How to Preach the Word in a World of Words
- Wednesday, March 29, 2006
While planting a new church, I wrestled with the concept of preaching. At the time, “seeker services” were all the rage. Everybody knew about the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span, where the remote control is always within reach, the effects are always special, and the image always shifting. In such a climate, preaching—one guy standing in one place talking about one thing—seems anachronistic.
So I began the new congregation, injecting movie clips and funny skits into our services. It wasn’t that I abandoned preaching; preaching was in my blood. But I fretted at first that, if we didn’t offer some novelty, people wouldn’t come back. The interesting thing was that those who did come back—and kept coming back—did so for two reasons: The love of God they found. The Word of God they heard.
I remember Joan, for example. She was raised in a denomination not famous for preaching. Joan “shacked up” with a fellow named Don, but preaching convinced her that God didn’t want her to live that way. Though it took a while, Don also became persuaded. Not only did they keep coming to church, but they stopped living together. Eventually, Don, an ex-drug user, moved to another state and became a preacher himself.
Another fellow, Roger, sat on the third row with his two boys. His wife had run off two years before. If ever there was a “seeker,” it was Roger. He sat there Sunday after Sunday, eyes riveted to mine, ears locked on every word. Yet I wasn’t telling him how to get along without a wife and a mother for his children. I was talking about worship, the Lord’s Supper, redemption through the shed blood of Christ—not the practical and relevant themes my church-growth literature touted. But Roger kept coming.
Why? It wasn’t that we used no music; we played and sang with all our heart. We had a ball with the skits and the movie clips. We stayed flexible. But there was always preaching—one guy standing in one place talking about one thing. And that guy was delighted to see confirmed what he’d believed all along: Methods will melt and fads fade, but the Word of God will remain.
Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul sat in a dank Roman cell with a pen in his hand and a chain around his waist. In the dimness, it was probably hard to see. Yet Paul saw more clearly than most; he knew he was going to die, and he wrote of what would live on:
I 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 kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2, ESV)
First, he tells what to preach—the word. What word? It’s a word so simple a child can splash around in it, yet so deep an adult can sink into its depths. Though Paul was bound, the message of Christ remained the unchained melody of his life. He found his scrolls—what we know as the Old Testament—glowing with the presence of Christ. He’d expounded those ancient scriptures, revealing the Jesus concealed there. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul helped complete the New Testament scriptures. Now others, like his trainee Timothy, would continue the work of preaching and teaching.
Paul was a prisoner of Rome, but his heart roamed free. The Word had set him free! It reminded him that he had a king, a city, and a glory awaiting him. What is the message some of us get to preach? What is the word all of us get to hear? It is the Word in a world of words, outweighing all other messages combined. It’s what brings us in, builds us up, and sends us out strong for the King’s service.
Paul tells what to preach, and also when to preach—always. Does sermonizing ever get a little old? A cartoon shows an annoyed preacher telling his congregation, “This is my fourth sermon on the transforming power of the gospel. Why do you look like the same old bunch?”
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