Saturday, March 31, 2012

Preaching Content

This week, I’ve talked about preaching. Let me just say a word about content by giving you two quotes. One of the leaders at my church reminded me "your focus has always been on the gospel", and ultimately, it seems like the conclusion to preaching week should be the subject of content, because preaching, in the end, is a delivery vehicle for a message.

So first, T. David Gordon, from his book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media have Shaped the Messengers.
I wish to address briefly what I believe the content of preaching today should be... From about 25 years of wrestling with the question, I have come to concur with those who believe that the content of Christian preaching should be the person, character, and work of Christ. What we declare, with Paul, is not ourselves, but Christ crucified. Our message, like Paul's, is "the message of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The substance of our proclamation is the soteric fitness of the person and character of Christ, and the soteric competence of his work. With the old Puritan John Flavel we wish to open up that "Fountain of life" which consists of Christ's "Essential [person of Christ] and Mediatorial [work of Christ] Glory". What is offered to the congregation, in rightly ordered Christian worship, is nothing less than Christ himself.
Said another way- the Gospel!

Which brings us to the second quote from Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary by J.D. Greear, giving a definition of the gospel.

The gospel is that Christ has suffered the full wrath of God for my sin. Jesus Christ traded places with me, living the perfect life I should have lived, and dying the death I had been condemned to die. Second Corinthians 5:21 says that he actually became my sin so that I could literally become his righteousness. Saint Althanasius called this the "the great exchange ." He took my record, Died for it, and offers me his perfect record in return. He took my shameful nakedness to clothe me with His righteousness. When  I received that grace in repentance and faith, full acceptance becomes mine. He lived in my place, died in my place, and then offered to me a gift. Theologians call that "gift-righteousness".
That means that God could not love me any more than he does right now, because God could not love and accept Christ any more than He does, and God sees me in Christ. God's righteousness has been given to me as a gift. He now sees me according to how Christ has lived, not on the basis of what kind of week I've had. Christ's salvation is 100 percent complete, and 100 percent  the possession of those who have received it in repentance and faith. If you are in Christ, when God looks at you – regardless of your situation – he sees the righteousness of Christ. If we really believe that – not only with their heads but also with our hearts – it would change everything in our lives.
Here’s my word on content. Pastors, church leaders- Preach the gospel! Preach the finished work. Hold up the passage, show it, show how it speaks to a given sin, a given problem, deal with defeaters, and proclaim the Gospel!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Word to the clock watchers

Some strong words from Scottish Theologian P.T. Forsyth here at the end of Preaching week.
"We discourage the position of those who are impatient of the sermon, who walk out when it comes on, or who paralyse preachers by a demand for brevity before everything else. I speak of those who do so on the ground that they go to Church to worship God. I should like to say here that in my humble judgment the demand for short sermons on the part of Christian people is one of the most fatal influences at work to destroy preaching in the true sense of the word. How can a man preach if he feel throughout that the people set a watch upon his lips. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but the preacher is not a wit. And those who say they want little sermon because they are there to worship God and not hear man, have not grasped the rudiments of the first idea of Christian worship ... A Christianity of short sermons is a Christianity of short fibre."
P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (pp.68-69)
Amen. Amen. Amen. My conclusion is that without solid strong preaching, the preaching of the gospel, the fires die, the gospel is not unleashed, and what you are left with is, "Christianity of short fibre." 

Closing Considerations

So, now that I’ve laid out the material on my theology of preaching, taken time to push back on the 20 minute arguments, and laid out the challenge of preaching, why did I feel the need to blog about the subject it? Why did I not say, “awesome, during the fall we closed the book, the pastoral relations committee, after reading my arguments, signed off on it, we are good to go, never look back”?

First, because while the change is done, and we are never going back, for all the reasons I have outlined over Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, there is still a small segment that has not come around, in part - I believe - because I haven’t taught on the subject in a public way. This material that I covered over the last three days still needed to be communicated, and this is a forum that allows interaction, comments, debating, if we write comments back and forth in a thoughtful way (by the way, no anonymous comments).

Second, it was because of the mandate, and thinking about it, that my thinking on preaching was sharpened. I have a much richer and fuller understanding of why I do what I do, why I feel compelled to do what I do because of what happened. I want to share the logic.

Third, looking back on it allows me to see more clearly what I could not see when I was in it. What mistakes I made (I will only analyze my mistakes), and what I learned.

Fourth, it gets me to some thoughts about what needs to happen for many older New England churches if we are to move forward and bring the gospel to bear on our communities.

So…today, I want to take myself and those that have followed these posts, through what I’m calling closing considerations. This could will be a grab bag of closing thoughts. I want to organize it this way. What led to the preaching battle. What I did wrong after the mandate (and how the rest of life played out - because ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum). 5 things I learned, the results, and thoughts moving forward.

What led to the preaching Battles
In some ways, you could say that the preaching war was inevitable. From the day I walked in, it was an inevitability. Stylistically, theologically, age, on just about every spectrum, I was different from my predecessors. When I was hired, I was a 28 year old Gordon Conwell man with a reformed theology and a predisposition to burn his electives on preaching classes. I following a 65 year old Andover Newton woman who was theologically on the protestant liberalism end of the spectrum (and directly following a universalist interim). Each pastors age, personality, theology, and training shape how they will lead the church, where they will seek to lead the church, and who will be attracted. On some level, it was inevitable. We switched from an older mother, to a young father, quite literally (as my son was born 6 weeks after I arrived).

On top of that, when I arrived, the word change was draped around my neck. The mission was simple. I knew it, the leadership knew it. People reminded me of it from the start. I was hired to bring new life to the congregation. Bring in families. Change the church, change the music… Change, change, change. I understood the mission, the church understood the mission. After the first few investigatory Sundays where people came and checked out the new guy we dropped to around 25, and stayed there. My wife and I were the youngest ones. Change needed to happen, my church needed new energy. Fast. I was brought to bring it, and a segment of the church had a strong desire for change in a number of areas.

But, and there is almost always a “but”, change doesn’t come simply for any organization, institution, or movement. It’s not as easy as rolling out the ball for a new draft pick and expecting things to work. Take a new quarterback. Andrew Luck, who will probably succeed Peyton Manning, for example. The system has to be tweaked for him. It’s not enough to throw him into Peyton’s system. Tweaks will be needed. They may even need a whole new offensive system.The same goes on when a church hires a new pastor, especially when they are an aging congregation making an intentional direction change by getting a young guy. This is amped up all the more by the challenges the church faces as we face a hostile and increasingly hostile postmodern world. Significant change often has to happen. Few churches are prepared for the postmodern (and post-Christian) age. By and large, we have an aging church that must be mobilized to face a postmodern, postchristian world in which we will once again have to make our appeal against the backdrop of other faiths. This will refine us, shape us, dare I say strengthen us. But it will not come easy, and it will take a new offensives system, preaching that is fiercely Gospel centered and apologetic, preaching that seeks to grow deep Christians who live out the gospel on the battlefield of life, remembering that they are citizens of heaven ultimately (Philippians 3:20). Personally, I believe that the church will need to look allot more like the first 100 years of Christianity, than the last 100 years of Christianity.

So on the one hand, there was an air of inevitability to it. But what also led to the preaching war was that I did not seek to understand and then educate those who had come from and loved the culture of twenty minute sermon and out in an hour. This was the way it had been for a very long time, and here I was, stepping on sacred structures. So when the deacons said, people are complaining, I knew they were used to shorter sermons, but I didn’t really listen. Over time, my sermons grew from 20, to 25, to 30, then 35, and even occasionally went to 40, and when the warnings came, and the deacons pushed me to cut back, I didn’t. This brought the hammer last spring, and the fault was in large part mine.     

Furthermore, at the same time, I unwittingly allowed two First Baptist Medfield's to form. Newer people who preferred my style and emphasis, and those who were already in the church who preferred my style and emphasis, and a smaller, shrinking group who felt their church was being stolen. I was seeking to address the problem of feeling their church was disappearing in some ways (we were going through who stole my church by MacDonald- see book list), but by and large, my primary relational connection was to newer people or those that preferred my approach and emphasis.

What I did wrong after the Mandate

First, I did not honor the process. Process matters, it’s the only way real change comes. At the meeting that I was given the mandate, the decision was made to revisit the subject in june. When that didn’t happen, as I said, I didn’t work to bring us back to the table, instead, as I’ve said, I blew off the preaching mandate. I just did. it was wrong. It was sinful. I was hurting from some other things (we’ll get to that), and longing to do what I feel called to do, preach the word, in and out of season, in a way that transforms, and I said, fine, the contract is breached, I’m good to go, and over time, late summer and through the fall, I stretched back out when I should have been the person that brought the pastoral relations committee, back to the table and finished the process. The pastor should be leading proper process.

Second, in all this, I failed to love as I should. I was angry about the limit. My pride was wounded. My desire to see the church move forward and thrive felt stifled. I was angered that what I perceived to be an older guard was standing in my way. Instead of looking at them as who they are, saints of God with different experiences and perspectives, people who are looking at the world shift around them and hoping that one thing would remain constant, saints to be loved and shepherded, I got mad. Don’t you see the problem? Don’t you see where the church is going? For a season, I allowed myself to become their accuser, rather than their loving pastor. To my regret. Thank God for grace.

Third, I didn’t teach what I was learning. As I was thinking and studying, as I was researching and building a theology of preaching over the summer, putting this all together, I didn’t share what I was learning. I bottled it up. Which made me become even more self-justified for blowing off the process.

Now, have said this, I’m glad I went through it all. In the end, we did finish the process properly, and put the issue to bed, and through all this, I learned allot. My thinking was clarified and enhanced, and the result is that the gospel flows out sharper. Amazingly, in all this time, God was acting, and working, and new people connected, and eventually, conversions happened. Furthermore, I really began to see the idols in my heart. What motivated me to want to preach? On the one hand, it’s always been the Gospel. But where there other things going on? Idols of the heart? Pride? A desire to be liked? Was the thing truly driving me a radical desire to see lives changed through the Gospel for the Glory of God? Acknowledging the idols of the heart, and allowing God to set his kingdom and the winning of souls in the highest place, was probably the most important thing that happened all summer.

In all this, God worked, and he showed his grace amazingly. At the same time, God showed his grace in an even more amazing way.

As I’ve said, ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life was happening to me on other fronts. In the middle of May pain crashed down on my wife and I when she miscarried. That hurt, I hurt. I wanted the world to go back to where I thought things were moving forward. I felt we had lost all momentum, and that life was crashing in around me. We were struggling financially, and all these things were coming together in a swirl of pain. Thankfully, the Lord is good, and his love endures forever. Over the summer, Gods grace got hot through Hebrews 4. It got radioactive for me. I found myself meditating on it, and thinking about it, remembering that while I was mourning, and hurting, I have a savior who knows my pain. Hebrews tells us that “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:14-15). That truth absolutely burrowed into me, and gave me hope and comfort. It got hot, and was growing me in the middle of pain and frustration and mistakes. Thank God for the grace of God that changes us from the inside out!

Lessons: 5 things I learned through all this retrospection.

First, process is important. Real change cannot happen until process is honored. You can’t move forward without real consensus, and that requires process. When I was at Gordon Conwell, they brought a new president in. He lasted one year, because ultimately, some were trying to create change through a man. But they didn’t have a consensus. If a church is really going to move forward, and break free of a splitting, cracking past, it has to honor process. Many things must change, at my church, and in THE Church. Many churches have one foot in the grave, and need to change, but it has to be done with teaching, and process, and intentional growing of people in the gospel (because the only real change comes through the gospel), rather than just letting a bull run through store full of fine china (a process otherwise known as change through a man).

Second, pastors have to be very, very intentional to love everyone in their church. Especially the ones that irk you most. If you allow yourself to play favorite sides, my people verses not my people, problems ensue. You are the pastor of all, and you should work to remove the faction creation that happens in churches. Ultimately, you cannot lead, unless you have relationship. Without relationship, no one is truly following you as you seek to lead them to Christ (at least in a small church).

Third, remember the other side’s pain. Many structures must be rebuilt. They just must. We can’t get around it. Sometimes sacred cows need to be slaughtered. But, with that said, we change agents must remember that the lemons being used to make lemonade, are someone else’s treasured structures.

Fourth, find ways to teach the material that is pertinent to changing the church structures. For me, it’s probably going to be the blog. This will probably be my secondary teaching forum, because we are go, go, go.

Fifth, everything that was in the posts on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday, things that all came together in a richer and fuller fresh way.

Today, I am more convinced than ever that while I blew the process, and failed to love and teach, in this, God worked. The church became more gospel driven. People were getting hungry, and are getting hungrier, and God is moving here, using humbled, flawed people for the glory of his name. I truly believe that as a result of experiencing all of this, I will be a better pastor. I love my people more. As I sought to really intentionally pastor some, great relational fruit happened in some surprising places. There is still work to be done, but overall, I believe I am a better pastor because of this experience. Remember, Pastors make mistakes. They are people. They can sin too. Luther said that people are "Simul iustus et peccator" - "At the same time righteous and a sinner. Saints and Sinners- at the same time- everyone! Even pastors. But what is key is learning from your mistakes, prayerfully, humbly, repenting, and allowing the gospel to pick you up and send you out to lead your people more wisely for the glory of God’s name.

Thoughts moving forward
All this leads to some closing thoughts, for New England churches if we are to move forward and really be churches that are ready to face the future. This pertains to my church, but I believe it applies to many Old New England churches as well.

First, the replant factor. Something I had to discover is when a small church shrinks below critical mass, it is basically a replant. It may have two hundred years of history, but if it doesn’t begin to think and act like a plant, and have a hunger to win souls, it will not get healthy (mine is on the way). Sometimes, churches that have existed this long need to stop and ask themselves again:

Why are we here?

What is our mission in this community and region? What are we hoping to accomplish on Sunday morning -what’s the goal of worship time?  

Who are we aiming at?
Are we just interested in keeping the faithful happy, or reaching the lost?
What makes our church unique?

What distinctive does our church have in it’s DNA, and how can they be used for the furthering of God’s kingdom?
What is the goal of preaching?
(Is it just an entertaining speech, or an exposition of God's word, and a proclamation of the gospel? Remember- Acts makes clear that the church grows through the preaching of the Gospel - the life, death and resurrection of Jesus! It grows through God’s word being taught - to be sure, it is through studying on our own, and ministering in his name, but I believe that there is something real that happens when a church gathers that cannot be replicated elsewhere).
What stream do we stand in or want to stand in?
Are we aiming at those that want high church, or low church (this is a liturgy question)? This is a question that doesn’t pertain to all denominations, but Baptists can go from robes to blue jeans and T-Shirts. High or low church? Who is our target? What language do we speak? Blue collar, youth culture, pop culture, academic and intellectual?
Churches need to face these questions, and go through the process of redefining who we are called to be and who we are to reach. Not what have they have been, but what they are called to be in the future, in the communities that exists now, and will exist in the future as they seek to win the lost to Christ. We need to look at the past years and rejoice, and the future with energy in our step as we seek God’s glory in our lives.

Second, Churches need to develop a hunger for the word and a love of the gospel. We need to understand the position of scripture as the word of God, and get people to develop a hunger for the word. This relates to preaching in a real way. It’s been noted that if the people are feeding on “spiritual food”, the word of God, communal and private bible study, books that help them grow in Christ, if they are practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, and meditating on God’s word, or even fasting; if they are feeding on these things during the week, they will have an adequate appetite for more (not less) on Sunday morning. They will want to have the text opened and have a desire to understand it more deeply, and apply it to their lives. We need get a hunger into people to do that.

Third, we need to confront sinful idolatries. Every church has them. Things that they have taken, good things, and made them ultimate. Every church has them. Every person does, every church does. One that plagues the American church is the idol of time. For many, time is sacrosanct. But that brings us around to the question, why are we here. Is it just to fulfill a duty, or to worship God and hear from Him? Here’s a practical thought. To have a good number of songs (4-8), some real prayers (not just 1 minute ones), Scripture reading, offering, and the other parts of the service (such as offering, doxology, Glori Patri, Creeds, etc) takes about 30-40 minutes in themselves. Then if you add communion, which really should be done every Sunday… you’ve got 10-15 more… now you’re close to an hour. Before you include the sermon. But really, does time matter? Worship. Have a full worship set, and full preaching.

Fourth, churches need to seek to have a unity around the gospel. Jesus high priestly prayer in John is about the church having unity (john 17). But a church will never have unity unless it is gospel unity. Look at acts. All their unity was rooted in their relationship to Christ. In 4:31-32, we see that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind”.

Finally, we need to grasp that at the end of the day, status-quo probably won’t work. Lots of little churches are dying, and need to change and re-energized. We just do. My church made a strategic decision to change direction, because status quo wasn’t working. They sought me out, and to my shock, hired me. It’s been a long road, I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve done things right. And I've sought to do the most important thing, teach the gospel, proclaim the timeless truth that will bring new life not just to our churches, but to our communities and our world. Slowly, Gospel change is happening. My question for every church is, yes it will be hard, but will you do it? Will you run into the flames, knowing that this is where you are refined, and rebuilt, for the glory of the kingdom? Will you do it, knowing that everyone will make mistakes, and tempers will flare, but the grace of God will work if you really grab hold of the Gospel, and the product, when it comes out, will be something refined, reshaped, redirected, renewed by God, ready to be agents of the gospel who can bring gospel change to your world? Will you do it?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Practical Considerations in Preaching

We live in a whole new world. Period. Full Stop. The culture has shifted, and the church had better be seeking to understand and communicate in ways that are effective, or we will fail have an utter mission failure. 

We are commanded to do what Jesus commanded us to do, make disciples. That is the mission, not facilitating legacy, or keeping the structures in place. we are told to make disciples; and we have some pretty wide parameters. In Acts, we see Peter and Paul using differing approaches for differing situations. Timeless message. Gospel, Gospel, Gospel. When you look at Paul, you see him in the synagogue, doing street evangelism, setting up class, preaching to all hours of the night at a church service, and on and on. What Paul does in one place is not always what he does in the next. He had systems, but they were always flexible. Looking back, he writes in 1 Corinthians 9, "I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel. (1Co 9:19-23).

Which brings me to today's issue here in preaching week.. Practical considerations in preaching.

We live in a whole different world than the one that bred the short, sub twenty minute sermon. You could take that lectionary, shorter approach at one time. Could (not recommended even then, but could)... There was a day when people knew the gospel story, and had a fundamentally Christian worldview. They accepted the major themes of Christianity, because it was the dominant metanarrative (grand story that shapes a culture) of western civilization. Christianity shaped and molded western civilization, it was the air people breathed, and it provided the framework in which we thought, whether or not we knew it. The result was that people basically knew A-T of Christianity. They knew the story. To bring them to Christ, you just had to get them from T to Z. Now, you have to add allot more layers than you used to, people don’t know the story, they don’t have a clue, and if we want to see lives changed, we’re probably not going to see it happen in 20 minute sermons. The world has changed in the years since the twenty minute sermon became king, especially in the last 20 or 30 years, as we have moved into postmodernism and began to feel its force.

Let me take a moment to explain to give some background here in terms of postmodernism. For the last 100 to 150 years, we have been living in a world that has been dominated by the ideas of a school of thought known as modernism. Simply put, Modernists felt that the world was knowable and rational. There is an objective reality, and through science and human reason, we could understand and master the world (the problem with Modernity is that it assumes science is the source to all knowledge- therefore, it makes science God). On the other hand, Postmodernism argues that “there is no objective reality, you can’t really know anything, you only have your perspective”. There are no truths, no absolutes (the major problem with postmodernism is that it relegates all truth claims to the dustbin). There is no right or wrong, at least not in terms of the object sense of moral absolutes, things are only wrong in the subjective sense of “wrong for you” (so says postmodernity). This is the increasingly dominant voice. We live in an era which has turned the individual or 'self' into the ultimate authority. We've turned ourselves into 'gods'. My ideas, my opinions, my input is the final court of appeal. Everyone demands his or her own pulpit or stage. Our postmodern age is an age which elevates self-expressionism above all else. Everyone’s opinion is as good as another's. Your own ideas are just as relevant (or irrelevant) as anyone else's. Thus, why should you be forced to listen to someone preaching to you? And the very idea of preaching or being preached to is diametrically opposed to the spirit of our time. At best we allow for dialogue, a situation in which two or more people speak, share and provide insights with equal authority, where being listened to is on a par with listening. An authoritative message from the Creator to his creature, from the King to his subjects, the Master to his slaves is anathema to the postmodern mind. [i]

However, as Christians we should not be modern or postmodern, we believe that there is objective truth, God’s word is true, and there are absolutes that he has given. It stands against modernity and postmodernity. To the moderns, we say, there is an authority higher than science. Science may shed light, but it is not the one who speaks about ultimate reality. God does. To the postmodern, we say, there is objective truth. We have a message that is true, you can know what is true and not. There is an authority that says, "This is right, and wrong". There are moral absolutes. Pay attention. Hear this loud and clear.

And here’s the application of this information to preaching. More and more, as learn about communicating, I have been seeking to make intellectual arguments as I preach. I have been seeking to challenge their idols (keep in mind that an idol is good things that we make ultimate things, a good thing that we treasure more than God) and defeater beliefs of moderns and post-moderns (Everyone has defeater beliefs, things that they believe that contradict the bible, and cause people to dismiss the bible’s claim as something that doesn’t fit their worldview right off the top)[ii]. As I preach, I have to show the text, and show that what the bible says is true, and also have to show that they can’t just dismiss out of hand what doesn’t square with their assumptions and worldview. This process takes time (to go back to yesterday’s post- almost always well above that twenty minute mark).

In a sermon, you need to gain attention, introduce the passage, explain the passage, challenge the things that say “dismiss what the pastors saying”, the idols of our hearts and the defeater beliefs. And you need to show why this all matters and relate it to life, and show how the cross relates to this issue. Showing how the cross relates is huge. Ultimately, the purpose of every sermon is not to give information and general instruction but to preach the gospel and make it real to the heart. You have to get to the cross. I would say that it’s not a sermon if Christ isn’t preached. It’s a teaching, an encouragement, a speech, but not a sermon unless you get to the gospel and show how, because of the cross the thing we’re looking at (whatever it is), looks different.

Now here’s the challenge to those that grew up on the short sermon. This takes time. Moving through this is what the bible says, this is why you should believe this, and applying it is not a quick process. But if you don’t, people (especially young post-moderns) will dismiss what you are saying out of hand. They’ll say, “it doesn’t square”, and move on. This means you have to be fiercely apologetic, you have to show them why they should accept what the bible is saying. You need to make arguments that make them engage. Show them that they can’t just dismiss out of hand what they don’t want to hear. Think of it this way. If you lay a charge of dynamite on a rock face, and blow it up, you sheer off the face of the rock, but don’t blow it up. But if you drill a hole into that rock, if you bore down, then put that same charge in, it blows the rock apart. In preaching, if I just say “This is what the bible says, accept it”, or just make a straight appeal to the heart, no one is changed.[iii] But if I drill down, with an argument, “Here is what the authoritative word of God says”, if I show why they should believe the truth we are looking at, show why the beliefs and assumptions that they have unwittingly picked up from culture are wrong, and if I dig down and confront the defeater beliefs and the idols, saying, “here’s is why it is true…. You know it’s true---- look at the proof ”, and then, I get to the heart, through the cross, that changes us (Thank you Tim Keller for teaching me this. As a pastor, I’m still learning how to do this better and better. Some weeks I do well, some I don’t). But according some of the people who have studied this far more than I, people that have had successful ministry to postmoderns- (such as Keller, such as the people who are running Resurgence and Acts 29 conferences) that’s how you get to postmoderns. People in their teens, 20’s, 30’s, and even creeping into the early forties. This isn’t a quick 20 min and out the door.

And here’s the thing, younger people aren’t interested in short quick stuff. Some of the most downloaded sermon Podcasts are people like John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Tullian Tchividjian. This isn’t the soft mushy stuff. They give you meat. Younger generations, for all their problems with the idea of truth, hunger to hear answers and certainty in an uncertain world, and they want to grow and go deep. They crave it even if they cant articulate it, is my observation.

Two quick thought as I wrap up today’s post. First, at the end of the day, this process will differ, depending on the passage. For some, the sermon may be close to 20 minutes, for others, it could be 40. Or 35 minutes. Or whatever. Pastors need to be respectful of time and say, a sermon should be as long as it needs to be to cover the passage adequately. Not more, not less. At the end of the day, the issue should not be the length of the sermon, but the content, and making it understandable. And understand, the reality is that to do good expositional preaching, the pastor will probably go longer. We should probably expect that solid expository sermons that mix this layer of apologetic in will be longer rather than shorter. John Macarthur suggests that “I am convinced that biblical exposition requires at least forty minutes”[iv] 

I’m not willing to go there ironclad, but he’s on to something. The more you dig in, the more you find, and the longer it goes. As a brand new pastor, I didn’t grasp this. I thought I could cut time down, I vainly promised I would shorten, and believed that in time they would shrink. Now, I don’t think so. I actually think I was underselling the reality, good exposition takes longer. It just does. I know that now.

Second, there is no alternative to preaching. The church must make preaching the heart of its life. Preaching is how God speaks; it is is one of God's primary means of grace. We cannot minimize it, or seek to limit it. It is God's way because it is ultimately a reflection of the nature and authority of God himself. Far too many ministers have a low view of preaching. They would rather dialogue, encounter, counsel or advice. And the pulpit is sidelined. The authority of God and his word is compromised and ultimately drowned out. But equally, far too many of those who sit in the pew need to change too. Far too many of us have drunk deeply from the wells of modernity and postmodernity. Preaching has lost its appeal because we challenge its authority by either not listening (or making an effort to) or by simply staying away when we feel like it. Getting preaching into its true, Biblically demanded focus is essential, because God himself guarantees that his word will never return to him empty. [v]

Now, with all this said about the practical considerations in regards to the craft of preaching, here’s the bottom line. The church is slowly growing, and God is bringing new life, and I believe that it starts, with preaching. With the proclamation of the gospel week in and out being the engine that drives everything.

New England is the least churched part of America. Massachusetts is number 46 in terms of church attendance, and Gospel centered, bible preaching churches are few and far between (while all around us dead churches close their doors, last summer, a local church in our denomination closed their doors- FBC Natick). And yet, we are slowly growing. Slowly. And for us, the road to changing into a Gospel centered, bible driven church that seeks God’s glory above while making an impact on our community has been rough. I didn’t understand that some in the church decided to institute change through a man. But God is working, and we’ve had conversions! New birth, and I long for many more, because that’s kingdom growth. Transfer growth is fine, but it doesn’t build the kingdom, transfer growth is just people shipping. Real growth happens as people connect to the gospel- coming, listening, and finally seeing his need, and coming to Christ. From there, we want to see disciples begin to grow in the gospel, and someday, serve because of the gospel, sharing the gospel, and continue to be changed by the gospel.

That is our trajectory. We have moved onto firm ground, and while we are not out of the woods by any means God is working. My prayer is for many, many more conversions. For changed  lives and full on revival to hit our imploding culture. Today, we are watching the devolution of our country, and world. We’re watching the fall of Western civilization, and two millennia of Christian culture fall apart. The churches in Europe are empty. My prayer is for revival. It starts with us, hearing the gospel, taking it and approaching it seriously, apply it to our lives seriously and living out in a real way that allows us to share the gospel.

One final thought. In many ways we’re closer to the world Christianity started in than the world our parents lived in. Islam, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wiccan, and allot of other voices are active in our culture. We are not a Christian culture in any way, shape or form. The northeast, has been classified by many thinkers as Post Christian. So what do we do? Pastors, church leaders, people. We preach well. Once again, we need to make the arguments of scripture, use logic, and witness winsomely. We don’t sit and try to be liked, and I need to be proclaiming the bible in a way that changes lives, rather than gives a back massage. Furthermore, we take on a wartime approach. Think of ourselves not as people who are home, but soldier in a fight. Think of ourselves not as people who are home, but missionaries who have a challenge. We need to change our mentality from that of comfortably settled churches, to being churches that have a church-plantlike desire to create a gospel movement that wins people to Christ and changes our communities for Christ.

[i] Faith in Focus, "Preaching, the supreme means of Grace"
[ii] Both of these ideas come from Tim Keller, for a great book on idolatry, read his book, Counterfeit God’s- in my recommended books list. The idea on defeater beliefs really comes from a sermon he gave at the Gospel Coalition conference called The Grand Demythologizer., although I've heard him make the point several times.
[iii] I’ve heard Keller make this point several times, but cannot tell you where as I have downloaded much of what he gives away and listened and re-listened to them
[v] Faith in Focus, "Preaching, the supreme means of Grace"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

20 Minutes and Counting

Time is always an issue in church. As I said on Monday, this time last year I was told, “no more than 20 minutes”. The first time I heard 20 minutes was the line that many expected came when I received an angry letter after my second Easter, a year before the debacle (although I've come to realize it was underneath many of the sermon length complaints early on), when I preached about 35 minutes (at the time I was averaging 25 min). What made the day even longer was that then there was communion, which also went longer than usual. 

Now, to be honest, I didn't understand the roots of this issue when I arrived. I have never bothered with a church that limited the sermon to twenty minutes in my whole life. The pastor I grew up under regularly cracked 45 to an hour. I want to learn, to be fed, and when I picked a church, that was how I decided. I’m someone who has been an admitted preaching junkie, someone who chose his church based on preaching, preaching, preaching. Short preaching always irked me, and turned me off. But what I came to understand over time us that part of the time compliant is rooted in the fact that there are various preaching traditions, and lectionary preachers tend to be different; shorter and less exegetical. But as someone that was from and trained in exegetical preaching and never sat under lectionary driven preaching, it didn’t make sense, I didn’t have any frame of reference to understand where the whole issue was coming from. So, I first had to try to understand the cultural issues. 

But, having done that, I think at the same time, it's worth interacting with some of the various reasons that I have come across in and out of First Baptist as to why sermons should be no more than 20 minutes, and some thoughts on them.

First, the excuses

Older people can’t sit through the sermons, it hurts too much. The pews are too uncomfortable.

If this is true (and having sat in many pews, including the ones in my church, I think it is), fix it. Get pads for the pews. Deal with the physical impediments that are easily remedied. Simple and easy solution (I recognize church treasurers that read this will have their hearts stop here...).

There is a contingent that needs a ride home.

In any church, you have seniors who are getting rides. The church should work with the congregation to meet them where they are at and care for them, call it widows and orphan care, 2012 style. Care for your people. If these people need rides home, have someone get them rides home. Deacons, leaders, this is your area.

People are busy and have places to be.

So true... We live in a busy, fast paced world. But, first of all, can’t we take one day, and devote more than a little time to God from it? Sunday is supposed to be the Lords Day; the day where we celebrate the resurrection of the king and worship him. It’s a day of worship and rest. In many places, people spend the whole day in church. We think an hour to an hour and a half service is all we should have to give to God. A two hour service is a travesty (remember, 15 minutes equal 1/672 of a week. An hour and a half is 6/672, 2 hours, 8/672- not even two percent of your week). If our walk with Christ is supposed to be the most important thing in our lives, should we be able to stop, and focus on Him? For an hour, an hour and a half, or even two… Please?

On top of that (and this is just my observation from a lifetime of church life), some of the same people who bang the drum for an hour or hour and 15 minute service saying they have places to be stay for an hour or more at fellowship hour. Some make it an hour and a half (That’s the record at First Baptist since I became pastor). Now I love fellowship hour; it’s great, but it is not the main event, or even a close second or third.

Next, the foolish
Shorter sermons are easier to remember because they make the preacher be more precise.

I heard this from time to time, and yes, I’ve heard it at the church I pastor, First Baptist Medfield. My take on this argument is, maybe this is true, but most likely, it’s not (the more I think about it, the more I think it’s definitely not). Many use this as a rationale for preaching shorter sermons, but then still preach without significant precision. But on top of that, the communication reality is that if you want to really communicate, and have something to say, and you place things in super tight, there is little breathing room for the listener. Every phrase is essential, and even the best expositors tend to lose people when this happens. As an audience member contemplates the implications of one simplified and highly structured statement, they may (and probably will) miss the next one, and then begin to be lost in the argumentation. All this is not necessarily so, but it’s an issue, and one of the struggles that all communicators face when they try to go deep in a short period of time. Now, to be fair, I will agree that some preachers are better preachers when they preach shorter sermons. But, as a general rule, sermons with some breathing room usually make better sermons.

All that needs to be said in a sermon can be said in 15-20 minutes.

I’ve seen this here and there, and actually heard another pastor say this (unbelievable).

Thankfully, I have never heard this from my congregation. Smart Boston Metroers know a foolish statement when they see one, and that one is just flat out incorrect. But it gets me to something I want to say. There may be some passages that preach that fast, 15 minutes max, but they are rare. Most don’t. Not if you want to get beyond the surface. Not if you want more than milk. Someone noted that handling a complicated text like Romans 9:14-29 would easily require an hour to adequately explain the numerous challenges found in that text. Working through the implications of Mark 8:34-9:1, taking up your cross and following Christ, took a little over 30, and there was a giant pile on the cutting room floor. Some passages, like the prodigal son’s, really require 40 plus if a pastor wants to deal with the whole passage well (and remember, many passages, while thick and dense, like the prodigal son’s, really shouldn’t be split, because it tells a coherent message).

The cultural issue I ran into
It’s just hard to sit through long sermons. You lose me after 20 minutes.
The heart of this objection is, I can’t pay attention for more than that.

This is one that drove me to madness for awhile (because I didn't get the root issue. Culture). One I haven’t heard as much of lately), 

While a a pastor, I (and hopefully every other pastor) want to communicate so that people understand what I’m saying, and grasp the wonders of God’s word, and believe that therefore, pastors should be constantly working to improve (I know I have improved as a communicator, and I have taken steps to improve my preaching, and make it easier to follow), I didn't understand that at the heart, the problem is cultural expectations of the church. 

At this point, my personal belief is that this really comes down to the internal clock. For most people, there is an internal clock that goes off after point X. Whatever X is. If you are expecting the sermon to be 20 minutes, and it goes more, you get antsy. My brother pointed out that at his church, people are used to 50 or so minutes from the pastor (whom I grew up under), and an hour and a half to an hour and forty five minute service. If it gets to two hours, they begin to rustle a bit. At some point, I realized that the internal clock of my congregation needed to reset before this issue would end. For many years (as best I can tell), my church had a steady diet of 20 minute (ish) sermons. For the most part, First Baptist had been basically standard, mainline, short, leave me alone stuff. There, the average is between 14-17 with 20-22 at the long end… and after that, the bell went off. I have come to believe that this is more a cultural issue than an attention issue. It’s what we were used to, not an inability to pay attention. 

Disagree? Consider this. What left me (and still leaves me) scratching my head is that many of the same people who might complain about the length of the sermon can easily sit through a two to three hour movie (and not even have to get up to use the restroom). Many of them regularly sat through long lectures at the university at one time (Most college students sit and listen to 2 hour lectures, even high school students sit through 45 minute plus lectures). Many can spend hours learning about subjects that’s interesting to them. Furthermore, many people in their 20’s -60’s go to continuing education (for professional or personal reasons) events that include lengthy lectures. I know that there is a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in, but it’s much longer than the 20 minute mark. We can watch movies and football games for 2 or more hours like it’s nothing, why can’t we listen to the preaching of God’s Word?

Here's the answer, at least part of it. Most Americans (and certainly we over-scheduled, exhausted Boston Metroers) have had an idol of time inserted into our lives. Furthermore, I truly believe that many Americans have had a terrible theology of preaching fed to them. 

At a certain point, we got to this point that we just wanted a clean one hour service, and a “don’t bother me” sermon where we say “Let’s get together and feel alright”. The combination becomes lethal for a church long term, because God should have primacy in our lives and schedules, and furthermore, a sermon is not just a talk, or a lesson, nor is it a political speech, or an exhortation to social activism, it is not just a chance to yell at a congregation to shape up and be moral, and it certainly is not a time to just give a dity of "Let’s get together and feel alright. Instead, a sermon is an encounter with the word of God, facilitated by the preacher. It’s God taking a preacher who has soaked in his word, and through the preacher, speaking to the congregation. It’s the high point of the service - God is speaking through His word[i]. My conclusion is that to say, 20 min max is an incredibly bad idea. If the sermon is the apex of the service, the high point that everything leads to (which is how most of our services our structured), it’s not something to be endured, and gotten past, it should be the big family meal of the week (I’m thinking of the big Italian dinner at Nana’s here). At the end of the day, this whole discussion all boils down to the Word of God and the exposition of His word having a preeminent part in the worship service. If the Word of God is our rule of 'faith' and 'practice' then we believers should allow the scriptures to speak into our lives in a significant way.


First, the preaching mandate was in some ways, the dying gasp of the fight, I just didn't know it. Many of my people had started to grow hungry. Plus, those that were coming in had no interest in short sermonettes. While I blew it (majorly), in not dealing with things properly in June, by the time the meeting with the pastoral relations committee happened, the issue resolved as an almost non-issue.

But second, what flips the script? What changes the direction? What have to create a desire for more? Ironically, the same medicine and food that we often kick against in our go, go, go, don’t bother me culture. Preaching! We have to have our expectations changed by a steady diet of preaching  (and that has slowly happened here at First Baptist- or so it seems to me as the pastor- now I have people say, “I wanted more”, or comment-  “how long till we get to an hour sermon- soon I pray”). Kids don’t crave steak over milk and cookies. But if they understand that they want to grow big and strong, they can be encouraged to eat the healthy stuff. The gospel preached, brings change. To you pastors who might read this, if you want to see change, hold up the gospel, show the wonder of Christ’s work, get people to see that God is speaking his word through scripture , that it must be primarily if we are to fulfill our chief end of glorify God, or see the kingdom break out of the doors and into our community. To church leaders, including mine, same thing. If you want to see the church change and grow and thrive, hold up the gospel. You hold up the gospel alongside the pastor. Show the wonder of Christ’s work, get your people to see that God is speaking his word through scripture. Be at it constantly, because this must be primarily if we are to fulfill our chief end of glorify God, or see the kingdom break out of the doors and into our community

Third, with all this said, my encouragement to other pastors looking back is, be wise… wiser than I was. Save yourself and your people some pain. Understand your dynamics. Be more explicit about what you will be doing, and bring your leaders along with you. Get consensus, something I didn't do and should have, and as you move, go methodically. Start where they are and carefully build up and lengthen out, over 2-3 years if need be, because if your congregation is getting lost, and fidgeting, or expecting things to end, when they aren't, you’re not communicating anyways.

[i] I know that came from someone, or from someone’s, but I have no idea who said it now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Theology Of Preaching

I truly believe that “Preaching the Word of God is the primary and supreme means of creating, feeding and maintaining Christ's Church. Preaching Christ crucified, in season and out of season, whether eloquently or as a stutterer, is the most important means God uses to pour his saving grace going into the world[i]. Why is it so important? The most important thing we do? Because preaching is facilitating an encounter with God that is word based, it’s using the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17), while being carried along and empowered by Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:11) to do his work.

I believe this because of what God’s word says about preaching. It tells us that preaching, the proclamation of the gospel which the world defines as foolishness, the proclamation of the gospel which many in the church decry as passé and see as something to be kept short, or minimized, or retired, “has the power to save”. Paul writes “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (1Corinthains 1:17-18, 21). God saves through preaching.

But not only is just the power to save, it’s also a means by which God speaks. Scripture makes clear that God speaks through preaching. In Titus Paul writes that God “at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior (Titus 1:3) In 1 Thessalonians, 2, Paul writes “we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1Thesalonians 2:13). In Romans 10, we read “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:14-15). What comes through in all these verses is that God sends His word through preaching and teaching. Amazingly, even Jesus ministry was primarily a preaching and teaching ministry. He did miracles, but these were signs that backed up his words. John preached and taught. Paul, and Peter, and the apostles all preached and taught, and they equipped and sent out people like Timothy, Silvanus, and Silas, who preached and taught. They did this because God speaks through preaching.

Furthermore, it is through the faithful preaching of the word that the church grows. I would go so far as to say that preaching is the primary means by which the church of God grows. This is seen most clearly throughout the book of Acts. When you look through Acts (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 8:14ff; 10:36ff; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20). What do you see? The word is preached. Allot. And this changes lives, and grows the church. We get snippets and summaries of the preaching throughout Acts, as aproximatly twenty-five percent of the book is sermons. Right from the start, we see that the believers gathered, and “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (1:42), and “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (2:46). Notice that. They broke bread at homes. At the temple, they met. Why? Because that’s where they gathered to hear the Apostles preach and teach. It ties back to devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. Later, in Acts 10, peter recounts that “he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophet’s bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles (Act 10:41-45).

The church grows through preaching, through serious feeding on the word of God. Consider this; many Scholars think that Hebrews was probably a sermon. Paul preached till midnight one night. Peter and the disciples taught for extended sessions at the temple (Acts 3). Furthermore, we see that in addition to the word preaching, the bible uses many words that fit under what we call preaching. Herald (2 Pet. 2:5; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11; Rom. 10:14-15; 1 Cor. 2:21; 2:4). Exhort (2 Tim. 4:2; John 14). Witnessing (Acts 26:5; 23:11). Announce (1 John 1:3; Acts 20:20; 1 Peter 1:12; Luke 9:60). Teaching (Acts 4:2; 5:25; 13:12; 2 John 9). Evangelize (Luke 16:16; Gal. 1:11; Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5).Paul writes that he was “appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher (2Ti 1:11-12). All of that is included in what we call preaching today.

So who is to preach and teach? Pastors, Elders, (who must be able to teach), those core leaders that are the spiritual heads of the church are commanded to preach, to teach, to explain, to apply the bible. In Matthew were told “Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mat 28:18-20). In 2 Timothy, we see a command to a young pastor to preach, as Paul tells timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

What’s amazing here is that we see in this passage that there is a strong connection between the authority of the word of God, the bible, and preaching. In chapter 3, Paul writes, “as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work(2Ti 3:14-17). Then, in the next lines, Paul then tells timothy, and all pastors and church leaders, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2Ti 4:1-5)

All of this is to say, the ministry of the church starts with the preaching of the word. And as I preach, I’m preaching the word. Not my thoughts. Not my opinion, everything that I say, begins and ends with the word of God, and that passage. The ideas of the sermon should come from that passage; the point of the sermon should come from that passage. And as a result of the preaching of the word, God speaks to us. We encounter God more fully, and lives are changed, because God’s word does not return empty. God says it will accomplish it’s purposes, declaring, “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isa 55:10-11).

Here is where the rubber meets the road with all this. Scripture throughout makes preaching the second-to-none means by which God communicates himself, his promises and his grace to his children and to all of humankind. I truly believe that healthy churches have a high theology of preaching, because this is how Gods community grows. Someone once said, “You show me a church which is growing spiritually, and you'll invariably take me to a church focused on powerful preaching” [ii]. I believe he’s right. Here’s something that’s interesting and worth noting. Look around at most of the thriving ministries. The pastor preaches. Really preaches. Usually in the 30-50 range. Mark Driscoll, pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country, regularly goes an hour plus. I don’t think that the connection between preaching and growth is a coincidence, because “Preaching is facilitating an encounter with God that is word based”[iii]. When people encounter God, they keep wanting to encounter God, and the church grows.

Ajith Fernando, a Sri Lankan pastor, who has ministered in the middle of hostility and  persecution, observed that “the desire for teaching is an evidence of conversion. Openness to being fed by the word is a key evidence that one is truly regenerated. Many people come to Christ and have a felt the need met because they hear that the god of the Christians is a prayer answering God. In their eagerness to be blessed by this god, they go to the motions of making a decision. Since the possibilities of prayer attracted to Christ, they may give a high place to prayer. But how do we know that the seed of eternal life is germinating in them? If there is such a seed, it will hunger for the nurse meat of the word [iv]. Peter states this principle by using a metaphor from human life. Like new born babies crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

What’s amazing is that if you go many places in the world, people will study Gods word for hours. They will listen for hours. Read David Platt’s book Radical, he tells of teaching all day long, and people being hungry for more. Why? Because they realize it’s a privilege to be cherished. We don’t. Our puritan forefathers did, we don’t it. Once, Mark Dever (pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist church in DC) had a woman who reacted with incredulity when He mentioned that the Puritan preachers occasionally sermonized for 2 or 3 hours (at the behest of their congregations), and she said, "Dr. Dever, if they preached for 2 or 3 hours, . . . what time was left for worship?" His response was something like, "Ma'am, understand that from the Puritan's standpoint, the sermon was the apex of worship, because the conscionable hearing of God's word from the mouth of God's servant was the ultimate act of worship. Because you are hearing, you are sitting under the searching judgment and the comforting promise of God's word spoken into your heart. It's the greatest act of worship as the people of God gather together . . . It is the culmination of worship. Remember, that many of (them) would have been able to remember the smell of burning flesh in their nostrils, for the people who had died at the stake so that they could hear the Word of God read to them and preached to them in their own language. They knew the great cost, so they didn't care how long their preacher preached” [v].

I think one reason that our people are oftentimes so lackadaisical about the privilege of preaching is that they don't understand the cost that has been born for the word of God to be brought to them in their own language, and they don't understand the magnitude of what it is to have an encounter with the living God which is word-based, facilitated by the servant of God preaching the word of God to their hearts, speaking that truth into their lives.

Here’s how this all comes together. The preaching of the Word of God is a word based encounter with God; it changes lives and causes church to come alive and grow. It’s the gateway through which God speaks to us as a community. At no other point do we all meet and hear from God together. This is the thing that opens the door for everything else. G. Cambel Morgan is credited with saying, "Sermonettes breed Christianettes, little sermons, little Christians" P.T. Forsyth put it this way, “Brevity may be the soul of wit, but the preacher is not a wit… A Christianity of short sermons is a Christianity of short fibre.”[vi]. I think that’s true. I thought so last fall, I believe it more than ever today. Therefor, how can we ever sit there and say, God you are on the clock… In this last year, I have seen God move, and begin to generate something awesome. People hungry for the word, and getting hungrier, and I see a depth starting to develop in people that did not have depth. Ultimately, I believe that this is happening not because I am gifted or eloquent (because I’m not), but because they are being fed the only food that will satisfy- the life-giving word of God through which the gospel flows.
Now, in light of this, here is how we should approach the sermon.

A) Recognize true biblical preaching for what it is – God speaking to your heart! God is telling you something!

B) Come with an attentive heart. In order for the Word to be effective in your life, you must be attentive with diligence (Prov. 8:34; I Peter 2:1-2; Luke 8:18; Ps. 119:18; Eph. 6:18-19)

C) You must prepare to hear and receive God’s Word when it comes (1 Pet. 2:1). You do this by putting away sinful things and desiring His good news.

D) Pray, pray, pray. Pray for your open heart. Pray for the preacher to preach from the Scripture, by the power of the Spirit (Psalm 119:18, etc.)

E) Hearers of the preached Word are to receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind (Heb. 4:2; 2 Thess. 2:10; James 1:21; Acts 17:11)

F) Hearers of the preached Word are to meditate and confer concerning it (Luke 9:44; Heb. 2:1; Luke 24:14; Deut. 6:6-7; Mal. 3:16). 

G) Learn to love God and His Word preached and to hide it in your heart (Psalm 119:11; Prov. 2:1).

H) Then, afterward, practice it immediately. Tell it, teach it, recite it, meditate upon it, do it (Luke. 8:15; James 1:25)!

Now, that is a very basic theology of preaching primer, it is in no way complete, but it lays out some grounding thoughts. There is much that could be said. For more study, I would recommend something like Dennis Johnson's Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, Brian Chapell’s “Christ Centered Preaching”, and John Stott’s Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, as well as anything by my old professor Haddon Robinson.

I would like to summarize today's thoughts this way. There is no alternative to preaching. Yes, preaching can be and necessarily must be improved. Every pastor should working hard to improve constantly. It is an imperative. To not work with every ounce to improve, given the significance of the task, would be incredibly sinful. I am light years ahead of where I was when I began; I pray that I will be 1000 times better than I am now before I retire. I believe that boring preaching is an insult to Christ himself. But I also believe that preaching has no substitute as the supreme means God uses to communicate, be it yesterday, today or forever.

[i] van Garderen, Rev. Dirk J, Faith in Focus, Preaching, The Supreme Means of Grace, I loved this phrase so much I’ve all but appropriated it. Faith in Focus is the denominational magazine of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.
[ii] van Garderen, Rev. Dirk J, Faith in Focus, Preaching, The Supreme Means of Grace.
[iii]Duncan, Ligon, Gospel coalition workshop: Preaching Q&A with Ligon Duncan and Crawford Loritts. You can listen to it here.
[iv] Fernando, Ajith, NIV Application Commentary: Acts. Page 132
[v] Duncan, Ligon, Gospel coalition workshop: Preaching Q&A with Ligon Duncan and Crawford Lottis.
[vi]. Forsyth, P. T, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (pp.68-69).