Because this is kick-off week for this new blog series, I’ll be reviewing more than one Toledo UBF message. The new study is from the book of Colossians. In this blog series of reviews, I focus on only the first step in improving a message: identifying what’s wrong. I have much to say about what to do right, but from my personal experience as a Toledo UBF messenger, none of that is helpful until we identify what needs to be corrected.
The public message can be downloaded here: The Gospel is Bearing Fruit and Growing
The messenger makes a clear attempt to break free from the predictable UBF style “look at verse” message formula. There are even four points instead of three. But no amount of re-arranging or earnestness spares this message from being predictable and robotic in nature.
TITLE AND SCRIPTURE:
The Gospel is Bearing Fruit and Growing
Lack of definitions. The word “gospel” is used 47 times in this message. But not until page 3 do we get a definition, presented almost in passing. “When I say the gospel of Jesus, what I am referring to is what Jesus did to make us right with God, his death, his burial and resurrection.” If we are talking about the gospel (and according to the title we are), this ought to be front and center. The gospel should not be a side comment but presented with utter joy and excitement! Speaking of the title, I’m left wanting to know how the gospel grows and bears fruit. The fruit of the gospel goes way beyond “faith, hope and love”. That answer sounds like a cop-out, as if the messenger couldn’t come up with anything to answer “what is the fruit?” Well, at least he didn’t want to say the fruit of the gospel is UBF heritage. Leaving out the heritage is a good thing to me, but replacing the heritage with “faith, hope and love” falls flat.
Where is Epaphras? I find a highly relevant point in the man named Epaphras. He started the Colosse church correct? Not Paul? Yet Paul accepts Epaphras and has no indication of competition of ministry or of being separated because Epaphras was in a different “denomination.” I think there is a big application here somewhere.
Vague reference to struggles. “Likewise, this is our present reality. There is a spiritual battle amongst us.” “There is a spiritual battle going on among us. And yet, this same gospel is our weapon against Satan’s lies and deceptions.” Why these vague references? This invokes fear in the audience, especially if they don’t feel such a battle going on. This kind of thinking is bordering on spiritual abuse because fear and uncertainty are planted.
Patronizing UBF people. The one real-life illustration in this message is predictably that of a UBF leader. Are there no other examples of living faith? Why do UBF messengers always look inside the ministry? “…When I listened to Dr. Samuel H Lee’s testimony a few weeks ago (before his return to Africa as a missionary with his wife Anna) and how he sought to grow in the fullness of Christ, I realized that even at the age of 70, he was still bearing amazing fruit as a result of the gospel in him.” This might be very confusing to newer or younger people in the audience. Do they know the difference between Samuel H Lee and Samuel C. Lee? or what about Samuel A. Lee?
Leaving out belief. Using a commentary is good. Relying on a single quote by Matthew Henry is not so good. “Knowing the will of God is a very personal and intimate moment between ourselves and God. It is assuring and emboldening when God’s will becomes clear to us and we have a sense of clear direction. After all, we must know it in order to do it.” Matthew Henry has a lot of helpful insight. But this one missed the mark in my opinion. What is more important than knowing? I say believing is more important. Why do people buy something or commit to something? It is because they believe in it. Paint a picture that people can believe in, then they will seek to know and do. I think this is at the heart of my rating for this message.
So close and yet so far. The messenger shares his struggle honestly. That’s good. “In one message I was listening to, the speaker talked about the messiness of life and finding herself in these moments of not knowing, of brokenness, of fear. And with every word, it was clear that different people in the audience could relate to a certain kind of messiness. And so could I. As I thought about this real challenge to knowing the will of God, and myself often battling states of not knowing, I found it hard to resolve this issue with the unknown.” Then he laments in the very next sentence: “So I was at a loss of what to say in this message.” What? At a loss? The messenger just alluded to a heart-moving story about a woman who was talking about something amazing. It sounds rather amazing, but why doesn’t the messenger share it with us? Why not share what you listened to? If it moved you (and it seems it did) why not share that? A messenger must learn how to pull the heartstrings from time to time. Sharing this tearful example might have added another star to my rating.
The honest, earnest struggle of the messenger comes across loud and clear in this message. In that respect, this message is better than most Toledo UBF messages. But I’m left grasping the air after reading this message. I cannot consider this message that of a preacher. And in spite of a good attempt to modify the UBF-standard for messages, this message leaves me wondering the same question the message started with: Why Colossians?
2 stars – This message is an honest attempt, and almost gets a 3 star rating. But in he end this message fails to invoke belief in the gospel of Jesus in any meaningful way. Is the gospel growing and bearing fruit? I can’t tell. This message comes across as a dead plant. In fact, the messenger almost sounds envious of the gospel growing and bearing fruit elsewhere, and wishes he could be part of that. The good news is that he could be!