Shows Main Idea –The preaching of the Word is irreplaceable, but it’s not a magic bullet that will change lives, families, communities, and cultures if we don’t know how to “work it into warp and woof” of our souls practically. And this is the call of pastors–to equip the saints.
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Pretend you went to your 5th grade US history class and learned a lot about our country. Next year you’re in sixth grade, but you retake your 5th-grade history class. You do the same in the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades.
Every year, you repeat the same class, but more than that; you repeat all of your 5th-grade classes. The people would cry out, and the academic world would crumble. Right?
- Would you want your child in that kind of educational environment?
I’m aware that you can shoot holes in my “pretend game,” but before you do that, will you take the time to reflect how many Sunday morning church meetings–the sermons, specifically–are similar to what I have described.
Well, not exactly. But close. Let’s look at some of the variables.
Everybody who shows up for a Sunday sermon is not in the “5th-grade.” The congregants span the entire academic spectrum, from no school at all (unregenerate) to post-graduate fellows (mature in God’s Word.)
Perhaps you could turn the illustration around and say that you have uneducated to post-graduate fellows sitting in that 5th-grade class, receiving instruction. What do you think about that?
Most Sunday sermons are a “one size fits all” speech. The typical pastor takes a book from the Bible and starts working through it chapter by chapter, line upon line. And they sprinkle a few topical messages along the way.
Of course, most evangelicals like the exposition of God’s Word. In a vacuum, there is nothing wrong with this type of Sunday gathering and preaching. The question that is worth pondering is whether or not it’s the most effective way to equip Christians.
I’m not asking if expositional-type preaching the best way to add to our knowledge, but is it the best way to equip the largest gathering of saints at any point on the church’s calendar–Sunday morning.
Gaining Bible information is only part of the equation for equipping the saints. Knowledge + Application = Wisdom
The Expositional Liability
Before you send “that email,” please read this: I love to study the Bible expositionally. I enjoy reading commentaries, as they work through the Bible, verse by verse. I’m a fan of exploring it with others, or what we typically call a Bible study. So don’t read this as a person who is attempting to throw out a valuable form of communicating God’s Word in private or public settings.
But is it redundant or the best use of such a valuable time for maturing in Christ? Jumping into a Bible study is easier than ever, whether you do it with your church friends or online, there has never been a time in history where studying the Bible is easier.
Should Sunday morning be another Bible study? I have seen a few liabilities to always doing expositional preaching on Sunday mornings.
- The preacher is, basically, giving you a running commentary of a passage. Thus, if he’s going to do it, I could elect not to do it.
- I’m gaining Bible knowledge but how do I understand what I’m learning practically? After a few thousand hours of counseling educated Christians, I can tell you that their problem was not a lack of Bible knowledge. They were inept or unwilling to apply it.
- The phrase “that was a good reminder” is now a Christian cliche. It’s like the seventh grader being reminded again what he learned in the 5th grade. He says, “That was a good reminder.” I believe a lot of preaching serves that one purpose, as we gather afterward and say collectively, “Wow, that was a good reminder.”
- We become nugget collectors. This idea is similar to the previous one in that we get our “nugget of the day” as we gush (for 120 seconds or less) over that gem that the preacher got from his studies. This problem is similar to many Christians fascination with Facebook, in that they get their nugget to carry them through another day.
- We fumble the football on Sunday afternoon, as we prepare for or head to our next Bible study. TMI swallows the Sunday message because it only lodges in short-term memory, a container designed by God to hold stuff until the next thing flushes it out.
- Of course, depending on your “grade-level” will determine what you gain from your Sunday morning message. Perhaps it would be good for you to reflect right now: What was the message about this past Sunday and in what way is the Lord transforming your life because you heard it?
- And then there is “this magic moment” as some folks believe that if you preach it, people will change. And without question, there are isolated incidents of this kind of transformation all over the world but in proportion to 52 sermons a year, what the gathering could be, and the deep-seated sanctification issues in Christian lives, it seems we need something more useful.
In my old fundamentalist days, we just “turned it up” by preaching louder. As we used to say, “Just preach the hell out of them” as though the decibel level was vital when it came to life-change. Many still believe in their version of this idea, but it sounds better when you talk about exposition preaching.
Assess Your Sermons
- Another diagnostic question is how are you discussing Sunday’s message with your spouse and children, say over lunch on Sunday afternoon?
- Or, when you gather for a small group, are the participants on fire, ready to talk about what God did through the sermon or are they blankly staring into their notes or mobile devices, trying to remember what it was about a few days ago?
- How did your three-year journey through Romans on Sunday morning help you, teenager, to interact with the growing trans-culture at your school?
- Average teen, are you able to connect the Bible you’re learning about on Sunday morning with the growing contentious political climate in the world?
- The real question for all of us is, do you know what to do with the Sunday sermon practically?
- Husband, you had listened to more than 50 sermons last year. How is it impacting your marriage, children, other relationships?
You could go on and on with these questions, and my goal is not to be an irritant but to draw attention to something that does not work well for a lot of churches.
Sunday morning is the one time during the week where every demographic from every age group (typically the teenagers and up) gather. The amount of knowledge that each person possesses is as varied as the demographic. It would be wise to take that moment to equip the saints academically (knowledge) and practically (connecting it to the world in which they all live).
The preaching of the Word is irreplaceable, but it’s not a magic bullet that will change lives, families, communities, and cultures if we don’t know how to “work it into warp and woof” of our souls practically.
The Real Test
The real test would be to have this conversation with husbands, wives, and children, asking them how the preaching of God’s Word is transforming their lives.
- Dear child, how is the preaching changing your daddy?
- Wife, what kind of growth are you seeing in your husband through the preaching of God’s Word?
- Husband, how are your children growing close to God through the preaching of the Word? Does it invigorate your wife?
If you can’t talk about these things within your marriage, family, or church, you may have a problem.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:11-16