Ed Stetzer is Director of LifeWay Research, where he is developing critical data to help church leaders interpret the culture and the future of the church. Prior to that role he was at the North American Mission Board Center for Missional Research. He has been a pastor, a church planter, author of several books, and is one of the cutting edge guys in terms what’s happening in the contemporary church. Preaching editor Michael Duduit visited with Ed in his Nashville office.
Preaching: You’ve written a whole lot about the missional church-the issue of being missional. I suspect there are still some pastors out there who are saying, “That term missional is kind of like postmodern. Everybody has his or her own definition. What does it mean?” So Ed, what does it mean for a church to be missional as you understand it?
Stetzer: It’s important to put that caveat “as I understand it” because there are different impressions. I’m did a series of posts at EdStetzer.com kind of unpacking what “missional” means to different people, and there are surprisingly diverse ideas. For me being missional has to do with being focused on God’s mission, living as a missionary. And it has to do with the fact that the church doesn’t have a mission – the church is joining God in His mission.
God, by nature, is a sending God. Francis DuBose wrote a book in 1983 where it as the first use of the term missional, and it is called God Who Sends. Ultimately God is a sender. He sent Jesus. Forty times in the Gospel of John Jesus says, “I am sent.” And then at the end in John 20:21 he says, “As the Father has sent me so send I you.” That’s us. So we’re sent to people.
And that has a vast impact on the church and its ministry when you understand it as part of the call of the church – central to the call of the church is to be on mission. It has to do with the way we do ministry. It has to do with we don’t exist for ourselves. The church must not and cannot be a dispenser of religious goods and services where picky Christians go and look, as if it’s a cafeteria to serve their own spiritual buffet. Instead it is focused on God’s mission. It’s engaging its culture so there’s a cultural relevance to it. But ultimately it’s focused on the Kingdom and the mission of God for His purposes.
Preaching: If I’m in a missional church, what are the implications of that for me as a preacher of the gospel?
Stetzer: That’s a fair question. I think ultimately one of the shifts that we have to begin to see take place in missional churches is really the shift from attractional to incarnational. Much of the church growth movement was built on the idea that if we did certain things we’d attract certain people. And I don’t think that’s inherently wrong. I don’t think attractional is necessarily sinful.
But there are two reasons we probably need to reconsider that in our preaching. Number one: it doesn’t work like it once did. These aren’t in any order of priority but perhaps in order of interest for some pastors. You know, ten years ago if you put out a sermon and said we’re going to have ten ways to do blank, and it’s practical and meaningful, you’d send out mailers and unchurched people might say, “You know, I might like to go and hear that. Church has been irrelevant to me. This seems relevant. I’ll come. It will meet my needs.”
Well, the reality is that really anybody who wants to go to a cool, contemporary, cutting edge church-whatever language you want to use-anybody who wants to go to a church like that already is. The reality is that our task is now to ask the question, “How do we engage a culture that already knows that there are great, cool, exciting churches and still has rejected them?” So number one, it doesn’t work.
But number tw it presents a picture of a Gospel that I think is probably problematic. The picture of the Gospel is that God wants you to come rather than God wants you to be, do and tell. And so it’s built on the wrong idea. Our churches, for 20 or 30 years, have revamped their services. They’re cutting edge. They’re creative. And that’s great-I’m pro all of that stuff. But at the end of 30 years we’ve spruced up the buildings and spiced up the sermons and the culture’s more lost and people who go to church are less committed. So I think ultimately we have to ask: how do we retool our preaching to teach people to live on mission, so that they see it as central to what it means to be a Christian.
Preaching: Many of our churches have identified their worship style through music, and think of themselves in generational terms. If that is a valid position to take, should it then make any difference in our preaching? Do you preach differently to a Baby Boomer generation than you do to the millennial generation?
Stetzer: Let’s take a step back philosophically. This is a big issue, and how to figure this out is not easy. We’re really the first generation in the history of Christendom where there are three generational expressions of church. You’ve got builder churches, Boomer churches and then whatever the next generation is called. People used to call them Gen X, but the only people who still use that term are pastors and seminary professors. So whatever that last generation is-the emerging, postmodern generation.
Ultimately I don’t think it is tenable or healthy that the church would be split in a tri-generational approach. But the reality is what it is. One of the reasons for that is there seems to have been a shift in the way people understand preaching. You and I can walk into a church, and we can tell if we walk into a builder church. Preaching tends to be much more of a text-based, running commentary. Maybe a Boomer church might be sermons with five points built around, hopefully, some Scriptural themes. If we went to an emerging church reaching more of a postmodern generation, then it might be narrative preaching, kind of working through and threading a stacked narrative. And so I do think that there are some shifts.
I think what we’ve got to do is realize that people do learn in different ways. And if the academics and philosophers are right then we’ve experienced the biggest worldview shift in 200 years. From the Bastille to the Berlin Wall we had modernism and now we’ve entered this postmodern age. We would expect that preaching might change in some ways. I think we need to be careful about what those ways are.
We need to always see the Bible as the norm of our theology and of our preaching. We need to let the Bible set both the structure and the agenda of our messages. But I’ve found that in many churches that are reaching emerging generations, they tend to be more narrative. They’ll preach through stories of Scripture, and they’ll build. And they’re OK with the mystery-they’re OK with the unresolvedness of some text. I think that’s healthy. I think probably in some Boomer preaching we overemphasize that everything ended like a sitcom-in 30 minutes everyone’s happy and everything’s worked out.
And so I think there is a sense that there is a shift in preaching. I think the challenge is the shift we need to see take place in all those contexts is more focus on biblical teaching that leads to the transformation of lives. That can be universally applied.
Preaching: Effective preaching is typically culturally contextualized. We preach out of and to the culture in which we live. So it’s natural that there would be some adaptation to the way postmoderns hear, because they do hear differently that Boomers do, don’t they?
Stetzer: There’s a book by Paul Hiebert-he’s a great missiologist who recently died. He wrote a book called Missiological Implications of Epistemological Shifts, which I think me and eight people bought! It’s a fascinating book. And it asks that question: how do we learn? What are the epistemological shifts, and what are the missiological implications of that? I think we have to think through those issues. If we were reaching the Pokat in East Africa or preaching to Quechua in the highlands of Peru, we would ask how could we best communicate the message and the word of God?
I think that the order you ought to bring a message to is to start with an understanding of where the people are. Typically where we start is: The Bible says it. That’s important. You should do it. But I suggested that we ought to say: “Why is it important and how does it relate to me?” Then: “What does the Bible say about it?” And then: “And what am I going to do with what the Bible says about it?” Some of my readers challenged me, and I’m OK with the challenge. They said, “Couldn’t you say, ‘What does the Bible say? Why is it important? And how does it relate to me?’” But I think the answer is no. I think ultimately that truth can be irrelevant.
What we have to do is recognize the Bible is relevant. I get a little worn out by people saying we’ve got to make the Bible relevant and God relevant. God is relevant. The Bible is relevant in every culture. The problem is we have to help people to see that’s the case and then let the Bible set the agenda to that. So in my sermon preparation I put Scripture first-I let it shape the agenda and direction of my message. But after that and before I’m about to speak I ask, “Why should these people care about this?” So I start with Scripture but introduce the beginning with “Why should I care to listen to what the Scripture has to say?” I think that’s true in every culture, and we have to figure out how people learn and how they think to communicate to them in biblical and transformative ways.
Preaching: It’s interesting that you say that because for a long time we’ve talked about the “so what” factor. In your preaching you have to have a “so what” factor-a demonstration of why what I am saying matters. In sermons for earlier generations the “so what” factor came near the end. Perhaps now the “so what” factor needs to come at the beginning-that you have to connect with some of those listeners early on to help them understand why should they even be engaged with this topic?
Stetzer: Yeah, I think that’s just a missiological reality. We did a study recently at Lifeway Research; we looked at teenagers who had dropped out of church. We found certain factors became statistically significant to their staying. (Your readers can download it at Lifewayresearch.com. It’s all free, and they can download it.) And one of those things was that they found the sermons at their church relevant. There were a few other factors, like having parental involvement, having married parents who went to church. But there were only four or five that really rose to the level of being statistically significant, and relevant sermons was one of them.
Part of the problem is that some who have called for relevant sermons have de-emphasized the role of the biblical text. We get concerned about that. So we want to go the other way. Well, let’s not make it a pendulum. Let’s not make it an either-or but a both-and. We’ve got this tyranny of the “or.” Is it culturally relevant or is it biblically faithful? How about and? I think ultimately what we’ve got to ask is: if we have this message that’s relevant in every time, what’s keeping them from seeing it? The answer is probably us and our communication of it. So I think it’s really important that we take the time to learn to communicate in those ways.
Preaching: Some argue that our culture has fallen victim to the “Tyranny of the Therapeutic.” The mistake we sometimes make is to put the emphasis on the therapeutic element when, in fact, if we’re biblically focused Scripture always is healing. Scripture takes care of the therapy if we will just be faithful in expressing it.
Stetzer: I think that’s the key-the faithfulness. We think of fidelity as fidelity to the text – and I want us to – but I want to us also to have fidelity with the context. So I think we need both a serious view of the text and a serious view of the context. Unfortunately I can’t find many people who do both. And I think that’s got to be the future of biblical preaching.
David Finch, in his new book The Great Giveaway talks about “The Myth of Expository Preaching,” and he sort of challenges us. David’s a great guy, though I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says. But one of the things he says is that we kind of thought that if everyone preaches expositionally, we’d end up with everyone sort of believing the same because we’d all rightfully handle the word of God and peoples’ lives would be transformed because of that. Yet the reality is a lot of people have at the end of the day not been transformed even in churches that take seriously the word of God, because they don’t think it matters to them. They focus on the information not the transformation.
I think the best form of preaching is expository preaching. Those ought to be redundant words “expository preaching” – preaching ought to be just normatively exposing the truths of the text. But I think also we’ve got to ask the question, “Why does this matter?” And I think we ought to recognize that we have to help people answer that question.
Preaching: And just to clarify, when we talk about expository preaching we’re not necessarily talking about preaching verse-by-verse through a text in that kind of classic model, but preaching that’s driven by a biblical text.
Stetzer: I think that’s key. I probably most of the time preach verse-by-verse through the text. I have a view of the authority of Scripture and I want to work through it and verse by verse; every word by word is helpful. But I think to say – and some do – that that’s the only form of biblical preaching is a huge problem, since we don’t find it anywhere in the Bible and nobody does it until John Chrysostom in the fifth century. Chrysostom basically does it because someone came up with the tools to do it. I mean, nobody in the second century would have said, “We should work grammatically through a text.” It was just an historical impossibility. So I think we have to be careful to say, “This must be biblical preaching.”
But again it’s that pendulum thing. I think many of the people who say that have seen so many preachers handle carelessly the Word of God. You know, here’s five truths in Psychology Today that I read that I thought you should know, with verses to proof-text them that were taken out of context from seventeen translations. I would say that the key is: is the text shaping my message? There are some texts that I think demand to be preached verse-by-verse. There are others that need to be communicated differently.
Preaching: Let’s talk-let’s kind of move to a little wider scope. You’ve really got your finger on what’s happening in churches across the country through your writing, through your reading and speaking. Give me some idea of what you see as some of the major trends taking place in church life and church growth across the country. Some may be positive. Some may be negative. But what do you see happening?
Stetzer: That’s a good question. I was actually just working on a project to kind of look at the shape of the church. We’ve really got this like this weird season right now-this frenetic pace of change and innovation. You think back-we were sharing a little bit of our journey-you think back 20 years ago, and you had innovative churches. It was the whole “Willowback World”-you know, the whole Willow Creek/Saddleback I like to throw together there. And that was sort of it. And now-that’s first generation innovation. Now you’ve got second, third, fourth. Your recent issue on the house church. You know, according to a study we did at the Center for Missional Research about 1.4 percent of Americans as we looked at it are involved in some sort of small group of 20 or less people who gather weekly to study Scriptures but they don’t go to any church, synagogue or mosque. And there’s a cultural phenomenon that’s there. And so it’s funny, too, because the number of modifiers now that we put before the church-if I were to ask a friend, “Well, what kind of church do you pastor?” They might say Presbyterian or Methodist or Baptist-20 years ago they might say that. Or they might say it’s a Methodist church, but it’s contemporary. Now there’s like six modifiers before everything. “Well, you know, we’re a contemporary, seeker-sensitive, cell-based, moderately reformed, emerging Presbyterian church.” So what’s happened is we find it necessary to put all those modifiers because the way we do church is so changed. Elmer Towns wrote a book decades ago-of course Elmer Towns writes a book every year. There are 130 published books. The man has no unpublished thought. And Elmer’s one of my heroes. He wrote a book a couple of decades ago called Ten Innovative Churches. He looked at churches you and I would know like Skyline Wesleyan where John Maxwell is. I think Saddleback was in there, and First Baptist Jacksonville was in there. Those were the model churches of innovation 20 years ago. Well, he revisited the topic last year and asked me and Warren Bird to help him. We wrote a book called Eleven Innovations in the Local Church. And the huge difference between what an innovative church looked like 20 years ago and now is just bizarre! I mean, churches from house from missional to incarnational. We talked about one churched called The Scum of the Earth Church. You’ve got actors church. You’ve got online church. I was sort of the stick in the mud, I think, in the book. I was like, “Guys, theologically ecclesiologically what is a church?” And so that was kind of my role. I evaluated each of these things through an ecclesiological or church-focused and missiological or mission-focused lens. So I think the state of the church is diverse to the point of-I don’t know how to categorize it together. I think we see the decline of the seeker movement that has really been accelerated in the last few years. Even seeker churches are now saying that they are distancing themselves from the seeker movement. And I think we don’t want to throw all that out. I think there are some good things. I’m not a big fan of the seeker-driven language. I get what they’re trying to do just not theologically where I am. Seeker-sensitive-hey, I’m OK-I think it’s good to be sensitive. I like to use language that’s seeker-comprehensible. I think seekers need to understand and comprehend, but it’s hard to be sensitive with the stumbling block of the cross. It’s always an offense-a bloody cross, an empty tomb. So I think we’re seeing the decline of the seeker movement. I think the emerging church has really become an issue that now Evangelicals are having to struggle with which is odd because so many emerging people have left Evangelicalism with great rapidity and have become post-Evangelicals, post-conservatives. And I think there are some real theological problems that are there, but there’s also some very much theologically grounded wings in what would be called the Emerging Church. So you’ve got all of these different things going on at the same time. And I think really, Mike, I think it really boils down to is people have lost confidence in the church. They’re trying everything and anything to redo it. Some of these new contemporary churches, you know, again I’m very pro “let’s find new ways to do church”-but just the in-your-face, the advertising that some built around sex that’s been offensive in some communities. But again it’s just -we’re not-people are saying there’s something wrong with the church, and so they’re trying to change it in any way they can to come up with, I think, something with good motives. They want to reach people for Jesus. So I don’t know how we come out on the other side. I think ultimately we need to regain a confidence in the church. I know the church is a mess. You know the church is a mess. We go to ‘em. But you can’t love Jesus and hate his wife. The church is the bride of Christ. We need to figure out how though she’s imperfect, compromised, fallen that we need to see the church regain its biblical mission and a biblical vision. And I think what will happen is people will do things in innovative ways, but they will do things in more Biblically informed, innovative ways. And that’s kind of what I’m praying for, and I try to be kind of an encourager in that direction. You know, biblically informed, innovative-God uses all kinds of Scripturally sound churches. We just want to make sure that they’re Scripturally sound in the way that we do it. So to me as an observer of the scene I’m not encouraged in Evangelicalism. I think we’re going to see a great die off of churches in the next 20 years, but I think on the other side we may see a more faithful church. You know, we’re living in you know, Europe 50 years ago, and the question is, “How will the church respond?” The European church chose to respond by basically losing its witness and whoring itself out to both Nazism and then to consumerism then everything and then to liberalism and has pretty much ceased to be a major player. The Evangelical church there is kind of coming back. But I would say that we need to make some hard decisions, and I hope the decisions we make are driven by biblical fidelity, missional commitment and a desire to be a biblical church.
Preaching: And of course, as we talk about this we recognize that we’re talking about the American church in this culture when in fact, you know, the real core of the Christian faith increasingly is moving south to South America, Africa, Asia. You know, that’s really where the great-the future of the church.
Stetzer: No question. And what’s interesting is-many who have called for the church to be missional want to walk away from some of the doctrines that their two-thirds-world brothers who used to be the receivers of the mission are substantially more orthodox than they are. And so I think we’ve got to recognize that the gospel is not in decline in the world. You and I right now, Mike, are on the only continent in the world where the church is not growing. We’re it! And in every state except Hawaii from 1990 to 2000 every state the percentage of the population that attended church went down. And so that ought to be a great cause for concern for us. I want to know what’s going on in Hawaii to find out. Maybe we should go there and do a little preaching/magazine trip.
Preaching: A lengthy one.
Stetzer: A lengthy one. It might take us weeks.
Preaching: In February probably.
Stetzer: Exactly. I think God’s calling us to do that. I think you’re right. I am not discouraged-I’m discouraged for my family in one sense that my daughters who love Jesus are going to be raised in a world where the church is in decline often compromised and powerless. My wife and I often say, “Why don’t we just go somewhere where people are more serious about Jesus?” And then I remind me that maybe we need to be more serious about Jesus and maybe make a difference here. So it’s not-sometimes we talk about “them” when really we mean “us.” So we’ve got to see the renewed working of the Spirit in our lives and see our lives changed so our churches can be changed.
Preaching: Some of the things going on in church life right now-for example you’ve got the increasing use of multi-site locations. Now one of the most recent trends now is the franchise church.
Preaching: Where it’s like-North Point right here in Franklin, Tenn., where I used to live-now has a what is essentially a franchise of North Point Church out of Atlanta that basically, you know, it’s-the local pastor I think has described himself as basically the owner/operator of a franchise as if he’d gotten a Chick-Fil-A franchise or something like that. Is there a future to that, or is that one of those kind of in the interim flailing attempts to try to connect?
Stetzer: Wow, that’s a good question. You know, I dig the multi-site thing. Again I’m uncomfortable sometimes with the franchise language. I like to read-and probably this is a bad part of me, Mike-I like to read sometimes Christian satire websites. And I saw one which I won’t quote the website, but I saw-basically this church was making hostile takeovers and creating franchises. Quite funny. But you know, I think the challenge is-for what aim? You know, you mentioned North Point-Andy Stanley is a friend. I asked him jokingly once, “Why are you projecting your graven image all over the United States?” And he had some great insight. He said-I would sometimes visit there at North Point when I lived in Atlanta-he asked, “Do you come?” I said, “Yeah, I do.” He asked, “Where do you see me?” I said, “What do you mean? You’re preaching up there.” He said, “No, where do you watch? There are 3000 people in there. Do you watch me on the stage or the projection?” I said, “Oh, I watch the projection.” He said something pretty insightful-he said, “If you’re not anti-megachurch you can’t be anti-videochurch because you’re basically looking at the same thing.” Hearing Andy’s heart and hearing his passion, you know, probably my openness to that changed some.
But I do think that there’s caution to there. One of my main cautions is-it’s easy to create another site. It’s hard to create another Andy Stanley. And I think ultimately that we need-you know-my concern is-are we going to end up with six churches in America? Is it going to be Andy Stanley and you know, and Life Church and Fellowship Church and everyone sort of watches a video?
There’s certainly an openness. Some of these churches seem to be reaching lost people. Larry Osborne really has a heart and passion for-they plant-use the term “plant” these campuses with the intention of evangelistic impact. So I get that-you know, I want to be open to the idea. But I also just think there’s value for a pastor who has wrestled through the Scriptures all week with the people of the church in mind to stand up and preach from the word of God. And I struggle with that. What happens when there’s a tragedy? And the answer is they would have a local pastor step in, and I get that. But ultimately I must confess my default position would be plant a church not a campus, and plant a congregation, not a franchise. But, you know, I think ultimately we’ve got to see that this has just become a huge thing.
LifeWay Research is right now doing a study in multi-site churches, and we’ve found a huge number of churches are doing it. 16 percent of churches in our survey of just churches across the United States said they’re making serious plans to do it. So this has become a phenomenon that we can’t ignore. This is not one innovative church doing it. This is becoming a mainstream practice.
There are some theological implications I think we need to wrestle through, and we’re going to do that at our LifeWay Research project-just kind of create a resource to kind of wrestle through some of the theology. But ultimately at the end of the day you know, we’ve got to ask questions-what is the biblical norm of church, and how can this best be shaped biblically in that process? I want us not to just rush through-I don’t want to sound like “that guy.” There’s always that guy who wags his finger and says, “We ought not to try new things.” I just think we want to think them through as we do them.
Preaching: Yeah, yeah. Somebody made the other day made I thought-an interesting suggestion as a way to kind of redeem some of the video venue in terms of-he said every one of those sermons, those video sermons needs to end in such a way that the campus pastor then stands up and takes the last 10, 12 minutes and brings the local connection to that. So they basically-not just a generic sermon across America, but what does this mean for our community, for our congregation?
Stetzer: Sure, sure. I think that’s insightful. I think some of the-with a few exceptions-Craig Rochelle and some others have been able to go across multiple states-most have not been able to do that for some cultural reasons. And when they’ve planted sites far away it’s just so hard not to make a reference to the local team or the local shop or whatever it is. And so I do think there could be some value in having that sort of mixed approach. And, too, we don’t want to think of the multi-site as a monolith. I mean, not all of them are video venues. Some of them are just under common leadership shared resources. There are so many ways to do multi-site. We just got to recognize that there are different ideas. And ultimately at the end of the day I think we need to ask the question, “How can we best be biblically faithful in the process of doing that?”
Preaching: Yeah, and I know pastors still that have multi-site locations, and they finish one service, hop in the car and drive to the other site and do-although that seems to be declining in terms of the numbers doing that as more and more move towards the video. And as you and I have talked already-I mean, people like Andy Stanley and John are great guys, and gifted and committed people. We appreciate what they’re doing because they’re trying to feel around and find ways to try to engage the culture and connect the culture with the gospel. We’re all as you’ve said kind of struggling forward looking for the best approaches.
Stetzer: Yeah, and it is kind of interesting because-take Andy Stanley for example-preaching the word in Atlanta, and people are coming to Christ and being transformed by the Gospel. The church keeps growing. They’re out of space. They could build another church, and a whole segment of Christianity would condemn them for building too big of a building. They could go multi-site, and a whole segment of Christianity would condemn them for doing that. They could plant churches-and they are involved in church planting as well-and a whole segment would condemn them for doing that. Ultimately I think one of the factors in church is we just like to be mad at people who are large and making an impact. I’m just-I’m not mad at the megachurch. I just want us to think through some of these issues. But I think ultimately at the end of the day Andy Stanley and his elders need to wrestle through what it means to be North Point church and how to best accomplish the mission God has given them.
Preaching: I remember years ago Bill Hinson, the late Bill Hinson, when he was pastor at First Methodist in Houston-Bill was one of our contributing editors for Preaching magazine for years-I remember when they were trying to open they had that downtown location-downtown Houston. They were trying to get approval to do a second Galleria location. As he said, he said, “It’s not my Methodist church that’s the problem. It’s the other Methodist churches in the area that apparently were afraid we were going to come out and get some of the lost people.” He said, “You know, would that that would be the problem.” (Laughter)
Stetzer: Yeah, and I think-I think but I’m not sure-I’ve heard some people say that First Methodist Houston was the first larger church to actually do the multi-site kind of approach. There are certainly some others, but that was one of the pioneers so that’s fascinating. You know, again, nice problem to have-want to reach lost people in new communities and teach them the Bible and just trying to find ways best to do that.
Preaching: Yeah. As we kind of draw this to a close-this has been a great discussion-if you were to sit down with a pastor that’s out there trying to make a difference for the Kingdom what are some words of encouragement or counsel that you might provide to them based on the things you’ve learned through your research, writing and work?
Stetzer: You know, gosh, research, writing and work-let me share personally first and then I’ll get to that. I think ultimately, Mike, most pastors like me need to first and foremost recognize that there are certain key relationships that matter. Your preaching-some of the best preachers I know have flamed out. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. You know, we’ve got to begin with that right relationship with the Lord. I think we’ve really got to-you know, we love the pulpit. I get that. I love the pulpit. But ultimately we don’t have anything to bring to the pulpit unless we’ve heard from God through Scripture and through prayer.
And then secondly the family issue-I think ultimately-again this is Preaching magazine. Why are we talking about family issues? Because it matters deeply. You know, one day every pastor who is listening to this tape is going to leave the church that they’re pastoring. Every single one of us. There’s only one group of people that’s going to go with them, and that’s the family. And they’re going to go to a new place. I think ultimately that you’ve got to spend time with the Lord, spend time with the family, have right relationships there. Then out of those right relationships overflows that preaching. It’s shaped by who God is and filtered by some degree by who we are. And so ultimately we want to communicate from a position of right relationship with God and others. And then-kind of step into that context-as far as the reality I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got to culturally begin to see that preaching the way that we like is not as valuable as preaching biblically shaped messages in a way that people can understand them. I think a lot of folks choose their preaching based upon what they think is best rather than engaging and asking the question, “How can I best communicate the unchanging word of God in this changing cultural context?” And I think ultimately we’ve got to see-again back to what we said earlier-biblically faithful and culturally relevant ought to be our communication style. You know, let’s say for example that our goal is to help people remember. Well, a lot of people are beginning to realize that getting up and doing a monologue might not help people to remember the teachings of Scripture most effectively.
I was recently in San Antonio, and I attended a church that one of my students was pastoring. It’s a great church. He was preaching through an Acts passage where Paul and his companions ended up having this call from Macedonia, and God was closing doors, that they’d tried to go to Phrygia-I can’t remember the context there-but Mysia and Troas. And God kept closing doors. And I still remember-great passage-I’ve preached that passage myself. But on the stage he had three doors. And God kept closing one door. He was working his way in a biblically faithful way through a text and showing door closing, door closing, door closing and how God opens doors and how He closes others. What a great pneumonic device. I think we’ve got to recognize that we need to not think-see-we say-this will probably get me in trouble, but I’m just going to lay it out there, Michael. It’s too late now. We like to say the word of God has all the power, but what we really mean is-my communication of the word of God has all the power. The word of God has all the power. You don’t. Most pastors think that if they just get up there and use their voice and bring that confidence that hundreds will come and thousands will be saved. Well, at the end of the day it’s the word, and what we need to ask, “How can I best communicate the word so that people will hear, people will understand and lives will be changed by the power of the gospel?” That’s biblical preaching.