I once heard Andy Stanley say, “Our approach to preaching should be shaped by our GOAL in preaching.”
What’s your goal with this Sunday’s sermon? Why are you doing this? What do you want to accomplish? Someone can say, ‘This is my goal’ but did you ever come out and wonder – what was that ABOUT?
It was Stanley again who said that instead of DETERMINING our goal, many of us INHERITED a goal. (from our church, pastors, preachers, theological college etc). I’ve gone through all of these goals during my time as a speaker;
a) Teach the BIBLE to people
Here, the Bible comes before people; you’re so focused on digging into the content the listeners are secondary, listening in on your musings. Success in this scenario is, ‘I got through it, I covered the material, and nobody died before we finished.’
Some home group leaders are like that. I was, when I led one. If the notes were two pages long I hated not finishing and would cut off a meaningful pastoral conversation because we still had to fill in the blanks on John 3:16 (For God so loved the _______). Teaching the Bible like this requires no real wrestling with the text itself, little creativity, no application, no visuals so it’s remembered. You just have to know a little more information about the Bible than the people and line by line tell them what you found out, till your slot is over and we sing a hymn.
People do this with varying levels of success. I remember being told about a young preacher who was asked for feedback by the old church warden, he said ‘There were only three things wrong with that sermon. You read it. You read it in a boring voice. It wasn’t worth reading.’
b) Teach PEOPLE the Bible
This is a little more audience focused, you want them to really know the Bible, so its not as dry, you get some personality involved, 4 things that rhyme, even better if they rhyme in Greek and start with the same letter, maybe throw in an application at the end.
People like me who take copious notes love this kind of preaching! We go away with more of our Bible coloured in saying, ‘I’ve learned something deeeeep today, I bet the apostle Paul didn’t even know he meant that when he wrote it!’
One of the first churches I was a member of had a leader who was a master at this; we’d do six weeks on one verse in Romans. I remember him telling us about when Paul referred to barbarians it was because to the Jews that’s what all the other languages sounded like to them ‘Bar, Bar, Bar…’ I loved that fact. Wrote it down. Remembered it for 25 years so far. One day it might win me a pub quiz. But it’s unlikely to solve any of the problems of the world or even answer the questions of a hurting individual. You’re not meant to be Stephen Fry on QI.
It’s good to help people know the Bible of course – but Jesus had most problems from the people who’d memorised most of it, so maybe knowing more is not the BEST goal. It’s not the Bible you know that matters, it’s the Bible you apply.
James 1 says there’s a way to handle the Bible so it really works inside of a person. But there’s a way too of just listening to more information when we haven’t a goal to change or apply it is blatant self deception. It can be as much use as someone saying ‘Blah, Blah, Blah.’
“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourself – DO what it says.”
What does it SAY?
What should we DO? Don’t just parse the verbs. VERB the passage. Put it into action.
Anyone who chats through a Bible study, takes a page full of notes, gasps at the insights and knowledge, but does nothing about it in their life except, ‘That’s interesting, shall we discuss it a little further?’ is like a person who looks at themselves in the mirror and sees a huge bogey on their chin and goes ‘Arrrggghhh!!’ – then just gets on the bus and goes on with their day regardless.
You get no credit for looking in the mirror and knowing you’re a mess. What will you do? This is the difference between Greek and Hebrew thinking apparently. In the West we think we know because we know, but the Hebrew mindset says you show what you know by what you do.
James doesn’t say you’ll be blessed by what you KNOW. You can memorise 12 great principles of anointed marriage and still be instant messaging behind her back to that young girl in the office. It’s the same with money, parenting, or business. The blessing doesn’t come because I know. Or don’t.
It’s what I do. Or don’t.
There is no blessing in knowledge. The more we know about what God says and the less we do about it, the deeper our self deception.
And I know it’s all grace, but I can’t help tremble a little at the copious amount of words that I have written in my notebooks at those conferences and those churches, together with all the things I have taught as if I have known, but not done, will condemn me on that day when Jesus comes back.
20 years ago, George Bebawi told me, ‘Any knowledge that doesn’t help us love God or love people more, is useless.’
I’m up for the kind of knowing that gets us doing, but I love the way the King James puts this verse: ‘Knowledge puffeth up…’ LOVE is more important than knowledge. Thats’ a great goal for preaching, for us all to be loving more than knowing what agape means.
Together With People DO The Bible
There’s a lady in our church called Mavis. She has learning disabilities, and she is one of the most spiritually mature people I ever met. She always wants to love people. What she knows, is love. When the offering plate comes round, whatever she has in her purse goes in.What she knows, is generosity. She loves the people who help her, what she knows, is gratitude. She loves the worship. I’ve never heard her complain. I’ve often had a word of prophecy right from God through her when needed it. Often it sounds like a big smacking kiss on my cheek.
I want to grow more like her. I want Ivy to be more like Mavis. Because then we’ll all be more like Jesus.