I might offend people with this post. (I think I’ve said that before . . .) I’m reading Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley, and yesterday as I waited in the lab waiting room for 2 hours during my glucose tolerance blood test (sound fun?) I had the time to read a couple chapters. This book is about church. Its about what people experience when they come through the doors for the first time. Andy Stanley is a pastor of a large church in Atlanta and though he’s young he’s got a lot of wisdom to share and is one of the greatest church leaders in our generation. His desire is that we would learn to create churches that unchurched people LOVE to attend.
The reason I’m reading it is because one of my roles at South Bay Church is to help in the planning of the weekend services. As a team we find ourselves constantly trying to navigate how to be both deep and wide. How to create a service that accommodates and welcomes unchurched people and also serves and challenges those who are already maturing Christians. This book is about exactly that, and I am loving every page of it.
The section I’m blogging about today is mostly regarding the message, or the speech, or the sermon. There was a section in this book yesterday that brought tears to my eyes. (I had to recover quickly because the lab ladies were watching me in the waiting room for any reactions to the glucose!) Andy Stanley has 3 main questions to ask in evaluating your churches weekend experience.
- Is the setting appealing?
- Is the presentation engaging?
- Is the content helpful?
I found myself reading along under #2 about engaging presentations, and something really struck me. A sorrow and conviction on behalf of our churches who have done such a poor job of presenting the Scriptures in an engaging and compelling way. I am feeling the emotion again rising up in me as I write this. It comes from a deep affection for the Word of God and a desire that people would connect with God’s revelation of Himself in a transforming way.
I read about how Jesus told stories and parables, and found common ground with his listeners, and went to where they were before asking them to be somewhere else. He made the Scriptures come alive. “The Kingdom of God is like . . . “; “Imagine you lost a sheep . . . “; “Imagine you lost a coin . . .”; “A wise man is like one who builds his house like this . . .”
“Jesus was not content to simply say what was true. Being right was not enough. Being biblical was not enough. Being exegetically correct was not enough. . . . He came to seek and save that which was lost. And He communicated to that end.”
I read the following verse with new eyes: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” -Matt 7:28-29
You see, when it comes to preaching, there is a really popular way of thinking out there that says basically all you need is the Bible. Just preach the Bible and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Just give them the Truth and it will renew their minds. It is typically very knowledge based. David and I actually have a friend who says when he preaches he doesn’t have to worry about application because that is the Holy Spirit’s job. We love him deeply but we disagree. We also attended a church during seminary for a short time in which the pastor very rarely transitioned from teaching into application. He spent about 5% of his time telling you what to do with what he was teaching you. There is a big difference between meaning and application, and we have to give people both in an appealing way!
And you must understand that when I talk about this philosophy, I was a part of this camp for a long time. But my views have changed, and the bigger part of me sees now how it can lead down a path of knowledge based Christianity. Certainly, people can be changed by just hearing the word. Of course its possible because God doesn’t ultimately need us at all to be his mouthpiece if he doesn’t want to. He can speak directly to individuals, and He does. Is the Bible completely inspired, sufficient, inerrant? Absolutely. Every verse. Are we responsible as churches to present the whole counsel of God? Absolutely, but I don’t believe it has to be from the stage during the weekend services. Learning the Bible is a believers privilege and responsibility. Every church should resource people well and equip them with tools, groups, classes, videos, friends, who can help them go as deep as they can into the whole counsel of God. Knowledge doesn’t make us holy, love and obedience make us holy. Jesus want’s our hearts and our childlike faith and obedience.
I agree with Andy Stanley when he says application makes all the difference. “Knowledge alone makes Christians haughty. Application makes us holy. If you want a church full of biblically educated believers, just teach what the Bible says. If you want to make a difference in your community and possibly the world, give people handles, next steps, and specific applications. Challenge them to do something.
In order for Truth to penetrate people’s hearts and truly transform them, they have to want to come back. If they aren’t present, Truth won’t reach their ears from your stage in the first place! In order to get people back in our doors again next weekend, we have to make the presentation engaging. It’s not enough that is is true. It has to be exciting, applicable, irresistible. We can’t do it without the Holy Spirit who ultimately reaches people’s hearts. But we sure can mess it up!
I am sorrowful that we have failed so miserably at making the Bible appealing and practical for people. We want them to say yes to Jesus and so often don’t show them how. We want them to know Him through His Word and we bore people with it. Jesus, help us learn to put all of our creative energy and effort into making a weekend experience that will be so irresistible to people that they can’t not come back. They can’t afford to miss next weekend. They crave the insight into who you are and how you can change them and offer them hope in their circumstances. They want to know you so deeply that they are motivated on their own to learn your Word shoulder to shoulder with their friends who are doing life with them. It’s a big job for our team, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!