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Recap of Greenville’s Second Annual Simeon Trust Preaching Workshop

Recap of Greenville’s Second Annual Simeon Trust Preaching Workshop

Every preacher thanks God for these encouraging words:

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. —1 Timothy 4:13–16

Not perfection, but progress. That’s what every preacher wants and that’s what every church needs in her preacher. To this end, from January 26–28 we hosted a preaching workshop for area preachers through a partnership with the Charles Simeon Trust. We were joined by 50 teachers and preachers from 28 churches, including 23 lead pastors. 

Eric Vander Ploeg is one of the area pastors that joined us. I’ve asked him to share about himself, his church, and the workshop we just hosted.

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1. Eric, thanks for joining us at the workshop this year. Tell us a little about your church and your role.

Twenty-eight years ago, Heritage planted Grace Bible Church as an outreach to the city of Spartanburg. The location was strategic—a church once surrounded by farmland now finds itself in one of the fastest growth corridors of the city. Excavators are everywhere, and developers are fast turning the red dirt into apartments and condos and neighborhoods and businesses. Hundreds of spiritually hungry people now live five minutes from our campus. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and one that only exists because of the prayer and the giving and the sacrifice of the people of Heritage. We are so grateful!

I joined Grace a little under four years ago serving as Lead Pastor and following a line of faithful men committed to the careful exposition of the Word. We try to live up to our name—passionate about giving and living God’s grace, standing on the unchanging foundation of the Bible, and seeking to build a healthy, life-giving, Christ-exalting church.

2. It’s no small commitment to set aside the better part of a week to join us for a workshop. All of your other pastoral responsibilities remain. Why did you prioritize this?

I had heard great things about the Simeon Trust and its unique approach to training preachers. When Heritage brought the workshop to my own backyard, I had to give it a try.

It’s not easy to get better at preaching. Kind church members give us (usually) well-meaning feedback, but it takes a preacher to really train a preacher. It takes someone who knows the craft, who knows the tools, who has spent a hundred Sundays in the pulpit doing his best, and a hundred Mondays wishing he’d done better. That’s the kind of man who has an ear for what needs to happen in the pulpit and who knows at the same time how to give feedback.

And that’s feedback we preachers rarely get. So to gather with sixty like-minded men and to present our work and receive well-informed, field-tested, life-giving feedback is so valuable. It’s well worth the investment. No conference I’ve ever encountered does the job as well as the Simeon Trust workshop.

3. A preaching workshop includes instructional sessions, expositions, but also about six hours of small group time where we share and push one another in our sermon preparation work. You just gave us some insight into the benefit of that small group time. Share with us about the format those small group sessions take.

There are books and trainings and conferences where you hear about preaching, but a workshop gets your hands dirty in the task of doing preaching. And you really only learn to preach by doing.

Each year the workshop focuses on a genre of Scripture and on a book of the Bible. This year it was narrative preaching from Judges. Each preacher prepares a few texts ahead of time—basically, all the work you do to write a sermon without actually writing it. Simeon has created a template for preparation, a worksheet that slows us down and takes us back to basics as we study the text. We have to wrestle with how the text is structured, with the context that is relevant for understanding the passage, with the argument the author is making, with how the passage fits into the whole Bible’s story of salvation in Christ, and how the text touches down in life—all in that order, which is crucial. We have to get our conclusions on these things down to crisp sentences.

During each small group a preacher gets five minutes to present the fruit of their studies. Then a teammate responds with that precious feedback—with encouragement and challenge. Then the rest of the group chimes in, and then the leader focuses in on the areas most helpful for growth.

I won’t lie—it’s intimidating. It’s humbling. Even exhausting. But it’s so valuable, and the men are so desiring for you to succeed and to grow. It’s a kind of sweet sharpening that makes every one of us better, and makes every one of our churches better served.

4. Our goal at these workshops isn’t perfection but progress. How did this year’s workshop help you make progress in your Word work?

When you preach for a while you can start to get bad habits in your prep. I feel like this year surfaced a few of those for me. The speed of pastoral ministry can sometimes lead to exegetical shortcuts with the text. The workshop slows you down and makes you walk through each and every step. No shortcuts. And that’s when bad habits become all too clear.

There’s also something inspiring about rubbing shoulders with fellow preachers. Watching another man stare at the text and see insights I totally missed makes me want to stare at that text a little longer. Watching a preacher handle the word with skill and art and passion, where the story comes alive and the truth behind the story comes home, makes me want to preach better. I left tired and grateful and aspiring to “practice these things, to immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). I have a list of things I want to do better this year. By God’s grace, that’s progress!

5. How can we pray for you and your church?

I’d always heard of preachers wondering if they were old enough and wise enough to tackle Romans. This past year I concluded I might be. Time will tell, but we embarked on our journey with Chapter 1, Verse 1. Pray that God would illuminate his Word as I hold it in uncertain hands and seek to proclaim it in all of its brilliant detail. Pray that the text would first move me before it moves my people.

I also lead a team of preachers. Each brings his own voice and experience to the text and makes for a rich diversity of preaching. Pray that I might help each of them make progress in their craft.

And, of course, Grace sits before a wide open door of opportunity. The world is moving into the neighborhood! Pray that we might make the most of every day, of every ministry initiative, and of every conversation.

Recap of Our First Annual Simeon Trust Preaching Workshop

Recap of Our First Annual Simeon Trust Preaching Workshop

Preachers need encouragement, help, and a regular reminder that God accomplishes his work in the world through his Word. That’s why three of the Apostle Paul’s letters were to pastors with words like these:

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13–16

It’s in this spirit of encouragement and progress that Heritage has invested in area churches and pastors in a variety of ways. It’s also why we hosted a preaching workshop for area preachers this past January through a partnership with the Charles Simeon Trust. We were joined by 54 teachers and preachers from 32 churches, including 30 lead pastors. 

Matthew Rawlings is one of the area pastors that joined us. I’ve asked him to share about himself, his church, and the workshop we just hosted.

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1. Matthew, we’re glad that you could join us at the preaching workshop in January. I’ll ask you a few questions about that, but first, tell us a little about yourself, the church where you preach, and the network of churches you’re a part of.

I’m originally from Virginia. I have been married to Julie for almost 25 years and together we have six children. Our oldest is a Sophomore at Anderson University and our youngest is seven years old.

Prior to pastoral ministry, I worked for the US Government outside of Washington D.C. and then was an IT Director for Electronic Arts.

Back in 1993, I started a college ministry at George Mason University, and in 1997 the pastors in our church asked me to pursue pastoral ministry. I’ve been pastoring since 1999. I spent seven years as a bi-vocational church planter in Surrey, British Columbia, (outside Vancouver, B.C.), before moving to South Carolina in the fall of 2007 to pastor at Redeeming Grace Church.

Our mission is simple and it is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who are growing as disciples and making disciples. I love serving as a pastor in our local church and count is a privilege to walk with others as we together seek to love the Lord and our neighbor with all that we are.

In 2012, I moved into the role of Senior Pastor and we began pursuing being a formal part of the Acts29 network of churches.

Acts29 is a diverse family of about 900, gospel-centered, church-planting churches. We’re characterized by theological clarity, cultural engagement, and missional innovation. Acts29 is committed to praying for conversions through evangelism, planting churches, pursuing holiness and humility and equipping church leaders. Our Southeast region is comprised of around 125 churches which work together to mutually encourage, equip and support each other in our shared mission. I was excited that 10 of our churches and the Acts29 Director of the Southeast region were able to attend the Simeon Trust workshop and are already planning to come back and bring more men in the future.

2. Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the Simeon Trust. What is the Charles Simeon Trust and what is a preaching workshop? Tell us a bit about the goals and the shape that a workshop takes.

The Charles Simeon Trust is a ministry that exists to strengthen local churches and further gospel proclamation through equipping pastors and teachers in expositional ministry. The Simeon Trust is guided by the conviction that the health of the Church depends on the proclamation of God’s Word.

Workshops for preachers are the heart of their work. Workshops are held in strategic geographic locations to support churches in their ministry of the Word, and consist of three things: instructional sessions, expositions, and small groups. In those small groups men will spend a total of six hours presenting their work on various texts and helping one another improve.

Workshops are a means not only of equipping and encouraging pastors and teachers, but also stirring up gospel-camaraderie and collaboration. Since the very heart of pastoral ministry is the proclamation of the Word, the goal of a workshop is to increase a preacher’s competence and confidence in their ability to apply themselves to the task of expositional preaching. Workshops seek to provide preachers with practical tools and the means to grow in the use of those tools in expositing God’s Word.

3. You’ve been to a number of these workshops before, even traveling some distance. Detail a bit of your history with these workshops and why you prioritize them personally. That will give us some insight into the importance of this kind of investment for our church and for area pastors.

I had been preaching and teaching for about 15 years when I attended my first workshop and didn’t quite know what to expect. I travelled up to Wisconsin for my first workshop at the recommendation of Mike Bullmore, who has been a trusted mentor to me in the past. I was immediately impacted by instruction that was more focused on preaching and more effective than any seminary or homiletical class I had taken up to that point. I have since made it a priority to take advantage of these workshops each year, tackling different genres of the Bible, so that I am better able to preach God’s Word to my local church.

Through these workshops, I have also formed biblical friendships with other pastors that have helped to sustain me in the ministry of the Word. I cannot think of a ministry that has impacted my preaching and improved my ability to preach God’s Word more deeply.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation and Simeon Trust enables preachers to proclaim God’s life-giving Word of hope to a dark and dying world.

4. Finally, because many of our readers will be members at Heritage Bible Church, anything you’d like to say to our church family having joined us as a guest?

As a guest of the workshop you hosted at Heritage Bible Church, I want you to hear my heartfelt thank you. Thank you for sacrificing financially to provide a comfortable place for us to hear God’s Word and grow in an undistracted way. Thank you for how you served us all in both large and small ways, from letting us use your facilities, to warmly welcoming us, checking us in, providing snacks and lunches, running the audio-visual systems that were needed, and being all-around excellent hosts.

Thank you for giving up time and supporting your pastors, specifically Trent and Abe, as they lead and served us all. In supporting and freeing up Trent and the team, you made the workshop in Greenville possible, when it wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Your kindness and generosity as a church provided a few days of respite to encourage many pastors and enabled us all to receive from God without having to plan or take care of anything that could take away from us receiving from God. You enabled me and over 54 other preachers to grow in God’s Word and the seeds of your ministry will bear much fruit, as God’s Word is proclaimed and the gospel is preached throughout all of our churches. I am convinced that your investment will result in bringing many people to Christ and in helping countless believers grow in God’s grace for years to come.  

Recap of our First Annual Women’s Workshop

Recap of our First Annual Women’s Workshop

In God’s wisdom, he has ordered the church so that men and women have complementary roles, with men entrusted with public teaching and the role of elder (1Tim. 2:8-3:7). We worked through this topic a little over a year ago in a sermon titled, “Women of the Word.” However, we must say more. Women are not merely Word receivers, but Word speakers. In fact, the health of the church hangs on the capacity of every member to speak the Word of God one to another (Eph. 4:11–16; Tit. 2:3–5).

Moved by this conviction, we want to see women at Heritage and in our city flourish in the Word. That’s why we recently hosted a workshop on biblical exposition for women in partnership with the Charles Simeon Trust. 

Liz Stratton, our Director of Women’s Ministries, owns this vision with our elders and headed up this workshop. I pinged her with a few questions so we could hear from her on how it went.

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1. Liz, thank you for coordinating and leading this event. Let’s start with this question: what is a Simeon Trust Women’s Workshop on Biblical Exposition? That’s a long title. Tell us about the goals of the workshop, how this fits into our desires for women’s ministry here, and what happens at these workshops.

The purpose of the workshop is to equip women to rightly handle the Word of God by giving them the tools and the confidence to do so. Many women Bible teachers in particular are not formally theologically trained so this type of training is needed in the church. Each workshop focuses on a particular genre of Scripture and a specific book within that genre. For this one, we focused on the epistles in general and 1 Peter specifically. Each participant was assigned 2 passages from 1 Peter to study beforehand. Then they were given an opportunity to share their work in a small-group and receive feedback that will help them to progress in their work. It can be a bit intimidating at first to be opened up to peer review like that, but I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful to hear from more experienced teachers how to make progress in my work. In addition to the small-group times, we also receive instruction in many different Bible study tools that give us a process for gleaning from the text what the original authors intended, as opposed to coming to the text and forcing our own interpretation on it.

2. Who is the workshop for and who joined us?

The workshop is specifically designed for women who teach in more formal Bible-teaching settings. So in our context at Heritage, that would probably be Ladies’ Bible Study and ladies’ elective classes. It can also be helpful for women who teach in children’s ministry settings. We had 63 women attend—8 women from Heritage, about 20 more from local churches throughout the upstate, and many more from around the country.

3. What was the most memorable part of the event from your perspective as the coordinator?

I just loved getting to know and learn from women from other churches who all have the common goal of teaching the Bible well. But if I’m honest, I think my favorite part was introducing the from-out-of-town guest speakers to Bacon Bros!

4. Why is it important for the local church to equip women to teach?

It’s important because according to the book of Titus, all mature Christian women should be teaching. Often when we hear people talk about teaching we only think of the select few who stand up in front of a group and give a prepared talk of some kind. But teaching looks a variety of ways in the church, and all women need to be equipped to teach so that the whole church body is built up in love (Eph. 4:15). Marriages will be strengthened as wives know how to lovingly speak truth to their husbands. Families are stronger as moms and grandmas know how to answer tough theological questions raised by children. Shepherding groups flourish when women are able to offer unique perspectives that are grounded in Scripture. Relational bonds are formed when older women know how to counsel younger women and when friends are able to offer Bible-saturated encouragement to one another. All that to say, it’s important for the health of the whole body, and I’m really thankful for church leadership that not only gives permission for women to be equipped to teach, but actively encourages and equips women to teach!