some of the most prolific writers/speakers/leaders in the blogoshpere (who will go unnamed) have made comments recently that startled me. one guy posted an article on his blog entitled. “ten keys to better series planning.” while there are some good things in the article, this writer/speaker/leader’s thinking is flawed (in my humble opinion). another guy makes a comment in response to an interview question, and i want to point out what i see as a couple of systemic problems with what both guys have to say. please do not think i am taking shots at any particular individual (if i had a problem with the man, i would simply stop visiting his blog), i am taking exception with some commonly held principles that are (in my humble opinion) unbiblical and harmful.
in the first guy’s post about series planning, he says:
Find the right balance between “reach people” series and “grow people” series. There will always be tension here, but the objective is to try to balance out using services to attract a crowd and help people take their next steps in their spiritual journey. At ( unnamed megachurch ), we’ve actually color-coded our teaching calendar to make sure we maintain a healthy balance.
Deliver biblical truth and life application. Your teaching will not produce life change unless you also provide life application. Without application people may experience conviction or inspiration, but they won’t know what to do with that. Make it a goal in every message to clearly identify one next step for people to take to apply what they’ve learned.
i stumbled on the phrase, “Your teaching will not produce life change unless you also provide life application.” either this guy puts way too much confidence in my teaching, or way too little confidence in the word of god to change lives (to say nothing of the ability of the holy spirit to make application). in acts 2, peter stood up and preached jesus (he basically quoted old testament scripture) without application, and the people said, “brothers, what shall we do?”
too, would someone please tell me what a “reach people” series is? is there such a thing as preaching “to attract a crowd”?
another well-known and uber popular preacher (one of my favorites, in fact) said this in an interview:
Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that. All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable or relevant to every stage of life. My challenge is to read culture and to read an audience and ask: What is the felt need? Or perhaps what is more important, what is an unfelt need they need to feel that I can address? Because if they don’t feel it, then they won’t address it.
granted, this is one comment taken out of context, but i just couldn’t disagree more. first, because i believe scripture is sufficient and capable of standing on its own. second, because i believe it is wrong to allow my focus to be on people rather than on the word (when choosing what to preach/teach).
mostly, though, i am ruined because of personal experience.
i don’t want to sound all weird, but god spoke to me very clearly a few years ago. i had gotten into the habit of trying to perceive the needs of my people, and then develop messages to speak to those needs. i love my people with all my heart and my motivations were completely pure, but god came to me and said (and i paraphrase): “you just preach the word. you can’t know what these people need, but i do and the solution to their problem is in the word. you just preach the word.”
the first eight months of that year, i walked verse-by-verse through the sermon on the mount. while i worked hard (and still do) to apply each passage to real-life issues, i basically tried to let scripture speak for itself. my life (and, i believe, my preaching) was revolutionized, and i was amazed by the “life application” i found there. scripture covers all kinds of real-life issues (marriage and parenting and finances and emotional issues) and scripture covers discipleship (bearing fruit and loving each other and embracing servanthood) and scripture covers doctrine (sin and grace and prayer and baptism). could that be the “healthy balance” my brother is referring to?
when i seek to meet “felt needs” or “attract people” with my preaching, then my focus is backwards. i am catering to consumers. but when my preaching begins in the word (with what it is literally saying to us) and flows out of a fresh encounter with god, then needs will be met. and people will be engaged and changed (the gospel is the most compelling story in history. as paul told timothy, it is my job to…
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:2-3)
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture (what? no application?), to preaching and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)
i’m gonna’ preach the word and trust the lord to work out the details.