FIRST-PERSON: What every church needs
NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. (BP) -- Many churches across America are in trouble. There are many reasons why churches are struggling, and ministry leaders are not in agreement about how to address the issue.
Some say we need more effective marketing. Some say we need to make our churches more culturally relevant. Some say we need more efficient methodology that utilizes technology in a visual age. There is probably some truth in all of those observations.
But I think what we need more than anything is Spirit-filled biblical preaching that reflects the counsel of the apostle Paul to Timothy: "Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who does not need not to be ashamed, but rightly dividing (explaining) the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
Many contemporary sermons sound more like the advice one can get from a pop-psychologist on talk radio or a television show. What we need are biblically based sermons empowered by the Spirit and delivered with passion that comes from prayer, study and holiness.
Some time ago I visited what was once one of the larger evangelical churches in New England. Though it is still quite sizable, it is half of what it once was. I wanted to observe what they were doing and learn from their experience. The music was stirring but when it came time for the sermon, I quickly realized why attendance had declined. After a handful of poorly executed jokes, the speaker said, "I spent all week preparing to speak and had about seven hours of stuff to talk about in this sermon. Then I realized this morning at 3 a.m. that I hadn't picked a Scripture yet."
In those two sentences the health of that congregation became crystal clear. I am not sure what the man had spent all week studying, but by his own admission it had not been the Bible. I cannot imagine how he collected what he thought was enough material for a seven-hour sermon when he did not even know what Scripture text he was speaking from.
Life-changing sermons begin with the Scripture. As the Holy Spirit illuminates what that Scripture means, the pastor can make notes and study related passages and historical materials and find illustrations from modern culture that demonstrate the truth of those verses. Any sermon that begins with seven hours of random study and then looks for a Scripture to hang it all on is not a sermon at all. It is just a man's opinions that he is trying to pass off as God's Word. Such sermons are not life-changing.
To be fair, the speaker that I observed that day eventually got around to quoting a number of Bible verses. However, they were not related to his main text and were disconnected from each other. It sounded like he used a Bible concordance at the end of his preparation time to find verses that had certain phrases in them so he could prove a point instead of teaching points that had been drawn from the texts themselves. It left me feeling hollow and empty spiritually. I assume it left a lot of other people feeling that way as well.
Our churches might need more effective marketing. We might need to speak to the culture in more relevant ways. Churches might need efficient methodology that utilizes technology in a visual age. But what the church surely needs is Spirit-filled biblical preaching that communicates timeless truth to a culture adrift in the meaningless opinions of man.
Lord, help pastors begin their sermon preparation in the Word and help them draw the entire sermon from the Word. Help parishioners crave Bible-based Spirit-filled preaching instead of the pop-psychology of our postmodern era. Amen.