Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Preaching for Life-Change

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Does preaching for life-change always produce a watered down message?
John MacArthur once addressed the issue of "Biblically-Anemic Preaching." Dr. MacArthur boldly confronted pulpits across America that have abandoned the teaching of God's Word in exchange for self-help guides, philosophical remedies and popular anecdotes that can be as easily discovered by watching any episode of Dr. Phil orOprah. I absolutely agree with him when it comes to his concern about "churches" who have reduced the teaching of God's Word to nothing more than a highlight during the weekend services; but I disagree with the degree to which Dr. MacArthur restricts methodology for preaching the Word of God. Respectfully, I would like to submit an alternate point of view.

I believe that there is liberty within the body of Christ for a variety of approaches to teaching the Word of God. After all, the purpose of the Scriptures is clearly defined in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV). "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." As you can see from a close look at the Greek word "pros," which is translated "for," Scripture is helpful for doctrine, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, but these are not the end-all purposes. The purpose of Scripture is "so that the man of God may be mature." The purpose of our preaching and teaching is not to wow the crowds with our amazing wit or knowledge of Scripture, but to preach messages that change lives. In Romans 8:29 we find that the primary purpose for God's Word and work in our lives is to make us like God's Son, Jesus. What concerns me about those who believe the only way to teach is verse by verse and chapter by chapter is that they label preachers as topical, exegetical or some other label. Let me point out that these labels themselves are extra-biblical. When the original letters were written, they had no chapters and verses; they were sent to be read, understood and applied. Again, the ultimate purpose for the Word of God is that our minds be changed so that our obedience is a by-product of what we have learned. The goal, and I think Dr. MacArthur would agree with this point, is not merely head knowledge, but life transformation.

The majority of American Christians know far more Scripture than they are living out! (This is not to say that the Church is permeated with biblical literacy. But it is to say that biblical literacy isn’t the sole crisis we face—but rather biblical application of what we do know is also of great concern.) The bottom line is this: our preaching must lead to Christ-like convictions that produce Christ-like character which must produce Christ-like conduct. We are called to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

In a recent article, Dr. MacArthur stated:

“…today’s sermons tend to be short, shallow, topical homilies that massage people's egos and focus on fairly insipid subjects like human relationships, "successful" living, emotional issues, and other practical but worldly—and not definitively biblical—themes.”

I don’t wish to spend energy defending those who do massage people's egos, but I can in no way concede the issue of human relationships as an “insipid subject.” Human relationships are at the heart of biblical teaching, regardless of our preaching style.

Let me break it down. Though I preach for nearly 50 minutes every week, I do believe that the amount of time spent is not nearly as important as the content of what is said. We see this borne out in Jesus’ teaching discourses, the brief parable of the sower as a clear example of power not being sacrificed for brevity. I have heard some of the most life-changing messages that were no longer than ten minutes.

So I don’t find the length of a sermon being proscribed in the Bible. All Bible-loving preachers will agree with the dangers of massaging egos. But I believe I’m on solid ground when I defend the value of preaching biblically on topics that encourage and give hope. (Perhaps Dr. MacArthur would also affirm this.)

The Bible is filled with hundreds of examples of human relationships that demonstrate the type of husband, son, employee, friend, relative, brother, boss and so on that I am called to be, and the passages that teach me how to live out these responsibilities are just as numerous. Teaching soundly about these matters is critical. And while I may not teach in what appears to me as a narrowly-defined style of preaching, I believe I’m on track in imitating Christ in both my purpose and manner of preaching.

God help me as I articulate what God has done at our church of 2,300 in Colorado. It is a place where 67 percent of all the members came to know Christ in and through this church. In 19 years we have grown from 23 curious onlookers to 2,300 (mostly!) active believers. We are living the purposes of God and reaching out to the community through 52 unique ministries in our church. We have trained 300 churches how to be active in their community and have become a church to which the local rescue mission sends their recovering addicts. We are made up of doctors, lawyers, orthodontists, as well as prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals—people who have gloriously come to know Jesus and are learning to surrender to his Lordship in every area of their lives. Last year 750 adults came to Christ in our services, yet we do not take on the label "seeker" church, because I believe God does the seeking, we're just chucking the seeds. He gets all the glory and he deserves all the praise. But I share what God has done in our midst to illustrate that he is active in our church, which operates under a style some would reject as “unbiblical.” I just won’t concede that! The truth is, we would never have seen such impact had we regarded issues of human relationships as being insipid.

In my finite and limited years of experience, I have come to believe that a "deep" study of the Word of God means that we are called to live what we read. I have a conviction that preachers must not lose touch with the culture around us, the very culture with which we have been called to share the message of Christ. I have no apologies for a pursuit of relevance.

There are only two types of people who will ever walk through your doors: your family or your mission field. Each person deserves the most powerful and persuasive presentation of God's Word we can provide. If I am teaching on the subject of love, why would I limit myself to a narrow study of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, when the subject is addressed in 1200 passages in Scripture? I want the full counsel of God so I may bring light to the subject, but I compel the hearer to action with a well-thought-out approach and a variety of tools to bring the sermon to life. In a culture of multimedia as well as church resources around every corner, it is not just my prerogative to use these tools—but my duty to use them. My God deserves the best I can give him, and that is exactly what we strive for at Grace Church of Arvada.

We see in Scripture an emphasis on application. Romans is 50 percent application. Ephesians is 50 percent application, Philippians is 100 percent application, and James is over 80 percent application. We are not just to inform our people, but to preach for transformation—and that is done by application teaching. We use videos and testimonies almost every week. We utilize examples from pop culture and often deal with the headlines of the day. People, Christians and non-Christians alike, are searching for answers to life's most difficult questions, and we have the answer—it is the Word of God.

My production team, made up of qualified staff members and pastors, discusses every sermon and every Scripture. We plan every detail of the weekend and make sure that God's Word is handled correctly and remains the focus of all we do. We are planned ahead, and I preach sermons, complete with all the "bells and whistles," to the production team two-and-a-half weeks before the actual weekend it will be delivered. This is how careful we are with the Word of God—but my approach certainly differs from that of Dr. MacArthur. I consider myself on his same team—and would value being validated in my approach rather than being viewed as having somehow compromised God's Word—though God is certainly the final judge over all of our preaching. I believe that there are a variety of approaches or methods to delivering the message. And as long as God's Word is handled accurately and with reverence, and as long as lives are being transformed by the clear Gospel of grace, then God is pleased. I preach for life change and nothing else. If my people leave on the weekend and say, "Wow, my pastor is so smart, did you hear the words he used?", I have failed. But if their week is impacted by changed behavior as they live for Christ, then I have succeeded.

My fellow pastors, my word to you is this: I pray for you and can understand the burden you bear every day. God has placed you in the position you’re in and he wants you to preach exactly the way he created you. Don't try to be someone you’re not. Preach the way God has gifted you. Stay true to your studies and to the Word and lead your people in its light. I am praying for all of you.

In closing, I want to say that friendly tension is what sharpens our faith. Dr. MacArthur challenged me in many areas, and I hope I have done the same for you.

Rick is the Executive Director, Grace Church of Arvada, Arvada, CO; Speaker and Workshop Teacher. He founded Grace Church in 1989 and since then he has seen God grow the church exponentially. The ministry has over 2000 members and is a Purpose Driven Church committed to the Global glory of God. Rick has been instrumental in laying the groundwork for Dare 2 Share Ministries in Colorado.


6 Reasons to Preach the Same Sermon Twice

Joe McKeever: "Have fun preaching those repeats, pastor. At least this is one time you do not have to reinvent the wheel or discover fire all over again."

As a young pastor, I couldn't repeat a sermon any more than I could eat yesterday's breakfast again. Each sermon was a one-time thing. When it was over, it was gone forever. Then invitations began to come in to preach in churches pastored by friends who thought I had something worth sharing with their people. That's when I had to get serious about repeating a sermon. After all, my friends' members hadn't heard my stories or sermons. Anything I did would be new to them.

Those early attempts to preach repeats were fairly pathetic, I think. Since my sermon notes were always one thing and the actual sermon something else entirely, nothing in writing told me what I had preached the first time, so I couldn't reproduce it verbatim. I had to go from memory, or better, get with the Lord anew on that sermon. These days—I'm now 70 and retired—almost every sermon I preach is on a topic I've preached before (with the occasional exception; hey, I'm not living on reruns here!). As a result, I have more or less figured this thing out, at least to my satisfaction. Maybe pastors will find something of benefit here.

Don't expect it to be an exact copy of the first time.

The absolute worst thing you could do in repreaching a sermon would be to take the earlier manuscript and deliver it verbatim. After all, a lot has changed since you preached it:

  • The world has changed. Circumstances change, cultures evolve, technology advances. Illustrations get outdated, and language changes.
  • You are at a different place in life. You've grown. You know more about the Lord and His Word than you did even a year or two ago.
  • You are preaching to a different congregation. As any preacher will tell you, the hearers of a message have a lot to do with how it is preached, and your congregation has changed (physically and spiritually) since you last preached the message.

I think of the pastor who preached in the afternoon to a different congregation the same message he delivered to his own people that morning. Asked why it had been so powerful in the morning and had bombed four hours later, he said, "Poor preaching is God's judgment on a prayerless congregation." Every congregation is different. Therefore, sermons will not be the same everywhere or work in the same way in every setting.

Go to the Lord to see what He wants updated.

The fact that the Holy Spirit led the preacher the first time does not automatically mean He has said all He has to say on that subject or has nothing to new to add. In fact, on the second time around, the pastor is ready to receive more from the Spirit than he was when he first produced the sermon. He now has a grasp of the basic text and a good understanding of the thrust of the message. So, as he prays over it and rethinks the material, he is able to do something pastors rarely get a chance to do: improve on a sermon he has already preached. This is one of the most exciting aspects of repreaching an old sermon. You get to make it better. As a result, you become a better preacher yourself.

Ask any schoolteacher. The first year a teacher covers a subject, he or she labors every night trying to assemble the material for the next day's class. It's an ordeal. The second year improves, since the teacher has been through the jungle before. He has carved out a path and knows he can get to the destination. Fortified by the experience of the first year, she looks around to see if there is a better way to teach this difficult event or explain that hard-to-grasp concept. The second year is typically more fun, more effective, and more productive than the first. At this point, the teacher faces a crucial decision: He can reteach the first year's material again and again, or he can keep learning on the subject and trying to perfect his methods.

Pastors sometimes have the experience of a church member hearing him preach a repeat in another church and observing, "That was great, pastor. You ought to preach that for us sometime." He thinks he did, but he didn't. He preached an earlier incarnation of that sermon. A slimmer version. The embryonic form.

Pastors who simply regurgitate previously delivered sermons without restudying them, praying them through anew, and looking for better ways and sharper insights, are failing their people. I expect we all have known pastors who went from one short-term pastorate to another doing this—and they wonder why the people in the pews never grew. The number one reason people in the pews are not growing is that the man in the pulpit has long since ceased to grow.

Always be working to improve your best sermons.

A good preacher reads something and realizes it fits with the sermon on grace. He finds a great illustration that works for the sermon on stewardship. He stumbles across an insight from Scripture that is ideal for the message on God's Word. How he incorporates these into his files so it will be there waiting the next time he preaches that sermon is up to him. If, like I tend to be, he is a totally right-brained preacher (that is, spontaneous in his impulsiveness, disorderly in his scheduling, and haphazard in his filing system), he will drop the note into a drawer or file it in the pages of his Bible and may or may not find it when he needs it. The stories I could tell about searches for those gems I had hoped to use the next time I preached a certain sermon!

Experience the sermon anew with the congregation.

This little insight came straight from the lips of Professor James Taylor, teacher of preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the mid-1960s. This is also how Christian entertainers like Dennis Swanberg and Andy Andrews do it. They relive whatever they're sharing along with their audiences. Look at their faces, and you know in a heartbeat that even though they have their material down pat and know exactly what comes next, they are experiencing it afresh along with you. It's a neat trick (or, if you prefer, a masterful art) that comes from loving people and devoting oneself to one's craft.

Revisit the material you couldn't use the first time.

You can't preach every insight you have found, can't use every good story you have uncovered on a subject, and can't bring in every text that pertains to the message. You will have to pick and choose. This is great, because it means you can give your very best stuff to your congregation. They get to hear the choicest offering you can give.

Young pastors have to learn the hard way not to toss in every insight, every story, or every text that fits a sermon. Audiences do not have an infinite capacity to take in and retain all the preacher throws at them. He needs to respect their limitations and keep the sermon at a reasonable length by laying aside all but the most important elements. After all, the pastor's goal is not to convince his audience he knows all there is to know of a subject; he's trying to convey the Lord's message on that subject.

Don't hesitate to preach repeats to your own people.

Most pastors I know tell the congregation when they are preaching a repeat. They might dress several up as "summer reruns" or "back by popular demand." I know at least two pastors who, each year on the anniversary of their arrival at that church, will deliver the same message year after year. I have no idea how well they do it, and I sometimes wonder why they do it.

However, if the sermon was preached more than a couple of years earlier, calling attention to its being a rerun is completely unnecessary. After all, as we've seen, the sermon will not be the same as it was before (or, it shouldn't be!).

Invariably, some church member will seek out the preacher following the sermon with her finger pointing to a verse in her open Bible. "Pastor, you preached this same sermon three years ago." Count on it happening. But don't let it bother you. The proper answer to that is: "I preached the same text. But it's a different sermon. And by the way, don't be surprised if I preach on this again. It's a great Scripture, isn't it?"

Have fun preaching those repeats, pastor. At least this is one time you do not have to reinvent the wheel or discover fire all over again. What a privilege to be a co-laborer with the Lord in preaching this Word!

Joe McKeever

Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at