This week I want to continue our conversation on becoming a missional church but I would like to start getting more specific. I’d like to start taking the conversation towards some specific actions and changes we will need to make in order for this vision to become a reality. Over the next weeks and months, my plan is to lay out a range of specific actions intended to make our worship, outreach, and discipleship more missional in nature. However, to begin this discussion I want to take a couple of weeks to talk about the preaching ministry of the church. All of you know that I believe the preaching ministry of the church must be central to everything we do. If the preaching is not right then it is doubtful that any of the other ministries in the church will be right. So preaching must be a top priority in the life of the church. Specifically, I want to share in with you some thoughts about what preaching will look like in the context of a missional church.
One of the primary characteristics of missional preaching is that must be focused on life change. I just finished reading Andy Stanley’s book Communicating for a Change and found myself to be greatly challenged concerning this issue. Stanley points out that preachers have basically three options when it comes to preaching. They can teach the Bible to people, they can teach people the Bible or they can teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible. The first option, to teach the Bible to people, focuses exclusively on the content of the Scripture. Essentially, the preacher just stands up and explains what the Bible says and then lets everyone try to figure out what to do with it. This is a favorite approach of many of the men that I love and respect in the ministry but it has no Biblical foundation. Never in the Bible will you see the content of Scripture being taught without application being made. The second approach is a little better in that the preacher focuses on audience as he prepares the message. He tries to make the message easy to understand and memorable by using various means of good communication. But a gain, this model falls short of the Biblical view of preaching because it aims at understanding rather than life-change.
The third option is the one Stanley advocates and that I think is the most Biblical model for preaching. In this option the preacher focuses on applying the text to life and showing people how to live the values, principles, and truths of the Bible. This kind of preaching focuses far more on applying the passage than explaining the content of the passage. Stanley writes, “Preaching for life change requires far less information and more application. Less explanation and more inspiration. Lest first century and more twenty-first century.”(p.96) Some will quickly argue that this kind of preaching will ignore the text and focus too much on people’s felt needs. Nothing could be further from the truth. To preach for life change requires the same in-depth study of the text but with more attention given in the presentation to showing how the principles are to be lived out.
As I have been thinking about my preaching it has occurred to me that most of my preaching has fallen into the first category. I am usually more concerned about having a lot of content and do not think much about how to apply all of this information to life. I went back and listened to a few of my sermons from the last year and tried to put myself in the place of an unchurched person. Basically, I realized that generally speaking there is simply far too much content even for the average Christian to absorb let alone an unchurched man or woman. So my goal is to focus more on learning how to apply the Bible to life and showing how the principles, values and truths of the Scripture can be lived out. To do this I will need to do the following two things and I would like to ask you to pray for me as I strive to get better. First, I need to focus on smaller amounts of material, specifically, on just one point from the text. This means that often I will be preaching two or three sermons in a row from the same passage. But each sermon will focus on just one point. Second, I need to spend more time reflecting on specific actions that we need to take as a community of believers to live out the truth. This means far more reflection and prayer about what we should do because of the sermon.
I would like for you to help me in this task by doing three things. First, pray for me. Ask God to give me wisdom as I preach the Word. Second, hold me accountable. Don’t let me slip into my little professor role and focus just on passing on information without showing you how to apply it. Third, give me some feedback about what is helping you and what is not.