Alexander was sitting with a group of pastors in a nearby Russian city ready to learn from the Russian Bible professor about Romans. The speaker read through the verses, pulling out ideas here and there.
But something was missing.
“The professor never made a reference to Paul’s purposes in writing Romans,” said Alexander.
Since his involvement with WordPartners training began in 2008, Alexander has learned to look for the intent woven through a book of the Bible.
He knew that answering the question, “How is God seeking to change His people through this book?” is where the transformation happens.
Russian pastors are used to thematic preaching, pulling out interesting ideas, looking to surprise their congregations. But after embracing WordPartners training, Alexander learned the value of making sure he’s not just offering something new but something true. He studies the purpose of the author and preaches in line with the Scripture’s intent.
“How is God seeking to change His people through this book?”
“The difference isn’t just a matter of style. To start with, it’s a matter of history. The evangelical church in Russia, under Soviet rule, dealt with the harsh reality that their senior pastors were often thrown into gulags,” said Alexander. At best, they had another job – working in a governmental position – with little time to prepare sermons and preach. What time they did have was spent doing administrative work, performing weddings and funerals, and taking care of other church matters. Churches relied on multiple preachers who would, collectively, offer several short sermons per service.
“We knew nothing about even the term of expositional preaching,” Alexander said. “Virtually no one had training in preaching or in ministry. When called on to preach, people said whatever came across their minds and tried to link it to the Bible. In reality, it was a retelling again and again of what the church has believed over 100 years of Russian evangelical history.”
These errors didn’t have a chance to be corrected. A true shaping of a congregation by the Bible wasn’t happening.
The thematic style of preaching became part of the church culture. But as Alexander sees the value of the training WordPartners gave him, he does it differently now. As he heard the professor’s preaching in Romans, Alexander was motivated to tackle the book with his own congregation – to dig into it with his church, anticipating the transformation that
When he got to Romans 14, he didn’t sugarcoat what Paul was saying.
“Paul’s concern is with right behavior, right beliefs, the right relationships in the Roman church and beyond,” said Alexander. “So, my focus was on that. If I were to sway from this line of authorial intent, the transformational intent, what harm would I bring to my church?”
As he preached through the various chapters, more people began coming to his church. One woman, who had been to several other churches but had found them wanting, started coming. Others who had been excommunicated from legalistic churches came too. His church was drawing people from various backgrounds, intrigued with his preaching. However, his long-time members got irritated with the newer attendees, with all their new questions and perspectives, and their diverse backgrounds of faith.
“Why do we need these people with problems from other churches?” they asked Alexander.
Alexander just kept preaching.
He preached Romans 11:17, where it says, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches.”
Later, he preached Romans 14:1: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel
That’s when the transformation started to happen. His members realized that their struggle wasn’t coming from a place of righteousness but from a place
They told Alexander, “We thought we were strong, that we were holy. But we now see that we were weak. What should I do now?”
But Alexander didn’t tell them what he thought they should do. He let the Word through Paul in Romans 15:5 speak for itself.
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It became a moment of conviction for Alexander.
“I should stick with the message of God’s Word,” Alexander said. “It has its power.”
Rebecca Hopkins wants to help people feel heard, seen and, welcome. She spent the first half of her life moving around as an army kid and the past 14 years trying to grow roots on three different Indonesian islands while her husband took to the skies as a pilot. She now works in Colorado for Paraclete Mission Group and writes about issues related to non-profit and cross-cultural work. She began writing for WordPartners in 2022.
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