Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Preaching is in the Shadows . . .

Did you see the Trib article on Sunday about pastors and their prep for Easter?

The Easter Spotlight

It kind of made me laugh because Sarah Linn called early in the week, but it wasn't until Thursday that I finally got back to her and then only left her a long voicemail and my mobile number to call if she had any more questions. I was a bit surprised to see my name in the paper and my voicemail quoted.

The article reminded me, yet again, that there are lots of different approaches to this thing called Easter. By and large, our goal here at Grace is to do what we always do, but gear it perhaps just slightly more toward the unbeliever. We want people who might come back the next week to know what to expect. I don't believe in a "bait and switch" approach. It seems to me, the way you bring them in is the way you've got to keep them which leads quickly to a "dog and pony show."

This quote struck me. . .

“People’s attention span is less and less. For me to stand up and speak for 30 minutes may not be the best way of reaching people who aren’t in church normally,” said Ferrell, senior pastor at Atascadero Bible Church."

Tom is a friend and I believe Tom is right that peoples "attention span is less and less." I feel that tension and often question what I'm doing. In fact, Tom's quote and the article in general caused some soul searching after coming home on Sunday afternoon exhausted and worn out . . .

Maybe we should do dramas on Easter Sunday. Maybe we should find a gimmick that will really bring them in. Maybe we can skip the sermon altogether. Why do we do what we do? Is it really working? Who am I and what am I doing with my life?

(Are you surprised that your pastor asks questions like this? Don't be!)

But then I go back to the Word and I am convicted again about the primacy of preaching in the life of the church . . . .

  • Jesus preached. . . He says it's what He came for. When everybody wanted more miracles, he preached. If preaching was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

    Mark 1:38 He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”
  • Jesus makes it clear that the Gospel must be preached to the nations . . .

    Matt. 24:14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
  • The early church grew because of their commitment to the preaching of God's Word . .

    Acts 2:42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer

    Acts 8:4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

  • The Apostle Paul defined his own mission in terms of preaching, even distinguishing preaching from baptizing. He indicates that there is a way to preach "in cleverness of speech" that can actually render the cross of Christ void. I have pondered that idea for years now. . .

    1Cor. 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
    1Cor. 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
  • The more I understand about the 1st century world, I'm convinced that even in Paul's day there were other more popular forms of communication and Paul was probably trained in the use of rhetoric, but he chose to proclaim Christ crucified not in "superiority of speech or wisdom" . . .

    1Cor. 2:1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
    1Cor. 2:2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

  • Paul said he was under compulsion to preach the Gospel . . .

    1Cor. 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.

  • As Paul instructs Timothy considering leadership in the church, again we see the primacy of preaching . . .

    1Tim. 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

  • And Paul's dying solemn charge to Timothy is to preach the Word, when people want and when they don't . . . with patience and diligence . . . regardless of what everybody else is doing . . .

    2Tim. 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:
    2Tim. 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
    2Tim. 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,
    2Tim. 4:4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
    2Tim. 4:5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

  • Peter said that people are born again through the preaching of God's Word . . .

    1Pet. 1:23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
    1Pet. 1:25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you.

I feel the weight of these Biblical passages. My conscience is bound by the Word and to preaching. I, too, am under compulsion. I don't preach because preaching is the best way to communicate in today's world or because people want to hear a talking head for 30 minutes or more (THEY DON'T!), I preach because preaching is God's ordained means of communicating the Gospel. The message is foolishness and the medium is foolishness, too. But God is pleased to use the foolishness of Gospel preaching to save.

I don't dislike dramatic presentations. I actually like them a lot. I just don't think they should displace the centrality of preaching on even Easter morning for the sake of gathering a crowd.

At the Shepherd's Conference a couple weeks back, Al Mohler compared preaching to washing your hair: rinse, lather, repeat. . . but in preaching its: read the text, explain the text, apply the text, repeat.

That's what I do . . . week after week after week. . . that's what I'm called to.

A pastor of an early generation, once said,
Preaching is in the shadows, the world does not believe in it.
I think that's more true than ever. The question for the church today and in every generation is, "Does the church believe in it?"

It really doesn't matter if the world believes in preaching, but it matters greatly if the church believes in it. It matters to me personally that we together at Grace believe in preaching. Fads and methods will continue to come and go, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. Faith comes and grows by hearing . . .

Excuse me, I have to go get ready to preach!


Anna Lyons said...

Hey Tim! 1st time reading your blog! I have more free time at work to do this kind of stuff. I think that you are right on and I'm happy and blessed that Grace is centered on truth rather than entertainment. Christ doesn't need a drama in order to be enticing. Also, it seems that often times using entertainment in the church takes away from the training and expectation of the pastors to accurately handle the word of God--becuase they can just let the drama or what have you do all the "preaching" (ackward sentence)...and there you have it!

PS: Sage is definitely hard-core. Way to represent the female skateboarding population. It's been like 8 years since I've touched one but yeah...those were good times!

Pastor Tim Theule said...

Thanks, Anna. Welcome to Life Together. We'll have to get you and Sage together to skate . .

Anonymous said...

Pastor Tim,

I thank God for you brother! You’re NOT going along with the flow of modern evangelicalism – “be relevant” – like Biblical preaching isn’t [gag]. You know what I mean.

Just keep brining the WORD brother. Don’t hold back. The sheep never get tired of hearing solid PREACHING. Bring on the two-hour sermon! It is to the glory of our great God that Grace continues on in faithfulness to preaching the Word in season and out of season. I praise God because of you and the other pastors/elders who understand, by God’s grace, that preaching is paramount.

Brother, the Lord Jesus is coming back soon and He’s coming to reward His own. Like the Apostle Paul, let this be one of your greatest motivations.

Here is a passage and short “Johnny Mac” commentary for your encouragement:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shah receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. 1 Corinthians 3:10-17

“His objective, within the supreme objective of glorifying his God and Savior, was to prepare himself to stand before the Lord and be able to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt. 25:21, 23). He wrote the Philippians, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14). It was not that he wanted glory or honor for himself, or wanted to prove himself better than other Christians, showing them up in Christian service. He wanted the Lord’s highest reward because that would be the most pleasing to the Lord Himself, and would most graphically demonstrate his grateful love.” - J. MacArthur

I can’t resist…here’s a quote from the Prince of Preachers:

“We need not that men should be adopting new schemes and new plans. We are glad of the agencies and assistances which are continually arising; but after all, the true Jerusalem blade, the sword that can cut to the piercing asunder of the joints and marrow, is preaching the Word of God. We must never neglect it, never despise it. The age in which the pulpit it despised, will be an age in which gospel truth will cease to be honored.

Once put away God’s ministers, and you have to a great extent taken the candle out of the candlestick; quenched the lamps that God hath appointed in the sanctuary. Our missionary societies need continually to be reminded of this; they get so busy with translations, so diligently employed with the different operations of civilization, with the founding of stores, with the encouragement of commerce among a people, that they seem to neglect — at least in some degree — that which is the great and master weapon of the minister, the foolishness of preaching by which it pleases God to save them that believe.

Preaching the gospel will effectually civilize, while introducing the arts of civilization will sometimes fail. Preaching the gospel will lift up the barbarian, while attempts to do it by philosophy will be found ineffectual. We must go among them, and tell them of Christ; we must point them to heaven; we must lead them to the cross; [thus] shall they be elevated in their character, and raised in their condition. But by no other means. God forbid that we should begin to depreciate preaching. Let us still honor it; let us look to it as God’s ordained instrumentality, and we shall yet see in the world a repetition of great wonders wrought by the preaching in the name of Jesus Christ.” - Charles Spurgeon

From a sermon entitled "Preaching! Man's Privilege And God's Power" delivered November 25, 1860.

-allen peek

Suzette said...

I did notice that there were actually seats available at the 9:30 service (and we were a few minutes late). It is hard not to wonder why, and if that is “good” or “bad”. Way back say seven or eight years ago Grace did do a theatrical presentation at the PAC that was very well attended. But, Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” No theatrical presentation can do all that. I think you are right to stick to preaching God’s word and letting the work be His.

The other verse that came to my mind was similar to one of Allen’s I Corinthians 3:12-15. It wasn't any original thought on my part of course. I got this book last week on vacation and I am going to send you a copy of it Tim: "God Gives Second Chances" by R.T. Kendall. The book has made me think a lot about Galatians and where you might be taking us. Any way R.T. Kendall talks a lot about the gospel being the foundation and our building a “super structure” on top of that foundation. He has answered some questions brought up by your discussion of Galatians that I have had about the part works play in the Christian life. God really sees things differently than the world. I think the world would say having more people attend is better. God looks at the heart, so I think that God is more concerned with the amount of His work in each person’s heart rather than the number of people who listened to you speak. One gold, silver and precious stones super structure is worth more than millions made of wood, hay and straw. Only God’s work will survive the fire. If you are going for results that will be God’s and not man’s then I think your priorities are in line. It reminds me of something from Kendall’s book. He says basically when we are doing great things for God many times we do not feel like we are doing anything. Did Joseph feel like he was doing something great when he resisted Potiphar’s wife? Probably not. Just one of many many times he was obedient to God. It is like that for us too. When we are obedient to God it may not feel like we are doing anything great, but what could be greater than glorifying God, rather than gratifying our flesh or our pride.

Oh, just want to add that I have really gotten a lot out of the Galatians series and the talks about it all in growth group. I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

Suzette said...
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Suzette said...
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Anonymous said...

Pastor Tim
I was edified and blessed by Sunday's sermon. Please keep on preaching...or as some of us middle-aged folks remember, "Keep on keeping on!" Kind of a silly phrase, but doesn't it encapsulate the Christian walk? Thank you for your service to Grace Church. You are valued and appreciated! My mother-in-law's church in S. CA is very performance oriented and my family (kids included) hate to go there when we visit her. It feels like God is missing in that atmosphere. I feel God in Grace Church. "More" isn't always "better"...sometimes it's just distracting and annoying.

Scott Morton said...

C.J. Mahaney says this in his book 'Living the Cross centered life': "Images cannot adequately convey the gospel's content. The gospel message isn't visual; it's truth. It is truth to be believed, not simply a collection of images to be viewed. Scripture is clear: 'Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.' It's only through preaching of the gospel, not the depiction of it, that God promises to accompany with saving effect."
Mahaney was responding to seeing the movie "The Passion of the Christ." I think what he says is applicable here.
Preach on brother...

Darren T. Rusco said...

Hi Pastor Tim,
This is Pastor Darren Rusco up at Paso Robles Bible Church. Someone told me to check out your blog - and so I'm a bit late to respond to this one. (Sorry)

Thanks for sharing your heart. I asked myself all those same questions after our Easter service in which we decided to simply show the unchurched what we do every week - that is preach it. I appreciate what you are doing and we have a few people here at PRBC who are linked with Grace and all those people are nails! Keep up the ministry so that "His statutes and commands will 'overtake' His people" (Zech 1:6)

-Your brother, Darren Rusco

David A. Rusco said...

Tim, my son Darren, who shares the pulpit with me here at PRBC, just wrote the previous comment. We are absolutely tracking on the same track. I simply question the 30 minute time slot for preaching. We preach 45+ and have had no "time" complaints in the last 5 years, the present age of our fellowship...I was blessed by your words. Thank you.
Dave Rusco