The preaching event on Sunday morning and the working out of the preached Word during the week are not either/or activities. They both work together to help the Christian mature. The Christian life is not centered on the pulpit because the Christian life is lived mostly everywhere else.
You may want to read:
- Is Your Church a Preaching Center or a Discipleship Community?
- The Doctrine of Repentance
- Three Ways to Overcome Sin and Temptation
There are 168 hours in your week. The preaching event is less than a one-hour bite out of your week. Even if you hear more than one sermon per week, it leaves you with over 165 hours to apply those sermons to your life.
Life outside the church building makes your community the epicenter of your Christianity. Preaching has a prominent place in your life, but it’s only a supplemental prominence when talking about the change process. The New Testament does not make preaching the central focus of progressive sanctification.
The gospel has that role in your life. To be more specific, Jesus Christ has the prominent and preeminent role in your life. The epicenter of your Christianity is a cross, a tomb, and a resurrected life.
Preaching is one of the instruments that God uses to help you see, experience, and understand the gospel–the centrality of Christ. It’s a major tool, though it is one of many.
Moses seemed to understand the balance between sound preaching and sound application when he taught the children of Israel how to parent. (1) He gave them the Word of God and (2) he gave them practical instruction on how to take the Word of God to their homes so they could apply it to their lives.
Preaching Event – Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
Application Contexts – You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Jesus’ primary discipleship method took place in the context of people’s lives where they were living. He did not disciple at the same place every day, and it was not primarily a monolog, as Powlison suggested in the last chapter.
Jesus took His discipleship outdoors and used those contexts to draw out His disciples. He discipled by using the physical world (e.g., birds, flowers, camels, nard) to illustrate the spiritual world (e.g., provision, sovereignty, anxiousness, worship, service, humility).
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:25-34).
He was so in tune with His world and His audience that He never missed an opportunity to teach them the practical and relevant ways of God. And He did this through interpersonal interaction with His community.
There would be times when He would teach them through a stand-up monolog, and then later He would practically work out His teaching lesson through interaction—two-way community dialogue.
Public Preaching of the Word
Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching, he said to them:
Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up since it had no depth of soil.
And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.
And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.
And he said,
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Private Application of the Word
And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them,
To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.
And he said to them,
Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables (Mark 4:1-13)?
In verses 1-9 Jesus was teaching to a very large crowd from the “pulpit,” so to speak. In verses 10-13 He begins to unpack the teaching lesson in a personal, customized, relevant, and practical way for His community.
The pulpit is a great place to exalt the Savior and expound the gospel, as well as call people to live lives of holiness. To be sure, God-ordained preaching for the proclamation of His Word. It is the foolishness of preaching that confounds the wise and empowers the faithful (1 Corinthians 1:18).
In addition to great preaching, you also find in Scripture that it is in the “living rooms of the community” where the truths preached from the pulpit are worked out in the contexts of lives.
You can exhort someone over and over again from the pulpit to serve, and it’s possible he will understand, personalize, and apply that idea. But if you bring a towel and basin to his living room and wash your friend’s feet, you can be assured he will never forget that one act of other-centered serving (see John 13:15; Matthew 26:13).
Helping others is where Jesus excelled. He contextualized His preached Word in the community of the believers. He did not let the preached Word stand alone. He modeled His message to drive home His points.
Rachel has heard wonderful preaching the past 16 years of her life. Nearly every Sunday, she has been encouraged, enlightened, and envisioned about how to be a woman for God.
Recently, a growing bitterness took root in her soul toward her church, her pastor, and some of her friends. The more she hears the wonderful truths from the Word declared from the pulpit, the more cynical and suspicious she becomes.
She’s seeing the discontinuity between the preached Word on Sunday and her marriage and family during the week. The dots are not practically connecting for her.
Sadly, her cynicism and suspicion are directed toward God—though she would never say it that way. She hoped for a different life and believed it would come by “going to church,” as she put it.
Her belief about the church is why she committed herself to God and the meetings of the church. She even took on a ministry in the church to help in whatever way she could. Her faith and practice were real. Rachel loves God.
But like a person asleep in a boat, only to awake hours later to find they drifted beyond the buoys, Rachel’s marriage has seemingly slipped past the point of no return. All the while she is faithfully committed to her local church.
Rachel is not struggling with sound doctrine. She does not have a theological problem, as far as her understanding of the Bible. What she has is a methodological problem.
Building a knowledge base through learning and growing in theological understanding, is half the equation. Rachel is getting good information on Sunday morning. It is consistently biblical, easy to understand, and well-delivered.
Her problem is the other half of the solution she needs. Her church has not provided or trained her on how to take the good Word preached and work it out in the milieu (contexts) of her life. She needs a clear and practical application. The Sunday church meeting is not designed to fulfill that part of her solution.
Rachel is half-full: She knows the Word, but she has not been equipped to apply it practically in ways that matter to her life, marriage, and other relationships. If she continues this way, she’ll be running on empty before long.
Also, read part one: Is Your Church a Preaching Center or a Discipleship Community?
Call to Action
These questions will serve a person like Rachel as she thinks through biblical solutions regarding comprehensive discipleship in the context of a local church community.
As you reflect on this content, consider using these questions as a template for your thoughts. Ask these questions about your church. They are designed to bring clarity to your life and church community.
They will challenge you to think through your motives for being part of your local church and your reasons for attending each week.
- Is your church practically walking out a relational model of gospel-centered living versus a functional model that keeps you busy, but doesn’t build relationally? Is it relationally-centered or ministry-centered?
- As you move from the pulpit to the periphery of the church, do all the lives of the church people model gospel-centered living? Are they being transformed in measurable and objective ways?
- Is there an intentional plan implemented for disciple-making?
- Is it producing and reproducing disciple-makers?
- Is there intentional, biblical care and accountability taking place in individual lives?
- Are the men of the church leading their families? How do you know?
- Is the faith of the church families exportable? (One of the ways to assess this is by talking to the teens of the church. If the parents are being discipled well and responding to that discipleship, it will manifest in many, if not most, of the parent’s children.)
- Do you experience biblical fellowship with fellow members? (Biblical fellowship is sharing personally, intimately, and practically what God is doing in your life.)
- If you have a relational problem or situational difficulty, are you comfortable and confident that you can go to your church leadership to describe your problem, and you will receive competent care that can walk you through your problem? Or, do you seek solutions outside the local church because your local church is not able to help you?
- Why are you part of your local church? Are you changing? Are your friends and family members being transformed because of their experiences with your local church?