At the risk of over-generalizing, many of us who have been involved in ministry in the Spanish-speaking world over the last decades have been struck by a number of challenges that routinely face our Spanish-language ministry colleagues. Below are some of the most salient, as they relate to the exposition of the Scriptures and the distinctives of the ZECNT.
The challenge of time
A significant portion of pastors in the Spanish-speaking world are bi-vocational. Their congregations simply do not have the funds to pay them full-time salaries, thus the number of hours they can devote each week to ministry, let alone sermon preparation, is at a premium. The last thing they need are overly-technical commentaries that offer relatively little of sermonic and pastoral value for the time required to mine it out. At the same time, there is little real help to come from commentaries at the other end of the spectrum that often offer easily preachable content that may not be adequately rooted in the biblical text.
Much more helpful would be a commentary that, while never dumbing down the scholarship or shying away from addressing difficult issues, dedicates the majority of its presentation to the understanding of the passage’s meaning and application. The harried, time-pressed pastor, along with his own study, needs a resource that distills – in a sermonically usable way – the combined wisdom of expositors throughout history as well as the current scholarly community. The ZECNT does this remarkably well.
The challenge of training
Compounding the previous problem, is that many preachers in the Spanish-speaking world have less formal or informal training than they would wish. The same scarcity of time and financial resources, previously mentioned, also translates into relatively few theological institutions and relatively few who can attend them. And while, in principle, the Church does not need advanced degrees to fulfill its mission, the reality of an increasingly secularly-educated world places demands for first-rate thinking on those who articulate the Scripture’s message.
Coupled with this need for intellectually-oriented training is the practical training required to effectively develop a skill-set that enables the preacher to consistently take a passage of Scripture, exegete it accurately, interpret it properly, and present it powerfully. Since it has been designed expressly with this process in mind, the ZECNT skillfully guides the preacher along the process, helping him to stay focused on the meaning of the passage while he fashions his presentation for his particular context and congregation.
The challenge of resources and access to resources
A third issue impacts the Spanish-speaking world. Undeniably, Spanish is blessed with Christian literature beyond many other world languages, but when one considers that it is the third most spoken language in the world – after English and Chinese – it becomes quickly apparent how important a portion of the world it represents, and therefore, how important it is that it be resourced well. Furthermore, when one considers the splendid missionary activity currently emanating from Latin America, in particular, the value of resourcing this segment of the Church well becomes even more apparent.
Regrettably, here again, financial considerations make it terribly difficult for Evangelical publishing houses to produce and distribute high-quality resources. Academic works tend to be expensive (because voluminous) and therefore little purchased. Thus, publishing houses are frequently driven to publish cheaper, popular material that often only marginally serves the interest of a well-grounded church and sometimes is even counter-productive.*
This leads to a lose-lose situation. Few quality academic resources are available, and few can afford them.
It is for these reasons that we believe making a unique resource like the ZECNT available is so important. It provides accessible, high-quality, preacher-enabling scholarship in a way that no other resource in Spanish currently does.
(*On top of this, and at the other end of the spectrum, faced with a dearth of quality, conservative scholarship, the more educated are sometimes tempted to drink from the writings of liberal scholarship with the predictable deadening results on the integrity of the pulpit and the health of the church.)