Missional Preaching Pt. 1

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.

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11 thoughts on “Missional Preaching Pt. 1

  1. Boss Man,

    Good stuff. I trust you and your faithfulness to the Word.I know you will remain Christ-Centered in all that you do. So, I am all for application. However, as it pertains to your preaching, I believe your use of the “explanation” part of the sermon has always been a blessing and not over-bearing. I think we live in a biblically illiterate society, even in Metropolis, and you faithfulness to the explanation is something I have found to be a blessing, and influential in my own life, walk, and preaching.Explanation,I believe to be equally important as application. I disagree with with Stanleys idea “Less 1st Century, more 21st Century” Application, is very very important. But the reason explanation is important is becasue of that 20 century gap.The people cannot live apply, what they do not know.In saying that I love the idea of us moving to become a missional church. I know your love for preaching, and your commitment to faithful exposition. That is why I am more than proud and eager to sit under you as a brother, student, disciple, etc. I am looking forward to this. I just also pray for accountability (as you have already mentioned) to make sure the oppositte doesnt happen, and the explanation is dismissed. Which is something I know you would never do. With all that, I do hope I did not come off as arrogant, or dis-respectful. It could go without saying how much I respect, love, and admire you as a brother, pastor, father, and mentor. I just want the accountability to work both ways if that makes sense.

  2. Bro. Joe I agree to the sermans needing application, but I also agree with Nate that your explaination and break downs should not be dismissed. I am a note taker and my Bible has never been filled so quickly with IMPORTANT background info. or original word meanings, what they were really saying & what God is really saying….

  3. Thanks Nate and Ilene for the compliments. Please understand that I am not saying there is no place for the explanation of Biblical content because there is. However, I am saying that one of the things I need to do is to strive to wrestle more with the application of the text. It is easy for me to hide behind the explanation and never deal with the changes that I need to make in my own life as a result of the text. As a preacher I need to constantly remember that my main goal is not to transfer information but to be used by the Holy Spirit in the transformation of people’s lives. If you look at the examples of sermons from Acts or even use the epistles as an example you will see that the model is to show how the Scripture applies to real life situations. This includes explanation, illustration, and application. Sadly, I think often I get the first two without adequate attention to the last. But the Biblical examples as well as the great preaching of the past shows that the best sermons start with the application and use the explanation and illustration to support it. Spurgeon once said, “The sermon begins where the application starts.”

  4. Great. Thanks for that clarification. I am looking forward to your preaching this summer. Ill be in prayer as you start making the adjustments

  5. Joe,

    I am really excited about the direction you are going. I’d like first to reiterate the things previously mentioned. Fact of the matter is, I have learned a great deal about the Bible that I did not previously know. If I were a note taker I would be in the same boat as Ilene with several notebooks full of helpful information. And with Nate, I am a huge proponent of preaching the text rightly (as are you). Where I disagree with Nate (which, honestly, is uncommon) is that preaching is about preaching the Bible faithfully, but can it really be called faithful if you have not shown people how to use it in real life? Are the Biblical backgrounds important if they have no bearings on our life today?
    Two examples: around when Joe got here, he preached through Galatians and gave a very good and convincing argument for Paul having gone to Petra before officially starting his ministry, and not to Mt. Sinai. No offense Joe, but who cares? It did not change my life in any single way. On the other hand, Justin Lange once did a Bible study through the book of 1 Peter. In it, he showed how Peter was telling his audience how to deal with persecution. Justin talked about how it was likely that 1 Peter was written before or during the reign of Nero, and all the torturous things Nero did to Christians. That really brought that text to life for me, helped me understand what it means to trust Christ in the midst of that. My point is this: the content is to be guided by the message of the text. If the background information is not important changing lives, then it is unnecessary. Think, for a moment, about Paul. He never loads people up with theological content and then lets them sort it out for themselves. There is always application. If our preaching does not change lives then what is it good for?

  6. I was not disregarding the application. I was merely suggesting that the accountability work both ways. It may not have been needed. However, I decided to suggest it anyway. You have to apply. I have never denied that.

  7. Jacob, first of all ouch. Second, exactly! You are seeing what I am trying to say perfectly. Explanation and illustration has to be directed towards application. In other words, we need to think first of all how to apply the text then decide what explanatory and illustrative material will support the application. Obviously, you have to do sufficient study to discover what the text is about but then we must immediatley move towards application.

    Nate, I understand and did not mean to imply that you are denying the need for application. What I see in myself is an excessive amount of explanation that is disconnected from the application of the sermon.

  8. I understand. My comment was more focused toward Jaboc. This conversation has been helpful. It is good that conversations like this can exist and be productive. Praise God for fellowship.

  9. Jacob – why don’t you just kick your pastor while he’s down! LOL! Just kidding!

    This has been a great discussion to read and, actually Jacob’s post and Joe’s reply has really helped me to understand the situation. I must say that there are many areas of my own life that I need to work on and how they need to change to make Christ more evident. I appreciate the transparency of Joe and everyone. It is important to see how we are all challenged to change and grow in our lives and in order to share the gospel better with our community. Keep it up!

  10. Amen to your blog on the 25th Bro. Joe. How can anyone know how wonderful God is if they do not know what he’s done, for me, for you, for every Christian. If we pretend we are perfect and we’ve always been that way what does that show of our savior?

  11. I guess I misunderstood a bit then, Nate. Sorry!

    I did not mean to kick anyone (and I really did enjoy that particular sermon), I meant it only for illustrations sake.

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