Turning the weekly church bulletin into a tool for Bible ministry
Source: Perspective Vo5 No2 © Perspective 1999
When it comes to the Pastor’s message in your regular church bulletin, MIKE FISHER says you should make sure you have something worth saying…:
Picture this. It’s half way through the offering in your Sunday Service, and that means half the people in the pews have finally stopped frantically rummaging through their pockets and handbags. What are they going to do now? Like anyone else, they’re going to grab something to read. And that probably means the weekly bulletin is going to be picked up and given the once-over.
They’re going to flick past all the regular stuff, pause over the stats for last week’s offering, and then they’ll get to the minister’s Bulletin Blurb. And the question I want to ask is: What will they read when they get there?
Because it seems to me that the Bulletin Blurb is a bit of a problem for many of us ministers. As if a sermon (or two) and a few Bible studies aren’t enough, we have to come up with about 400 words on something else as well! So what will we write this week? If we’re feeling nine-tenths flogged out already, it can be a bit of a pain.
And that’s the thing I see when I read some of the sample bulletins I collect on the rounds to other churches. I read the Blurb and I know it was the last cab off the rank. But that’s a real pity, because the Blurb is worth putting some time into. It can become a prime opportunity to provide our people with succinct but solid teaching from yet another angle.
Well then, what can be done with the weekly Blurb to make it a good opportunity for ministry? Well, here’s a few ways I’ve found to make the most of the Blurb:
1. To start with, I’ve sometimes used the Blurb to present the gospel in a clear, punchy way – for the simple reason that I know that there are always bound to be some non-Christians lurking in the pews. Reading something is often a good way to go for these people, because it gives them the chance to reflect and chew over the written word, even if it’s only for the few moments before Deacon Dollarmite prays for the dough.
2. It’s also a great way to share discoveries and insights from your own reading of the Bible. This has some good spin-offs – in particular, it’s another way of encouraging people to read the Bible and discover things for themselves. They think, “Hey, I could have bumped into that myself!”
3. You can use the Blurb to provide a Christian response to current affairs. This is simply an outcome of the fact that the gospel has something to say to everything – be it Heavens Gate, Port Arthur, or whatever. There are Biblical responses to be made to all these things, and the person in the pew is always wondering how their faith should tackle the stuff the media raises. Enter the Blurb. And again, there are other good spin-offs to be had from this sort of thing. For starters, it lets your people know that you too watch the telly and that you’re normal (hopefully). But more importantly, it stimulates them to ponder from a Christian perspective everything that’s piped into their lounge rooms, instead of just being passive culture sponges.
4. One thing I haven’t done yet, but I can feel it coming on, is to use the Blurb to clarify the direction of our church. Why not use the Blurb to discuss ministry priorities for your congregation from the Bible? All you need to do is make sure you keep things clear and Biblical.
5. Believe it or not, but I have no shame in admitting this: I reckon the Blurb is a great opportunity to ride your hobby-horses! Better riding them in the bulletin than in the sermon, anyway.
My current punching-bags are:
- the importance of the Old Testament in understanding the New Testament.
- the importance of reading our Bibles in a hermeneutically honest way (but never mention the word ‘hermeneutic’, of course).
- pluralism, the philosophical scourge of the 90s. Yes, it’s alive and well in our churches and Bible-study groups, I’m afraid
- ‘charismatic’ and other denominational foibles. This isn’t merely a cheap opportunity to put the boot into your opponents when they’re not around to answer your charges It’s more about warning our people not to fall for the quasi-Biblical tripe that is prevalent out there.
In the pluralistic 90’s, Christians are tempted to think that ‘’anything goes” – so many think that ‘charismania’ is OK if you like that sort of thing. But as ministers of the Bible, you and l have a duty to point out that so much of tile stuff out there is an aberration of Biblical Christianity, and not a valid option at all.
OK then, those are some of the things you can hit with the Blurb. But where do you go for a fresh idea week after week? Well, here are a few sources of ideas I’ve found to be reliable:
Keep on the alert as you work your way through your reading schedule. I find that if I’m up on my reading, be it from the Bible or any other book, then ideas jump out everywhere, There are always surprising things to be found in the Bible, so why not surprise your people with what has surprised you?
There’s plenty of mileage to be had in shamelessly raiding periodicals (such as Perspective!) – but be careful to give credit where credit is due, eh. We wouldn’t want our people to think we were completely original thinkers all the time now, would we?
Sermon illustrations from 6 months ago or more are a good source of ideas. Most people have all but forgotten them, but you can remind them of key points from previous sermons. It’s just another opportunity to hammer home the text
All in all, the Bulletin Blurb is best seen as yet another opportunity to provide people with sound teaching. We should be out to hit ‘em with it any way we can. So, when Joe & Joelene Christian are there in the pew, looking for something to read rather than twiddle their thumbs, give them something. . If it’s done well, it’ll be something they look forward to every week – those 400 words that send home once more the urgency and relevance of the Bible and the gospel.
Three sample bulletin blurbs…
The Easter Reality
When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are plenty of people who simply don’t believe it. They believe there’s no way Jesus could have been raised to life after his death on the cross. Because death is the universal one-way street – there’s no backing out, is there. So the claim that one man actually died, got carted off to the cemetery and came back from the dead three days later, is just a load of toff, we’re told. “It’s scientifically impossible, and therefore it simply didn’t happen!”
Well, maybe what these people are saying is more like, “It had better not have happened …” Because if it did happen, then that means that God has it all over our ‘science’. Yikes! All that these so-called ‘scientific’ people are betraying is the fact that they have a huge bias against the id’ of the existence of a God who can raise the dead. And as with all biases, the best thing to do is put them aside and look at the evidence, the facts. Then, and only then, are we in a position to say what is or isn’t possible.
So what’s the evidence? Well, far starters, Paul could point to hundreds of people who’d seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes (see 1 Cor. 15:5-7). Hundreds of changed people – dejected one day at the cruel execution of Jesus, and three days later overjoyed to see him alive.
Or take the incidental evidence which crops up all aver the place in the New Testament. Like in Peter’s sermon to the crowd on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2). In what he says, he takes it for granted that the crowd knows the tomb is empty. He doesn’t have to argue for it – his hearers accept it as a fact! Add to that the fact that both Paul and Peter (and hundreds of others) suffered and died for their conviction that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Paul himself traipsed on foot for thousands of kilometres over some of the most rugged terrain on earth, facing repeatedly the threat of death for the message he preached. If it was all a con, or if there was any element of doubt in their minds about the resurrection of Jesus, then why did they go through all that pain?
As one writer put k, “a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection” has been ripped in history. With what else will we fill it, if not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?
A Floydian Slip
Pink Floyd, on their album The Division Bell, have an interesting track entitled Keep Talking. It begins with an academic sort of voice chanting these words: “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened that unleashed the power of our imagination: we learned to talk.”
The song goes on to tell how one man is cut off from humanity – as well as himself – by his refusal to communicate with those around him. As he suffers in this prison of silence, the academic voice says, “It doesn’t have to be like this – all we have to do is make sure we keep talking.” The way Pink Floyd see it, if you feel like you’re beginning to lose touch with who you are, then make sure you keep talking. It‘s what makes you human, and if you keep talking with others then ultimately you’ll be OK.
But is that true? Is our unique ability as people to communicate with words what makes us truly human? Of course not, It’s a bit like saying that, because my car wouldn’t run when a hoon swung an axe through the carburettor, therefore the carburet-tor is the essence of what the car is. But that’s nonsense – the carburettor is a vital part of the car, but it’s not the only vital bit. In the same sort of way, the fact that we speak isn’t necessarily what makes us human. So what is it that makes us truly human? If it’s not language, then what is it? Art? Sport? What?
Genesis chapter 1 answers the question for us, like so many other of life’s big questions. When God has finished creating the heavens, the earth, and all the plants and creatures of the earth, there’s only one part of creation of which it is said,
So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (1:27)
And if we look at the context there, especially 1:26, we see what it means to be made in the image of God. Like God in 1:26, mankind is plural – male and female, made for relationship – and he’s made to rule the earth, mimicking God’s kingship. So, we’re made in God’s image. That’s what makes us human, not some alleged quirk of evolution. In the big questions of life (as with the ‘little’ questions), we need to follow the Bible, not the wisdom of our age.
The Name Game
Genealogies in the Bible are pretty boring things. They’re nothing more than lists of names – such’n’such begat such’n’such. Whenever we get to genealogies in our reading of the Bible, we usually skip over them. We ignore them for the simple reason that they don’t mean anything to us.
Like Jesus’ genealogy in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 1. We read something like that and we wonder, What’s the point? We want to skip past it and get into something more interesting, something more meaningful.
But if genealogies are so boring, how come working out one’s genealogy has become a huge activity for thousands of Australians? Many people even travel overseas to find out as much as they can about their ancestors, and fill in missing parts of their family trees. Why is this?
Well, I think that people research their genealogies for the simple reason that it gives them a context. Let me explain. When someone researches their family history, they discover they have all sorts of interesting ancestors. Lords and ladies, battlers and pioneers – and with any luck, a convict or two! All of sudden, Mr. Average discovers his roots. He’s not Mr. Average any more – he’s Mr. Identity.
But the thing is, that’s exactly the way it works with Jesus’ genealogy there in Matthew l. It’s all about giving us Jesus’ context. If we took the time to read the Old Testament, we would discover that so many of the names in Matthew 1 are gigantic figures in God’s unfolding plan. Just like Mr. Average’s genealogy, Jesus’ genealogy would grab us and excite us if only we picked up on the Old Testament background. Because all of those names aren’t just names – they’re identities, people who are highly significant in God‘s big scheme.
When Matthew gives us Jesus’ genealogy, it’s like he’s saying, “Just look at this bloke, will you – HE’S BIG!” But the thing is, we only hear Matthew say that if we have first heard the Old Testament…
Mike Fischer is the pastor of Australind Baptist Church in Western Australia