’s Word to carefully inform our thinking, any one of us can get caught up in any number of “Christian” fads and misinformed truths. The Bereans in Acts got it right when they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) My desire is that we would strive to do the same in all areas of our life.