Survival can easily become the overriding value of a church. You won’t see it on a church website, but it is powerful. The desire to survive is natural. Every living thing wants to survive. Animals’ lives are consumed with the fight for survival. Humans strap themselves up to machines that extend life long past the time natural death would have occurred. Survival is not a bad thing—at least not inherently bad. But when it becomes the guiding value of a church it has devastating consequences.
Mabel is passionate about survival. She has never traveled outside the United States, actually, she’s never traveled more than ten minutes from her home. She goes just far enough to get food and other necessities. She considered food delivery, but you can’t trust those delivery drivers. She knows she should exercise to stay healthy, but going to the gym would require more driving. She considered a treadmill for her house, but that belt moves so fast it would probably throw her right off. Sometimes she walks up and down her stairs, but lately she’s been avoiding that because if she fell no one would be there to help her. She’s an expert at eliminating danger. She doesn’t use the stove, stays firmly on the no-slip mat in the shower, and washes her hands every five minutes.
In doing every thing she can to ensure survival Mabel lives an existence with no purpose, no friends, and no enjoyment. Mabel doesn’t make a difference in anyone’s life, not even her own. She is an increasingly lethargic, boring, ineffective person because of her passionate desire to survive.
I’m sure there are more, but here are three destructive outcomes of the need for survival.
Survival Makes Us Shallow
The more we let the need to survive take over, the shallower we become. Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit we preach what we think people want to hear. We give up the call to carry our crosses for the call to pick up a free latte. Survival lends itself to a shallow form of Christianity.
Survival Keeps Us from Sending
Our call as a Church is to go to all nations and make disciples of Jesus. If we send people to volunteer in other places they may give some of their money to those places instead of us. If we highlight going our best leaders might be called to go somewhere else.
Survival Sucks Our Faith
God has always called His people to move into the future in faith. He called Abram to leave his homeland without knowing where he was going. Jesus called the disciples to follow him without telling them what that involved. When we need to survive we can’t step out in faith because we might fail.
This is a time of year when traditions garner added attention. This is a good thing. Traditions provide grounding, create memories, and take on an emotional meaning that adds joy to life. Since Michelle and I got married we have had to work through the traditions we grew up with and the traditions we wanted to create for our family. As you consider the traditions you will continue or make this year, here are five things to consider that will add meaning to them.
Create traditions that fit your values.
What are the things you care most about in life? Maybe you think serving other people is essential, or having time to rest, or being adventurous. Take some time and try to narrow down your highest values to your top five. Then, spend some time considering if your current traditions reflect those values. If not, it doesn’t mean you need to drop your traditions, but maybe you could create a couple new ones that fit what you care about.
Preserve family traditions.
There is something powerful about knowing you are doing the same things your parents and grandparents did. If the traditions go back further than that even better! This one can be especially powerful for kids. When we talk about the history of a tradition it gives us a sense of history and connection to those who came before us. Maybe it can remind us that life is bigger than “me”.
Involve others in your traditions (and participate in theirs).
A sure way to add richness to life is to develop meaningful relationships with other people. Imagine how it would impact your neighborhood over the course of years if you started a neighborhood Christmas party. What strength would it add to your existing friendships if you lived out some traditions together over the next twenty years? As you create new traditions consider ways you could do this that will consistently draw others into life with you.
Pick traditions that can be consistent.
An important part of the power of tradition is that it is done over and over, every year (or month or whatever). As you form or keep traditions, think about how you can be consistent with them. For instance, if you travel to the grandparents every other year it might be difficult to have a tradition of going to a Christmas Eve service, but you could create your own time of remembering the story of Jesus’ birth together and invite people to join you in it–whether it’s at your house or grandma’s.
Get creative and have fun!
Especially as you create new traditions, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. What is something unique, creative, and fun you could do that would put a stamp on your family and community? This year we’re beginning the tradition of having a big gingerbread house making party. We’re inviting all our friends for a big messy icing and candy throw down.
In this great season of thanks and celebration of hope, make and keep some great traditions!
Saturday was a bad day. Well, actually about half an hour of Saturday was bad. The brief spurt between the end of my son’s basketball game and our departure for family pictures was 30 minutes of unadulterated chaos. The majority of the disaster revolved around two things–my son’s meltdown and my failure to react well to it. In the course of 30 minutes I acted in some ways I never want to as a father–being impatient, threatening punishment, and yelling. While I hate that I reacted in those ways, I do think there are some redemptive things that can come out of such parenting failures.
The opportunity to model responsibility.
When I fail in one respect or another as a dad I have the opportunity to take responsibility for my actions. I could have gone to my son and given him all the “reasons” I didn’t react the way I should have. I could have pushed the blame onto him for melting down (because an 8-year-old should be more mature than a 35-year-old, right?). We live in a society that often seeks every course of action other than taking responsibility for our actions. I don’t want my son to grow up to be one of those people. Times like Saturday allow me to go to him and clearly take responsibility for my actions.
The opportunity to engage conflict in healthy ways.
I have hated conflict for as long as I can remember. I have always avoided conflict. That’s not a good thing. When conflict is avoided or mishandled it leads to a negative impact on relationships. When it is engaged and worked through it actually adds depth and character to relationships. It makes them stronger. I’ve been learning that, especially in the past five years, and this was another opportunity to grow as a person and model positive conflict resolution for my son.
The opportunity for my son to extend forgiveness.
I won’t be the only one who does something wrong to my son in his life. I also won’t be the only one who wants to be forgiven. I want to be a person who can forgive others and I want that for my kids too. My failure gave my son the opportunity to practice forgiving. I hope this leads to an ability to forgive others as well–even those who don’t particularly care to be forgiven.
The opportunity to be forgiven.
I would rather extend forgiveness to someone than receive it myself. When I mess up with my kids, my wife, or others I love I have an especially hard time forgiving myself. But I need to be able to receive forgiveness from others. It is an important part of deep relationships and is a core component of my faith.
The opportunity to see the strength of our relationship.
Later on Saturday we had some good times together. As we were riding in the car together I was struck by the beauty of relationships that can withstand some meltdowns and failures. Our relationship is no worse off because of his meltdown or my failure in response–if anything it’s probably better. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this and it made me long to continue becoming the kind of parent, husband, and friend who can fail and be failed by others.
This week there was a bit of a flare in tensions as Rachel Held Evans called out the leadership of The Nines conference for gender inequality. This set off a storm of blog posts and social media activity–both defending Evans’ position and raising issues with it or the way she went about engaging.
There were two primary (sub)texts in the online battle. People who took issue with Evans claimed she was promoting disunity within the larger church and hurting the witness of the church by her approach to the situation. Evans responded by stating that those claiming these things were people with power and that this was merely a way of stifling an oppressed minority. Both of those propositions seem to do a good job of “sticking it to” the other side. After all, Jesus did talk passionately about both unity and oppression.
I’m not sure why but this debate has burdened me this week. I think part of it is knowing many people are (and many more feel) hindered in using their God-given gifts. It also has something to do with wishing we could interact better about some of these things–as Evans herself says, tone is very important. But in the midst of this I thought I’d focus on some things we (might) all be able to agree on relating to how we interact.
1. Tone matters. I can say to my children, “Kids, come here.” If I yell it they will hear something completely different than if I say it with kindness in my voice. It seems to me that too often on these issues we are not only debating (or even arguing) but trying to put the other in their place with our tone or sarcasm. I wish even our fighting was filled with love for the other person. This would be an actual witness to the power of the kingdom of God.
2. We have a hard time seeing the perspective of the other. Especially on difficult issues, we get riled up about our own position (because we are right) but seldom take time to work at understanding the position of the other. We’d all be served well by spending more time seeking understanding (even if we’re still right at the end).
3. Everybody can use the Bible as a weapon. Case in point: unity and relief of oppression are both important biblical themes. We tend to lead with the parts of Scripture that will uphold our position while downplaying the legitimacy of those that will uphold the thoughts of those we disagree with. (I wish I could say I’ve never done this. Then you’d just quote some verse about lying.)
4. Grace is hard. I am easily riled up by people I disagree with. I usually don’t respond in a public way (who would care if I did?!), but I admit that my first reaction to those I disagree with is not to try and think the best of them–to extend them the grace that I’d want to be extended. Where there is significant and important disagreement grace is just hard. (But I’m pretty sure it’s worth pursuing.)
5. We’re all in process. Many of the conversations that are happening (like the one about women in Christian leadership) are very important. It’s good that the debates are being had. Part of my hope is knowing that everyone who claims Jesus as King is in process. There are so many perspectives I have changed in my lifetime, and I’m sure there will be many more. We need to keep talking because it’s one of the ways that the Holy Spirit continues the work of transformation that will be completed some day in the presence of Jesus. We are all people in process.
Last week I was hanging out with a ninja and an angel, soliciting candy donations from the neighbors. At one of these homes we were engaging in conversation, but the residents seemed a little nervous. I would be nervous if a ninja was at my door too, so I didn’t think too much of it. Then I noticed the husband of this lovely couple quickly grab something off the table and stealthily slide it into each of my kids’ sacks–I think he may have been a ninja in street clothes. It sure looked like a piece of paper.
When we got home the kids were sorting through their sugary loot when one of them held up a piece of paper and said, what’s this? I only needed a quick glance to determine the answer–it was a tract. It was comic book-style, featuring an arrogant golfer, but even comic books can’t compete with candy on Halloween.
St. Francis saved me during my teenage years. I still remember the feeling the first time someone shared his sage wisdom with me–”Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words.” (Imagine my shock when years later I found out it is unlikely St. Francis ever said this! Oh well, I’m sure someone said it sometime.) This quippy saying lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders. See, I had been brought up to believe that I actually had to talk to people about my faith. I was given a whole tool belt of evangelistic methods–from the Romans Road to the cross on a napkin illustration. But the truth is, I dreaded the thought of actually engaging someone with one of these. The closest I came in high school was a five second “conversation” on the back of a bus headed for a tennis match.
But once I saw the light of “lifestyle evangelism” the weight lifted. I realized that I didn’t really have to tell anyone about Jesus, I just had to show people the gospel with how I lived. Yeah, I didn’t do such a good job of that either, but whenever a friend or youth pastor said we should share our faith I could quickly retort, “Well, it’s most important we share the gospel by how we live.” Bam!
My kids have experienced gravity from the time they were born. Neither of them emerged from the womb only to float to the ceiling. Sometimes they’ve learned about gravity the hard way–like falling off a bike or being hit by a ball that was tossed into the air. Despite their undeniable indoctrination into the law of gravity, there was a day when we read a book about gravity and then had a conversation about how it worked. They had experienced it, but they didn’t know its name, how it worked, or why it worked. However, when they heard about it they had no problem believing it because they had experienced it in an undeniable way. To really know gravity they needed someone to tell them about it, but if things were floating around the room when they heard they might have thought gravity was a load of crap.
The tract in my kids Halloween bag and my misappropriation of the gospel preached through lifestyle are equally problematic. One assumes the gospel is merely a proposition to be believed without the flesh of relationships and community or the commitment of being a disciple of the King. The gospel of lifestyle assumes the gospel is purely about actions and that there is nothing to be proclaimed or explained. The life and practice of Jesus severely dispute both of these approaches.
There is a time and place to proclaim the gospel when relational engagement is impossible for a variety of reasons. There are times when we need to love people with the love of Jesus without speaking anything of our faith or the name of Jesus. However, neither of these should be our default. Rather, as followers of Jesus we should live our lives individually and collectively in such a way that when we are able to authentically share about our hope in Jesus people respond like my kids did to gravity. They have no trouble believing it because they have undeniably seen and experienced its truth.
A couple weeks ago, we were given this sign as a housewarming gift by one of our good friends. I love the look of it and the sentiment. But joy isn’t something we can choose, is it?
Isaiah, my son, hates coats. I don’t know where the depth of loathing comes from, but he and coats just don’t get along no matter what we try. On Tuesday when it was time to leave for school the temperature was hovering around 35 degrees.
“Okay guys, get your shoes and socks on and grab your coats and backpacks so we can head to school,” I said.
“What?! Why do I have to wear a coat? Coats are so stupid!” Isaiah whined/argued.
Then coat-depression set in. He grabbed his coat, and dragging it behind him sulked off to the car. I asked him to actually put it on and that didn’t go over well either. That’s when the sign hanging above our door popped into my mind.
“Isaiah, this would be a great time to practice choosing to be joyful,” I suggested.
“Why? What do I have to be joyful about? I have to wear a coat!” he retorted.
“Well, we all had a warm place to sleep last night (I was thinking about the family we interacted with the night before who were trying to find ways to get into a motel instead of sleeping in their car (thanks to some really generous people we got this covered for a while)), we have lots of family and friends who love us, you get to go to school and learn and many kids don’t get to do that, we had a great time reading together last night…those are a few reasons you could be joyful,” I replied.
“But I hate wearing coats!”
To Isaiah’s credit, he is amazing at getting over things and pulling it together. By the time we got to school (about two minutes) he smiled at me and said, “I love you daddy!” on his way out the door. Coats seem like a weak reason to have your day ruined (or even part of it), but bills, illness, or Broncos losses are legit reasons, right?
The last thing I want to do is demean the depth of struggle many people in the world face or discredit real issues like depression. Sometimes it’s really hard (maybe impossible) to choose joy. At the same time, I know that I allow my circumstances to control my attitude and approach to life far too easily at times.
When I lived in Jamaica as a teenager I saw inordinate amounts of joy from people who had next to nothing. I watched an older man at my former church exude joy as he walked through cancer and eventually into death. Paul and Silas sang songs of joy as they sat chained to a wall in a prison.
Sometimes my excuses for not choosing joy start to seem about as legit as wearing a coat.
Last night my son wandered out of his room and down the hall at 9:15 pm. He’s been making a habit of going to bed a little later every night lately (his bed time is supposed to be 8:30) and I was a little frustrated. But when I saw the look of fear in his eyes I figured he’d had a bad dream.
“Daddy, Satan is making me think bad thoughts,” he said in a concerned voice.
“Okay, what kind of thoughts?” I asked him.
“About me and Alya’s deaths,” he whispered, holding back tears.
We talked for a couple minutes about the power of Jesus to calm our fears and even our hope of eternal life, and then we prayed together.
I hate to admit it, but when he headed back to his room I fully expected him to be back, once again terrified by thoughts of death. Instead, when I went to check on him ten minutes later, he was fast asleep.
In the morning I checked with him to see if he’d had any more disturbing thoughts or bad dreams and he simply responded, “no, we prayed about it, remember.”
We can chalk his response up to childlike faith that hasn’t gone through the fire of unanswered prayer, and I suppose there’s something to that, but he has prayed prayers that have not been answered. He and I have had conversations a couple times when he couldn’t quite understand why his prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears. Despite that, he walked away from our impromptu prayer meeting on the couch with full confidence that there would be no more problems and he’d fall asleep.
This episode slapped me in the face with the realization that I can easily begin believing prayer doesn’t make any difference. Too much evil in the world. But more than that, too many times where it seems God has his headphones in. Yet, when my eight-year-old’s faith forces me to reflect on the prayers we’ve prayed–that we’d find a house near work and school, that we’d connect quickly with neighbors, that my son would become friends with the kids who picked on him the first week of school, that we’d find a community of faith where we’d be able to be woven into the fabric of its life–I realize a supposed lack of answered prayer is really my failure to open my eyes.
This is important because a lack of faith severely limits my willingness to pray bold, risky, God-honoring prayers. If I stick to “help us to have a good day” or “bless so-and-so” I can find a way to say those prayers were answered (I mean, the day wasn’t great, but I didn’t get hit by a car…). Not to mention that I will forget that I even prayed them because they are so bland. And in the midst of that I will fail to experience what God has for me, my family, my neighbors, my church, my city, and our world.
Lord, give me the faith and courage to pray in line with the vision you have for the world.
So in this I’m trying to be more like my 8-year-old. I want to join him in having the same heart and desire as David when he wrote in Psalm 5,
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
Yesterday I wrote a post about shifting from asking “is it necessary” to asking “is it beneficial.” The most prominent way this shift has impacted my life is in relation to the corporate life of the church (as a people, not a building). I went through a long time period when I was very cynical of the organized church and especially “the show” on Sunday mornings.
I looked at it all and thought “Is this really necessary?” And for years my answer to that was a resounding “no”. I agreed with the large number of people who proclaimed the utter unimportance of “going to church,” and was in partial agreement with the sentiment of being able to follow Jesus on my own.
But a few years ago I made the shift from asking “is it necessary” to asking “is it beneficial” and that has drastically altered my perspective. Everything about the gathering of the church can be beneficial to someone who is trying to be a disciple of Jesus. You have the opportunity to interact with other people, declare the worth of God together with others, and be challenged by explanation and application of Scripture.
I have also come to firmly believe that God’s best–abundance (I don’t mean financial here, but life in general), hope, joy, support, and growth, are wrapped up in the corporate life of the church. God chose the Israelites as a group of people and called them to obey and walk with him as a group. Imagine an entire nation living out Deuteronomy 6 together–they would be so much more together than they could be alone. Jesus chose the twelve apostles (not to mention many others who were consistently with him) rather than doing ministry on his own. One of the most beautiful descriptions of what can happen in a community following Jesus is Acts 2:42-47.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Yeah, I know all the objections about how the church doesn’t look like this. I also know that I want to be part of trying. I know that this kind of life can’t happen in isolation–it has to happen in the corporate life of the church–whether it’s a house church or a mega-church or whatever. And that is a huge point for me. This beautiful picture may seem difficult, and even impossible at times, in the life of the corporate church–but it is literally impossible without it. No church will ever be perfect, but what God intends for me is partially wrapped up in continuing on as an imperfect person in the context of an imperfect community. But in that imperfection the possibility of beauty, growth, and hope is infinitely greater than it is on my own.
And the corporate gathering of the church is a beneficial part of the overall corporate life of the church. It is not the total–not even close–but it is a helpful piece. In my previous post I said that the question “is it necessary” is a question of scarcity, stagnation, and hopelessness. When I avoided the corporate gathering of the church it was because of my own distorted perception of the purpose it serves and a lack of hope that it could be truly beneficial. But as I have slowly overcome my cynicism and biases, I have begun to experience these gatherings as something extremely beneficial.
So can you be a follower of Jesus without a church/community of faith? I don’t really care. Even if you could it would be settling for the very least rather than pursuing the very best.
There’s a question we need to stop asking. It’s not a question we ask consciously most of the time, but it invades our thinking and starts to decay the fabric of our lives. It is a question scarcity, stagnation, and hopelessness. The question is, “Is it necessary?” It usually comes out of my kids’ mouths as “Do I have to?!” Consider this question applied to different contexts.
- Is it necessary to leave my house? (Especially if you work from home!)
- Is it necessary that I play with my kids?
- Is it necessary to consume anything but bread and water?
- Is it necessary to talk to my spouse?
- Is it necessary to read (or play games, go for a hike, watch a movie, etc.)?
- Is it necessary to pray?
In each of these cases the answer could certainly be “no”. It is not necessary to do any of these things. However, if you choose to stay in your house, ignore your family, refrain from good food and drink forever, avoid recreation, and distance yourself from God your life will be much less than it could be. You will be alive, but you will not be living.
“Is it necessary?” is a worthless question.
We will be much better off when we begin asking “Is it beneficial?”
This is a question of hope, abundance, joy, and growth. There is little doubt that investing in relationships, recreation, and study are beneficial. Not everything is beneficial, and this question can help us to root things out of our lives that are detrimental to ourselves and others. It will also lead us to growth and fulfillment. A full and joyful life is full of all kinds of things that are not necessary but are beneficial.
I’ve recently had numerous conversations about the proper way to approach preaching–through books of the Bible or topically. In other words, should we take three years to wade through Haggai or do six weeks on “How to Order Coffee Like Jesus”? While neither of these are likely to happen, proponents of each approach seem to view the other in these terms. So here are a few thoughts that I believe should inform our decision-making as well as a couple ways to maximize both approaches at the end.
#1: Some parts of Scripture are more important than others. (Read this before you sound the heretic alert.)
Might as well get the controversial point out there first! I am NOT saying parts of Scripture are unimportant or uninspired. I agree that “ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” No Scripture should be ignored or crossed out in our Bibles. But I do see the validity of what the tradition I’m a part of calls a weighted canon.
This means that all Scripture is not EQUALLY effective for making disciples of Jesus. Yes, all Scripture points to Jesus. Yes, all Scripture has value for growing our faith (as I quoted from 2 Timothy above). But if we want to make disciples of Jesus, the clearest picture of what this looks like is Jesus. If we want to know the way of Jesus the clearest way to hear it is by listening to Jesus’ teaching. Much of the teaching in Scripture would be obscure if it were not for the fulfillment of it found in Jesus. Through him we see all of Scripture more clearly, and I’m grateful for that! It is Jesus alone who is the perfect image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).
Sometimes we balk at topical preaching in particular because we want to “preach the whole council of God.” The reality is that we will never teach the entire Bible without taking a lifetime to do it. Even if we go through the whole Bible we will have to pick and choose the parts we preach. We must find ways not to ignore any of the Bible, but we should also be sure that in our preaching people are consistently seeing the Triune God who is most clearly imaged in Jesus.
#2: We gravitate toward our personal passions.
This is a significant problem for those who teach topically, but it can easily be a problem for those who teach through books of the Bible as well. It is a natural human quality to talk about our passions. People who love sports don’t strike up conversations about quilting. Political activists will turn every conversation to the policy of the day. For those who are preaching, a passion for Bible study, mentoring, contemplative prayer, faith and work, family, etc (all good things) can easily lead every sermon down the same general road.
This is why all preachers must be careful to listen well to the text(s) they are preaching from and be as true to them as humanly (and Spirit-aided) possible. Those who preach topically should have a team that helps to select topics so their own passions don’t overwhelm what is preached.
This is also a good reason why we must cultivate a love for God, his people, and his mission as our greatest passion. We will always have topics we gravitate to, but for those who are preaching, there must be no greater passion than the Triune God.
#3: Preaching is an act of pastoral care.
No matter the style of preaching, it should be approached as an act of pastoral care. In a large church this will be more general as it’s hard to keep a pulse on 5000 people. In a small church or smaller teaching venues (and especially in smaller groups of whatever type) the person teaching should take time to seriously consider where the people are at who will be hearing the message. The same message may find a different expression or application depending on what is happening in the individual lives of people and the collective life of the church.
This perspective includes being aware of what is going on in culture. On the weekend after the horrific theater shooting here in Colorado I scrapped the sermon I had prepared and spent a couple nights preparing a sermon that would deal with what had happened. This was the topic on everyone’s mind and they needed to hear how Scripture spoke into it.
#4: Keep the goal in mind.
Biblical knowledge alone is an insufficient goal of preaching. Talking about the things people are dealing with in life is also an insufficient goal of preaching. The overarching goal must be for us to help people live as disciples of Jesus–growing in relationship with God and others and participating in God’s mission in the world.
- “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Mt. 28:19-20
- Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Mt. 22:37-40
- “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Col. 1:28
These types of things should guide us in preaching–whatever approach we take. When our purpose in preaching shifts from this to creating a buzz, getting butts in the seats, or having the congregation most knowledgable in Greek in town we have a problem.
#5: Context people!
No matter your approach to preaching you should take the context of Scripture very seriously. This includes the context of the material around the Scripture you’re using, the entire book, the entire Bible, and the historical-cultural context.
In topical preaching it is easy to cherry pick verses with complete disregard for the context. Shoot, I’ve heard people use two words from a verse to make a point that in the context has NOTHING to do with what is being said. There are even entire books written with this method. In preaching through a book of the Bible it is easy to get so focused on a few verses that the greater context of the book and entire Bible are lost.
In both cases preaching is simpler, and potentially misleading, when historical-cultural context is ignored. The stories of the Bible occurred in specific times and cultures. We must understand something of these cultures to preach Scripture faithfully.
Maximizing preaching through books of the Bible.
One of the great advantages of preaching through books of the Bible is that you cannot avoid the topics that make you uncomfortable (or ones that seem boring at first glance). One of its disadvantages can be when a preacher deflects the need to engage culture and people’s lives by saying “I just preach the Bible.” When preaching through books of the Bible it is essential that those preaching take a significant amount of time to consider how that passage relates to the issues their people are facing and how those two connect.
It is a bit ironic that going through a book of the Bible can present pitfalls in regard to the use of Scripture that are just as big as preaching topically. It is easy to get so focused on the specifics of a few verses that the larger context is lost. It is even easier to set your sights on the specific book you’re preaching and to ignore what the rest of Scripture has to say on a topic. We can develop great (or minor) heresies well right from the Bible when we lose context.
So when we preach through a book of the Bible here are a few things to keep in mind:
- How does your current passage fit into the rest of the book?
- What does the rest of the Bible say about your current passage?
- How does this impact people’s lives?
- Where does this intersect with our culture?
- Is there an overarching theme you can use to tie a number of weeks together? (In other words, is there a “topical” series that comes from looking at the whole book or a larger section of the book?)
Maximizing topical preaching.
One of the advantages of topical preaching is that you can tailor what is preached to what a congregation needs to hear or what is happening in culture. One of the disadvantages is that you can easily avoid important biblical topics or the parts of Scripture that make people uncomfortable. The most important thing for people who preach topically to remember (whether it’s all the time or some of the time) is that we need to preach what the Bible says about a given topic. This is not an opportunity to share whatever random thoughts come to mind–it is a chance to teach people what the Bible says about _____________.
As someone who leans toward topical preaching, I understand the concern many people have that this leads to preaching “fluff”. There are many topical preachers who are no more biblical, prophetic, or discerning than a motivational speaker. We have no biblical precedent to tell people what they want to hear or to water things down to make teaching palatable. Topical preaching is a vehicle for delving into Scripture around a given topic, not a chance to appeal to the masses.
So when we preach topically here are a few things to keep in mind:
- People should leave knowing more about what the Bible says on a given topic.
- We must engage the passages that make us uncomfortable, not just cherry pick the ones that make us feel good.
- Topics should be chosen by seeking the Holy Spirit’s direction and considering what the people need to hear at a given time.
- Take a look at the Scripture you’ve used over the course of the series, the year, and a few years. What is being left out? Do a series on that.