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"Meeting Alistair Begg with a Nod to Mark 14 and Manchester United"




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By Brian Nixon, ASSIST News Service


01ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- Calvary Albuquerque recently hosted an expository preaching conference entitled, Expound. The free, one-day conference hosted pastors and Christian leaders from New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado.

The teachers at the conference were Skip Heitzig (Pastor of Calvary Albuquerque in New Mexico), John Miller (Pastor of Revival Christian Fellowship in Murrieta, California), and Alistair Begg (Pastor of Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio).

For eight hours, participants listened as these men taught on the “what” and “how” of expository preaching.

Pastor Skip began the sessions with the simple question, “What is Expository Preaching?” John Miller followed up with “Why We Do It.” The afternoon sessions consisted of “How We Do It, Pt. 1 and Part 2,” both taught by Skip and John.

Alistair Begg delivered the final message of the afternoon. Begg shared five points taken from Puritan pastor, John Owen (1616-1683), with commentary and insight given by Begg as to the role of the pastor’s life (holiness) and message communicated (the Gospel).

The conference concluded in the evening with a message delivered by Alistair Begg, text taken from the gospel of Mark, chapter 14. As Alistair delivered his sermon, people sat in rapt attention, hanging on every word, pondering his insights and exposition. It was a sermon of splendor.

In all, the theme of exposition was of paramount importance. For those not familiar with the term, it is best understood as a form of preaching that seeks to draw out the meaning of a text, a form of exegesis (critical explanation) where technical, grammatical, and historical tools are used to carefully expound the meaning of a verse, book, or section in the Bible.

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All three speakers noted that expository preaching is a fading method of teaching in today’s pulpits, with many preachers preferring stories, topical sermons, and felt-needs subjects. In a way, the challenge before all who attended was to get back to the Bible, explaining it in a careful way, applying its truths relevantly and specifically to the people gathered to hear.

It was an amazing conference.

One pastor wrote, “Wow! A great day! It was epic. The teaching and worship was anointed. Beautiful.”

Another pastor approached Pastor Skip to let him know that his denomination and church was unable to financially send him to conferences, and that a free, one-day conference was a blessing beyond measure. While saying this, the pastor welled up with tears.

Another pastor approached a conference assistant explaining to her that he drove from the Austin area in Texas (a 12 hour journey) to soak in the teaching, stating, “I live in the Bible belt. But sadly, many people don’t know the Bible. I drove to learn as much as I could.”

For me, the surprise came in between sessions. Not only was I able to listen to Pastor Skip and John share their heart for strong expository preaching in the church, challenging the younger generation of pastors to take a stand for expository teaching, but I was able to talk soccer with Alistair Begg. Yes, I said, soccer.

As we sat eating dinner waiting for the evening service, Alistair and I struck up a conversation about “the beautiful game.” We discovered we were both fans of soccer, particularly Manchester United. Alistair told me of attending the Champions League match between Manchester United and Barcelona. As a Manchester Fan, Alistair was routing for the Reds. However, he went to watch Lionel Messi play, stating, “it was a thing of beauty watching him play.”

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Our conversation turned towards our favorite Man-U player. As it turns out, we appreciate the same man: Paul Scholes. Enthusiastically, Alistair told me about a Scholes biography he read, explaining why Scholes elected to retire from England’s National team.

As a player, Scholes made 700 appearances for Manchester United. But announced his retirement from playing on 31 May 2011. Luckily, he reversed this decision on 8 January 2012, and went on to play into the 2012–13 season. Both Alistair and I were relieved when Scholes made the decision to return.

Before we knew it, our conversation continued for over 20 minutes, causing the non-soccer fans in the room to retreat. Jokingly, Pastor Skip announced, “All right guys, this is becoming like an idol!” We all laughed.

Though it may seem odd that Alistair and I discussed the intricacies of soccer during an expository teaching conference, I find the parallel between the two art forms uncanny.

First, expository preaching takes time to master. It requires study, practice, and diligence with the text. One must take the time to read, learn words, understand history, and parse the grammar. Likewise, the game of soccer takes time to master. To play the game well, one must invest immense amounts of energy, be a student of the game, and pursue it will great diligence and physical prowess.

Second, both expository preaching and soccer are art forms of strategy and performance. With expository preaching, one must find the meaning of the text, break it down clearly, and then articulate it to others. This takes a detailed understanding of the text and a strategy to communicate one’s finding clearly and powerfully. With soccer, one must understand the flow, rules, and structure of the match, react to the opposition with clarity, and strategize at a level that seeks to advance the team. Soccer is truly a fast-paced chess match on pitch; strategy is paramount.

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And finally, both expository preaching and soccer seek results. In an ultimate sense, expository preaching sees as the end result a changed heart and a converted soul. On a practical side, expository preaching hopes to cultivate results in the areas of greater Biblical understanding and the application of the text to ones life. Soccer, on the other hand, seeks to win. The great thrust of professional team sports is to out perform, out strategize, and out endure the opponent. Tis’ true that some people play sports for the fun of it, for personal growth, for team development, for character building, and for exercise (all amazing reasons to play sports). But in the professional—and purest sense of sporting—the expectations are a little clearer: try to win.

Think of it this way: what if a professional soccer team played another team that said, “We’re not out here to play hard or win. We only want to exercise and have some team development.” The first team would say, “Why bother? If you’re not going to play to win or give it your all, don’t waste our time.”

So winning is an important facet of any professional team sport.

And like soccer, expository teaching has an end result (as mentioned above): a changed life. If the Bible teacher stands up only to spout out Greek or give a history lesson, the purpose of a redeemed life looses focus. It’s like the soccer team that says, “We don’t have any expectation. Just here to have fun.” If an attitude like this occurs, expository teaching becomes solely an academic exercise, loosing concentrate direction of its large purpose.

With this, application of the text to a person’s life is critically important for expository preaching to have its full effect: to challenge the hearer to pursue Christ (and all the fruit that follows- holy life, etc), coinciding with the call to proclaim the Gospel to those who have yet to hear or clearly understand. Which leads us back to Alistair’s comments I mentioned above: the need for Gospel-centric expository preaching that causes a person (the teacher included) to live a holy life.

So though it may sound odd that one of the finest Bible teachers in America and I discussed soccer during an expository conference, hopefully you can see that there are similarities between the two.

Though there appears to be a reduction in quality Biblical teaching in the US today, conferences like Expound will hopefully turn the tide, challenging pastors and Christian leaders to take seriously the task of teaching the Bible with clarity and precision.

5To put it in soccer vernacular: by the Church recapturing its expository teaching heritage is like several players on the field getting hat tricks by ‘nutmegging’ the opponents on the pitch. It’s a marvel.

Or, as Alistair’s kind note left on my desk stated: “Thank you for the loan of your study. It has been my privilege to be here and to meet a brother who truly understands ‘the beautiful game.’ Grace and Peace, Alistair.”

The privilege Alistair referenced in the note was teaching at expository conference. His “privilege” was ours as well. And though not a “game” like soccer, expository preaching is “beautiful,” impacting lives for eternity, leading both the teacher and student in understanding God’s grace and peace through a detailed teaching of Scripture, challenging us to become more like Christ.

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