I know a few people who can talk the ears off of a brass monkey. They’ll talk from one story, topic, subject, issue to another almost seamlessly and I find myself wondering if they’re actually breathing air, or if they have some other technique for making sound. It’s not that these folks don’t have good things to say, it’s just that they say so much it makes it hard to give attention to segments that are actually important. I can’t give time to the deep things because they don’t allow time for it. It’s like driving behind one of those people who seem to have repainted their entire car with bumper stickers and it’s hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. All those opinions begin to mash together and it’s hard to discern what they say, let alone if it’s important at all. With 52 weeks in a year, I think our sermons can begin to have the same effect. We need to remember the purpose of our preaching before our message becomes little more than a pleasant noise in the ears of our brothers and sisters.
Whether you take a topical approach, or preach an expository, verse by verse message, there are 52 weeks in a year which means at least 52 messages that come our peoples’ way. That means we are asking them to make 52 “decisions” a year. That’s a lot. We want our people to develop a love for the word and we want them to leave service “equipped for works of service” so we pour out all we can in order to fulfill that great purpose. Yet, equipping the saints requires more than just preaching at them. In fact, if all we do is preach once a week, then we are failing in our charge to equip them. We’ve reduced the Living Word of God to a few quips and principles and catchy phrases that can be acknowledged, agreed with, and then forgotten and little to no life change really happens. We have to remember that the purpose of our preaching is to reveal the glory of Christ; and that must work in tandem with the Living Word’s impact on our own lives and how we interact with others.
In speaking to the plan for reading the entire Bible in one year, Dallas Willard, in his book Hearing God, says, “It is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes.” In other words, we do not read the Bible simply to finish and to check it off our list so we can boast and brag that we have done so. We engage the Scriptures to change — to come face to face with the Living God whom the Scriptures reveal and know conviction, confession, repentance, and transformation. Without transformation, there is no salvation because transformation is the fruit of, it is indicative of, salvation. When we preach, we must exalt the person of Christ and the glory of God so that we all may be continually refined by the work of the Spirit whose purpose is to “convict the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).
If our fellow members cannot see Jesus, as the disciples on the road to Emmaus failed to see him though He was present, then they will not know conviction which leads to repentance, which is salvation. There is eternal salvation which comes through faith in Christ, and there is the salvation of preservation where God preserves those whom he has redeemed, refining them and making them holy. Our preaching must exalt the glory, majesty, power, and purpose of God so that all who hear may be encouraged toward continual surrender and joyful obedience. This may require us to rethink the logistics of our preaching.
I’ve tried, over the last few years, to group messages into series where each installment has the same call to action. Rather than hearing 52 messages with 52 different decisions, they might hear 52 messages with 12 or 13 different decision over the course of the year. Recently, in my own study time (which, if you’re not having your own personal study time you are accelerating your own burn-out), I’ve started in Genesis and began looking for Christ so that I can come face to face with him, and now I am excited to show people where the Spirit of God — the Spirit of Christ — shows up in Scripture so they can recognize him as he works in and through their own lives. I’m preaching Christ and admonishing the people in my care to seek him, and follow him in their own lives. We have found him in Adam and Eve, the image of God; we see his work in the skin God used to cover their shame; Jesus is in the blood of Abel, and the ark of Noah. We are finding him at the tower of Babel as people sought a way to God, and we are finding him in Isaac, the son of promise sacrificed — though a substitutionary sacrifice was provided. As we see Jesus in all of this we acknowledge our own weakness, failure, rebellion, and need, and we exalt the sufficiency of Christ and thus encourage faith and wisdom. Through my preaching, and in my personal interactions with others, this is what I am compelled to do: foster a rock-solid faith and life-giving wisdom by which we can live and impact the world.
Remember, our charge is to disciple people. In order to do that we must encounter Christ ourselves, through his Word, in prayer, in the midst of our circumstances, and through our interactions with others. We must also preach — not just on Sunday, but through our lives, holding up the person of Jesus with all we are at every opportunity. It won’t always be a formal sermon with hours of preparation behind it…in fact, it’s better if it isn’t. It is best when those truths and realities which have been “transferred into the substance of our lives” flow forth like a spring of living water and nourish the dry places of others’ lives. That’s called our witness, and every believer is called to be a witness for Christ. Not everyone is called to preach, so as we model a witness, others are equipped and encouraged — discipled — because they see how to fulfill their calling. Be filled, and let it flow. God causes the Word to live in you, now let that Word inform and enrich your interactions with others, whether it’s one-on-one, or in a group. Shepherd people’s hearts toward Christ. That is the mission and purpose to which we are called.