Thursday, January 19, 2006

Random thoughts in the middle of a busy week

I'm too tired to be able to do any sustained reflection, so here's a hodgepodge of stuff running through my head recently.

Sermons and their listeners
iMonk's latest essay "What's Wrong with the Sermon? It's too long?" is an interesting read. I'm actually quite used to listening to 40-minute sermons, which is more or less the average length of the sermon of my home church, whereas the sermons here tend to fall into the 25-30 minute range. This is more or less ideal, since I think a sermon should usually fall into a 25-45 minute range.

Although it is the preacher's job to expound the word of God, and to improve his communication and delivery skills in this respect to close the gap between the preacher and the congregation, I don't think the latter has an entirely passive role. Instead, I think the congregation has a role in that it must make an effort to be actively listening.

For one, the Sunday gathering is special in that we are coming together as a corporate, covenantal community in Christ. Although the church is made up of people and not buildings and bureaucracies, and therefore we can reject any notion of a "Sunday-only" church, we are told to always meet together and encourage one another, and be devoting ourselves to teaching (Acts 2:42, 1 Timothy 4:13).

Secondly, and on a related point, I think we need to remember that church/the Sunday gathering is not meant to entertain us, and so we need to ditch a consumer-oriented mentality, where we complain that the preacher was too dull, too monotonous etc. This isn't to gloss over the fact that some preachers are more gifted than others, or that some need to work more on their communication skills, but simply a reminder that we are not mere spectators but participants in worshipping God.

The perils of Bible study
One reason that I thought the above essay was pretty interesting has to do with my recent experiences of leading Bible study. A lot of the points are quite relevant to preparing a Bible study as well, including the need for a clear focus, which is my current weakness. I was a little disheartened on Monday (when I was leading) for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I made a boo-boo when I carelessly misinterpreted part of a verse and nearly ended up teaching my group heresy! It was a good thing that David, who's the international student worker at my church, was sitting in on the study and caught the mistake in time. That was a really humbling experience. David was very encouraging afterwards though; he said that he knew that I could usually be counted upon for careful exegesis, and really, what I needed to work on was on writing my questions better so as to let the study flow better. But yeah, tells you that we all need to wrestle with the text carefully and prayerfully and not take anything for granted.

But also, my group has some colourful characters; if you've been a Bible study group leader before, you know very well that sooner or later you're going to get thrown a person or two who just befuddles you to no end! It's a huge challenge to know how to lead in such a situation, when you want to be both affirming and encouraging, as well as encourage discussion (and discourage a "I'm right because I say so" attitude), yet at the same time you don't want the study to go off on a tangent to Never-Neverland. I get especially frustrated when sometimes, people want to rush off to "go deeper" into the text and ignore doing the important, if simple, task of observation - as if that was meant for beginners and not Christians who are "more mature".

It was quite bemusing really, there was a newcomer in my group, and halfway through the study, he suddenly interrupted and went on a long ramble about the importance of making sure that we see the big picture and not inspect each sentence in a word-by-word format less we miss the forest for the trees, as well as the need to remember that the English Bibles we have are very good, but not perfect translations. Which was all mostly true of course, but I was completely mystified as to why he needed to say that; as far as I could tell I certainly was not engaging the text in such a manner.

I never actually thought about it before, but I think I'm actually the youngest in my group, and probably the one with the least life experience as well, but I was wondering if that might affect group dynamics somehow? (Or maybe it doesn't at all.)

Me - the world's worst evangelist
My flatmate and I had a good chat about the Christian faith this evening. He was in my room, looking over a map that I have which also contains data on things like poverty, warzones and so on, and remarked on how he suddenly realized the world wasn't exactly the most peaceful place at all, and that seemed to be the pattern of history. So I went: "Why do you think that is?" He replied that he didn't know. So I went: "Weeelllll.....I think the answer might lie in our understanding of human nature..." and off we went.

Actually, I was nowhere as eloquent as I sound here - lots of ummmsss, aahhhhhs, and internal smacking of foreheads every time I thought that I might have been too obnoxious or too impatient. I think I must have broken every cross-cultural rule (my flatmate is Vietnamese) on the planet. Trust me, it's very instructive to share your faith with another person from a different culture and who doesn't have a good grasp of the English language - no Christian jargon and no big words allowed. And having to keep in mind that you can't take for granted even that you share even the most basic of assumptions. And also humility in recognising that even Christians don't have all the answers, and that it is always love, and not pride that compels us.

I pray that my heart will be changed to have more of a burden for my friends who don't yet know Jesus, because he really is the truth, the way, and the life. Christianity is intellectually credible, but it is more than that, it is also what enables us to be truly human.

Did you know Shakespeare spoke Manglish?
I was reading this in Pericles, one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, the other day:

Act 4, Scene 1, lines 72-76
MARINA
Why would she have me kill'd?
Now, as I can remember, by my troth,
I never did hurt her in all my life.
I never spake bad word, nor did ill turn
To any living creature; believe me la

And there you have it! Manglish can be traced back to Shakespeare!

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