Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Circular Teaching" by Garris Elkins

A few Easters ago, I did something I had never done before – I did not focus my teaching on the cross or the tomb.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I did speak about these two profound events, but I went further and preached about the destination of these Easter events - the Throne of Christ. 

As I prepared that Easter Sunday message the Lord spoke clearly to me, “The cross is empty.  The tomb is empty. But the throne is occupied.” That Easter I shared with the church where Christ is now seated as the result of His gaining victory over sin and death.  I taught about the Lord’s need to go through the experiences of the cross and the tomb to get to the throne.  When it was all over that Easter morning, I felt refreshed.  Something had changed in me.

Over the years my teaching about this high day on the Church calendar had become circular.  Year after year, I had gone over the same facts about the death and resurrection of Jesus without realizing that there is always something more that He wants to show us.

If you look at the yearly preaching calendar of most pastors you will find a lot of repetition.  In fact, if you come from a more mainline denomination your teaching schedule may actually be laid out for you year after year.  The same teachings come to be expected at the same time on the same Sundays.  This way of teaching and preaching can end up leading the sheep in well-known circles of understanding instead of into new seasons of revelation.

Alan Hirsch posted an article on his Facebook wall titled, “The Exiling of APE’s.” If you are not familiar with Alan’s APEST test you would think from the title that he was talking about segregating apes in a zoo.  It’s not – the “APE” stands for, “Apostle, Prophet and Evangelist.”  The other two in the APEST chain are the Shepherd and Teacher that round out the list Paul gave us in Ephesians 4:11.

In this well-written article Alan talks about the result of only a Shepherd-Teacher led ministry where equilibrium is the end result.  To a Shepherd-Teacher if a ministry can be made stable enough then all is well. If the APE’s aren’t allowed to come in and shake-up this equilibrium, the Shepherd-Teachers could eventually lead a congregation into decline and eventual death.

Alan said this about equilibrium,

“So, for instance, the Shepherd and Teacher (ST) will tend to design more stable environments where people can learn to relate and grow in their understanding of the faith.  However, as the learning and maturing are to be lifelong activities, communities led primarily by these ST’s will lack urgency and will likely concentrate on issues relating to long-term sustainability.  The net result will be to move inexorably towards a state of what living systems theorists call equilibrium.”

Equilibrium sounds good until we realize that it can produce death in the end.

Hirsch continued,

“The ST functions are ones that bring needed equilibrium into the system.  And this is completely necessary for long-term sustainability—few can survive in chaos situations for too long.  The problem however, arises when the ST functions become disengaged from the full APEST system. The result is that much needed balancing with disequilibrium producing ministries is undone.  When this happens, the dialectical pressure is removed and equilibrium becomes a settled state…and when a living system is in perfect equilibrium it is effectively dead.”

This state of equilibrium is the result of many contributing factors.  One factor can be how we preach and teach. If our teaching calendar has lived in a state of repetitive equilibrium for a few years something needs to change.

About the time I was processing how to teach on Easter, I was also processing the words of the writer of Hebrews in chapter 6:1,

“So let us stop going over the basic teaching about Christ again and again.”

What struck me was the “again and again” part.

Hebrews 6 goes on to list some subjects considered basic to any teaching calendar (not ever to be tossed, but to be built upon) like, repenting from evil deeds, placing our faith in God, baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. If you have not taught on these do so. They are valuable and indispensible foundation stones.

After this list of the basics is defined, verse 3 concludes the thought by saying,

“And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.” 

It was this “further understanding” that God revealed to me on that Easter a few years ago.  God had broken the equilibrium in my teaching about Easter.

I have begun to look for other places in my ministry where I have settled for equilibrium and simply doing the same things over “again and again”. This can be a scary journey unless we know this is how God moves His Church forward.  It is a good thing!

2,000 years ago the faith that was once delivered to the Church was never meant to be something fully understood and grasped in total the moment is was dropped into our lives.  Revelation allows us to unpack the package of truth in a forward motion towards a fuller understanding of what we already possess. We build line upon line, precept upon precept in our understanding of this expanding Kingdom of God upon the earth.

God’s revelation was never intended to be parked in some repetitive cycle of doing church.  God has given us other gifts (here come the APE’s) within the equipping gifts list to help us break out of these death spirals of ministry equilibrium as they spin us downwards towards an eventual crash.

This week, as you prepare something to share, ask God for help to move you forward into the expanding revelation of His truth for your congregation.  Yes, cover the basics, but never think they are the destination – they are only stepping stones that are leading you to a greater revelation of Christ. 

1 comment:

  1. Pastor Garris,
    Well said with a perfect analogy. In chemistry we know equilibrium systems are dynamic backward and forward reactions without moving substantially in one direction or the other UNLESS something, usually from outside, "upsets" the equilibrium with a change in conditions. As you implied, the APEs could upset the whole status quo. Hurray for the active five fold ministry in the local church! Thanks.