There has been some excellent conversations about church planting and church reforming lately which is really exciting. I thought I’d bring up something I have currently looking into in recent days, namely that of expository preaching and church planting. Unlike many other seminaries, Southern Seminary is not training “specialists” with “skill sets,” but the focus has been on training pastor-theologians who are committed to the truth more than the latest technique which “works.” A foundational motif for expository preaching is a high view of Scripture, especially the sufficiency of Scripture. When ministers are no longer trained to mine the depths of God’s self-revelatory Word, a future generation will be trained who will know God superficially through minimal exposure to what God has spoken.
I suppose I should make a caveat here. I am not against methods, strategy, technique, and all that jazz. What I am saying is that our emphasis is being placed on God’s Word and competent communicators of God’s revealed truth. The overriding issue is whether your philosophy of ministry is going to be driven my pragmatism, novelty, and technique, or by God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s gospel. With that said, I have a huge concern among those training Southern Baptists church planters that churches cannot be started or sustained by expository preaching. Instead, church planters are being advised and encouraged to preach to “felt needs” with “how to” messages because they are more “effective” and “make the sale.” Let me point you to a couple of article’s I read recently:
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has a website called the Church Planting Village. When you go the resource library, you will find a page dedicated to preaching which they have called “The Sermon Shop.” The second link on the page directs you to something we have addressed here at Said At Southern, namely pastoral plagiarism. At the sermon shop, a church planter can find information on how to market their message, improve their message, and craft their message. Church planters can use how to sustain an audience, appropriately use sermon illustrations, come up with catchy sermon titles, incorporate PowerPoint into their messages, and even find tips on how to start a pastoral blog. However, in the midst of all the tips and tricks,
I found nothing even remotely related to expository preaching (a PDF of Stetzer’s chapter on preaching is available which I mention in the meta below).
Two main articles on sermon preparation are provided, both by the same author. While he makes some good points in general, let me bring out what appears to be the common line of thinking of preaching for church planters today. In the article, “How to Preach in the 21st Century,” Greg Penna, Strategic Resourcing Associate with the Church Planting Group at the North American Mission Board, writes:
Church planters are required to have messages of excellence every week. In sales, you are only as good as your last sale. In church planting, you are only as good as your last effective sermon. . . .The person in the congregation will judge your message against a message they have heard on the radio or television. It may not be fair. After all, that speaker has only one primary job, to preach. Most of the time they have an entire staff to help craft the message. Therefore, take advantage of every short-cut you can without resulting to plagiarism.
Later, Penna writes:
Titles matter; preach more “how to” messages. Rick Warren calls this, “felt need preaching.” It should be called, “a common sense way to approach the preaching.” It is a myth to think that this is topical preaching! In Acts 16 the powerful story is told about Paul and Silas praising God and singing songs in jail. Imagine a title, “The Theological Lesson of Philippi.” No one will come! Now imagine the same sermon titled, “How to Overcome in any Situation.” The house will be packed.
Now if Penna is arguing that the message should have specific and direct application, there is no problem here. But I am hearing is emphasis on titles, “felt needs,” “how to” self-help stuff, and encouragement to take advantage of “every short-cut” in order to “make the sale.” In an attempt to be relevant, effective, and marketable, I fear that fidelity to Scriptures is being sacrificed, and man-centered methods are trumping Scripture’s God-centered message.
The second article is entitled “How to Plan Preaching,” and I would like to include a few excerpts as well:
Because a church plant doesn’t have a multitude of ministries, the worship service must meet people’s needs. A key to meeting needs is a fresh, lively, inspiring, weekly message. Each week the congregation asks, “What is in this message for me?”
Again, the article begins with the focus on man-centered “felt needs” (and as we will see, ends there as well). Penna then moves onto a method of planning based on the calendar. Certain times of the year seem more conducive to certain types of preaching. Since it is summertime, let me share what he said about this season of the year:
After Father’s Day, the hot, heat of summer falls. Now is the time to be most creative in sermon and church calendar planning. The goal is to have something so good the church family will wait until after church to leave for their vacation. Single sermon zingers on topics of interest will work. Summer time is a great time to cover hot topics (i.e. homosexuality), eschatology, and any series on self-improvement (i.e. “How to Manage Your Money”).
Now notice the rationale behind what to preach and when. It is meeting the needs of people through a method and means that will accomplish the best results. In short, it is driven by a pragmatic end. Penna then moves back into the “how to” emphasis:
What if part of the sermon plan included six weeks in the book of Deuteronomy? Don’t look at it as six weeks studying the book of Deuteronomy. That won’t pack much of a punch to the Christian community, let alone those needing life-change. That same series could be repackaged into, “How to Succeed in Life—Lessons from the Ancients,” and begin the process of having a theme.
The question that first comes to my mind is, “Is ‘How to Succeed in Life’ the point of the book of Deuteronomy?” Should we not be committed to the text in its context, having our messages driven by God’s self revelation? Penna concludes,
Congregations spend very little time thinking about preaching. They have never studied what makes a good or bad sermon. They couldn’t write a sermon if forced too. However, in the final analysis, they measure preaching. Their only barometer is, “Did that message meet our needs?”
When the final analysis of God’s people is meeting our needs, I have to wonder if their conclusion and line of thinking is a product of the kind of preaching we have been giving them. Should not the analysis be, “How can and be more like Christ as a result of what God has taught me through His messenger?”
As seminary students, whether we are going to be pastors, church planters, church reformers, or lay people in the church, the fundamental issue when preaching is the sufficiency of Scripture and the preacher’s fidelity to it. Christ has committed Himself to build His Church, and He has committed Himself to His Word. But after reading these articles and others, I must ask you the question.
Can you plant a church through expository preaching?
Let me know what you think.