a couple of years ago, the lord dealt with me very specifically about my teaching and preaching. i had inadvertently fallen into a habit that eventually became a labyrinth of frustration and impotence.
here’s the deal. soon after jaycene and i started the church, we became a repository for freaks and weirdos…a haven for the disenfranchised. i would come into the office on monday morning and ask myself this question: “from what i sensed yesterday, what are my people struggling with? what are their main issues?” then i would ask the lord to give me a word to speak to that issue. everything went well for a time, and i felt like i was really doing some good…you know, meeting needs. after a while, though, i started running out of texts. “how can this be?” i wondered, “this is a really big book.” i soon figured out that in my attempt to discern my people’s needs and speak to them, i had been preaching the same basic themes over and over. i really wanted to be a good pastor to my people, but their misery was making me miserable. in my frustration i began to seek the lord (maybe that’s why he frequently allows me to wallow in frustration).
on the “out of ur” blog the other day, skye jethani of leadership wrote an interesting piece that illustrates this dilemma:
Conventional ministry wisdom goes something like this: When launching a new church, first analyze the felt-needs within the target area or population. Then construct ministries to address those felt-needs. Felt-needs based ministries will draw people to your church, and simultaneously positively predispose seekers to the gospel message. In this scenario, caring for peoples’ felt-needs plays a supporting role in the mission.
The idea outlined above is what I was taught in seminary, it’s what I read frequently in ministry books, and it’s what I see practiced virtually everywhere I go. But I increasingly suspect that the theological foundation for felt-needs based ministry may be sand rather than stone.
Contradicting the gospel message is another danger of a hyper-felt-needs based approach to outreach. The gospel calls us to surrender our desires, take up our cross, and follow Christ. How can a church effectively invite people to “die to self” while constantly appealing to their self-interests? Whereas Jesus’ miracles of restoration were completely in sync with his message, our acts of service—particularly in an affluent, consumer culture—run the risk of undermining our message of personal sacrifice by promoting the satisfaction of felt-needs/wants.
i sensed the lord directing me to preach the word, purely and simply. i began to see that all of life’s issues are addressed in scripture, so i decided to choose a passage and take off. but where to begin? as i’ve mentioned earlier, we’re talking about a big book here. at the beginning of 2007, i began a series of messages on the sermon on the mount (matthew 5) that took us through august. in september, i began a series in genesis that i entitled, “genessentials: essential life lessons from genesis” which we completed last month. i’ve discovered a couple of important benefits since i started teaching verse-by-verse:
1. i am more likely to preach the whole counsel of god
i know that some church leaders plan their preaching on a calendar year and schedule vital doctrinal concepts. i have a problem with that method: i’m a chicken. i’d rather skip over the tough parts. when you’re teaching verse-by-verse, you don’t have that luxury. if scripture broaches the subject, you are compelled to deal with it. which brings up the next benefit…
2. i grew like crazy
when you stumble upon a passage that you don’t understand (and your trusted commentaries are silent) you tend to seek god pretty intensely. the sermon on the mount came alive to me while i was struggling through it, and i developed a passion for the gospel like i had never imagined.
3. i never had to say, “i wonder what to talk about this week”
monday mornings became way, way easier.
4. i verified that the bible actually does have the answers to all of life’s questions
during both series, i was amazed at how many people came up to me and said, “that was exactly what i needed.” every time we encountered a holiday where i normally might have chosen a related topic (thanksgiving; christmas; easter; mother’s day), the passage for that week worked perfectly. and verse-by-verse teaching engenders much more dialogue, cohesion, and controversy–all good things in a local church setting.
i don’t know if a story like this has the potential of helping anybody else, but the experience sure helped me. when i was 21, i thought i knew everything. now that i’m 51…aww, never mind.