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3 Proven Ways to “Grow” Your Youth Ministry

For decades the American church has sold a shallow “growth strategy” revolving around the notion that teenagers and college students need copious amounts of shenanigans to stay in the church and buy into Christianity. Youth Pastors famously emerged as 20-40-year old men spending their work week working on a promo skit to garner a response, and “sermons” that refer to the Bible but don’t teach much. The focus was not on raising future church members, it was on getting kids to show up and think it was “cool.”

If you ever wondered why young people left the church in droves seeking truth? It’s no wonder at all. They were finding plenty of entertainment. But they weren’t finding any real truth.

Where I’m Coming From

As I write this, I don’t sit on a perch of arrogance or high-dollar youth conference expertise. While I’ve overseen the student ministry at two churches as both the “students” pastor and/or the pastor who oversees the youth director, the takeaways in the midst of spiritual and numerical growth is consistently: student ministry is tough. It’s trench work with long seasons of waiting to see if the seeds you planted took root. In many cases, it’s small, unnoticed, unappreciated work.

Still, it doesn’t have to be confusing to come up with a strategy for growth — spiritually, speaking. Pragmatic and “next level” conferences will cost you money, show you things you’ll never have the money to implement, and leave you high on hype but low on fruit.

Ditch the gimmicks. Faithfulness works too. The following numbers only serve as an illustration that silences pragmatists who say, “Bible-teaching is fine but doesn’t work.”

We Grew 396% in Six Months

A recent tweet about our student ministry growth invoked a large number of responses that triggered this article. It’s true. We grew fast and it was fun to watch as more families brought their students to our campus. However, we still have a long way to go with discipleship and raising up leaders who raise up leaders. This has happened on both a smaller and larger scale at both churches I have pastored at. In both contexts, the focus was always God’s word over gimmicks. In both contexts, God sovereignly determined growth. Here’s the tweet:

Many were asking me to flesh out the context of the steps that God used to “grow” our ministry. Of course, we all know that God causes growth and that numbers don’t tell the whole story. But the point of the tweet was to illustrate that young people today are hungry for truth and solid teaching. Furthermore, the most important growth (spiritual) can happen when you use ordinary means, and so can numerical growth (though it’s not guaranteed). 

Contrast that with many student ministry strategies today and youth ministry conference “wisdom” that insist on foolish antics, soundbite messages, “tons of games,” and an X-box station to trigger growth, and you can see the dilemma that so many young leaders are faced with. Pragmatism? Or faithfulness? Manufactured growth? Or God-triggered growth?

What We Focused On

For us, things happened to grow after we shifted gears and did these three things. Still, anyone on our team would tell you that we’d be doing the same things for 2 students or 2000. Additionally, our entire elder team was taking this approach with the entire congregation and other ministries as well. 

Here are the “big three” that we focused on, and how we approach each one.  

1. Major on expository preaching

My friend and fellow pastor, Jon Benzinger, always asks: Are you using the Bible to preach your message, or is the Bible using you to preach its message? 

That question is what every pastor who serves teens to college students must ask. Fortunately, expository preaching helps a great deal. If you’re new to the term, it means that instead of preaching random topics and just loading your message with some quotes from Google, an emotional story for your closing altar call, and a couple of random passages sprinkled in, you unpack a text from Scripture in its proper context and apply it to their lives. This doesn’t mean you can’t preach topics, or that there is no place for other approaches to certain subjects, it just means you’re always preaching what the Bible says, rather than what you think.

For example, if you’re preaching on sexual purity, unpack 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, and give them an actual section of Scripture they will forever understand to the fullest. Preach on separating from the world by digging deep into 1 John 2:15-17. Talk about dating by painting a clear picture of a faithful husband or wife in Ephesians 5:22-35 or from 1 Peter 3:1-7.

The goal of each message is to teach from a text and help your audience understanding the original meaning to the original audience. Throughout that text and as you cross-reference and make points, saturate their hearts with Scripture, explain the context and original audience, ask big questions about what things mean and why God would command such things of His people? Unpack what they were going through, what the passage means, and then apply the passage in ways they can immediately put into practice. This takes work. If you’re the “youth” pastor or preacher, don’t spend half your week working on the skit for your promo video. Focus on your job to proclaim the truth. Delegate the skit to someone else. Study the word, pray for their hearts, work on your homiletics, and don’t be boring! As for illustrations, you can still have a riot with those but keep them linked to the text. For example, one night I was preaching out of James 3 and in my study that week I realized James uses some pretty extreme examples to illustrate the damage done by an untamed tongue. Since I couldn’t light anything on fire in the sanctuary, I cut the pulpit in half with a chainsaw to illustrate what your tongue does when it’s used the wrong way at the wrong time. I had a guy in the church whip up a pulpit (so I didn’t destroy the main one at the church) and hid the chainsaw behind a stage speaker. A bit over the top, probably wouldn’t do it again, but still fun and many students never forgot the lesson from the text (but without the forest fire James references). 

If you think young people can only handle (or will come back for) stories with some shallow platitudes, you’re dead wrong. Trust the Lord, be faithful with His word, and let the Bible do the heavy lifting. Prepare your students for their future as church members by preaching the word. Let it fly! And you can still have some fun.

2. Singing sound doctrine (No Bethel, Jesus, Culture, or Hillsong)

 Music is a huge part of every generation and this generation of teenagers to college students is no different. Unfortunately, some of the most popular music groups today are the most dangerous. We chose, for better or worse, not to cave to the culture and sing Bethel Music (or Jesus Culture, or Hillsong) for several reasons but the main reason was that they and their apostolic leaders teach the prosperity gospel, and/or a heretical version of Jesus that headlines the “New Apostolic Reformation.” You can read more here, and watch it here.

This decision took more work, more research, sacrifice, and some heat, but the Lord honored it. Every week parents and students can count on one thing: we sing music filled with sound doctrine from sources that do not teach heresy. Church money is not purchasing music arrangements and tracks that are directly funding heresy. Students are getting rich theology.

As for methods and nuance there is some flexibility. We have lights (bright and dim), sometimes we’re loud, sometimes we raise our hands, sometimes we pray deep and desperate prayers, and sometimes a band member writes a song and the team tries it out. Furthermore, we don’t take the “six degrees” of separation approach with every song choice or band who played with one band who appeared with Bethel. It’s first degree false teachers we’re steering clear of — for now.

Our bottom line: we are firm in theology, flexible in methodology.

3. Live Q & A Session with anonymous questions using QR Code

We all know the horror stories of young people leaving the church because they couldn’t get a straight answer from the Bible or their pastor. Which is why we opted for an open forum, anonymous Q & A at the end of every message. We schedule at least 2 pastors and 1-2 biblically educated leaders to be on the panel each week. Provide stools, a cold bottle of water, a mic, and let your pastors do what they do best. We use a QR code that is on the screens and posted on our Instagram page. Students simply take a cell phone photo of the QR code, and a form pops up on their smartphone that allows them to ask a question. That question generates on a spreadsheet in Google Drive for our team, and just like that, we have loads of questions either ahead of the time or in real-time. We post the code on the screens before the sermon begins and post it again throughout the night. 

Since I am technically challenged, our brilliant intern (who leaves for the Master’s University this fall) lays out the process here:

Q & A Set-Up: 

1. Build the form: setup your Q&A Survey with Google Forms. It’s free and easy! https://docs.google.com/forms/

  1. Setup the form to email / update with responses
  2. Set the “Select response destination” to “Create a new spreadsheet”

2. Manage responses: Find the spreadsheet with responses in your Google Drive and manage responses live during Q&A or update afterward

  1. Add columns to the spreadsheet for any additional tracking information you want to keep updated.
  2. Using a field such as “Answer Date” to mark the ones you’ve answered. Delete rows for any duplicate or off-topic questions.

3. Share it with students and leaders

  1. From Settings select “Send Form” and shorten the link to copy it and generate a QR Code for the form to share with the attendees. 
  2. Paste the QR image into a presentation, PowerPoint slide, or on social media and instruct attendees to point any smartphone camera app at the code to direct them to the form. They can easily fill it out and submit in a smartphone-friendly view.

When it comes to ministry that targets the next generation of church members, we do well to think of the kind of people we are influencing them to be. Will they get the answers they need to be strong, mature, and faithful to the truth? Or will they be flighty, insecure, and immature? God is the one who causes the growth. He also uses your labor as a means to that end (Colossians 1:28-29).

The Kind of Preaching the Church Needs

The church needs bold, biblical, unashamed preaching. Though most every church will claim they “preach” and that they preach the Bible, that isn’t necessarily the case.

If there is one thing that a church must excel in prioritizing it is not a building campaign, story-telling, TED talks, pragmatic growth strategies, or more programs. It is preaching. Real, biblically-saturated, passionate, accurate, counter-cultural, Jesus-glorifying preaching. That is the ministry that every other ministry flows out of.

It is through preaching that the stewardship of the gospel — which has been entrusted to the church — is faithfully dispensed to a lost and hurting world (Romans 1:16-17).

It is through preaching that the saints are equipped for the work of service and thus build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). It is through preaching that faith comes to the one who hears the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). It is through preaching that wayward sinners repent (Luke 15:7).  It through preaching — and, preaching the whole counsel of God — that preachers themselves fulfill their call to be faithful “stewards” (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Catherine Marshall once wisely explained, “The faithfulness of a steward consists in his dispensing to the household exactly what has been committed to him; the faithfulness of a witness lies in his declaring with honesty and candour exactly what he knows, neither concealing part of the truth, nor distorting it, nor embellishing it.”

When such an explanation of stewardship is applied to preaching, how can we not conclude that any church and its preacher is required to preach exactly what the Bible declares if it is to be defined as “faithful?”

I was recently reflecting on the vitality of faithful preaching in the church today and at least 4 “needs” came to mind.

  1. The church needs preaching that fears God

If we’re absorbed with fearing God, there is no time or energy left with which to fear men. But we’re human. So naturally, we’ll waver from time to time. All the more reason to be absorbed in fearing God.

Some preachers fear for their paycheck because their church culture is as such that they must preach to please men, not God. Others avoid words like “repent,” or “sin,” in favor of softer language that is less offensive. But such language is in the Bible, and therefore, directly given by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is impossible to preach with a deep reverence for God when busy catering to the mood swings of people or tip-toeing around hard truths. That is not God’s will for His church or His preachers. Churches need to expect their pastors to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It does not do a church any good to have preachers that are little more than puppets.

Jesus’ sobering reminder in Matthew 10:28 is fitting here as He declared to His disciples, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The church needs preachers who fear God; who are unashamed and unreserved as they boldly enter the pulpit and unleash logic on fire.

  1. The church needs preaching that feeds them Scripture

It’s easy to find great stories, emotional manipulation, and cultural pandering in many pulpits today. It’s harder to find biblical preaching. A dear pastor friend will often exhort younger men to ask themselves this convicting question when assessing their approach to preaching: “Am I using the Bible to preach my message, or is the Bible using me to preach its message?”

The bottom line is: the church needs Scripture. No matter how important the financial needs of a church are, no matter what programs the church wants to push or what upcoming events need to be announced, the most important item of “business” when the church gathers is not the business of fundraising or convincing people to register for the women’s tea, it is the business of feeding sheep the word of God. Many practical things will certainly need to (and should) happen when the church gathers, but nothing is more essential than preaching.

Like those in John 12:21 who came to Philip with a request, the church must demand of its preacher: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

  1. The church needs preaching that focuses on eternity

Richard Baxter exclaimed, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”

This is eternal perspective in preaching. A preacher should rightly ask himself, “What if this were the last sermon I ever preached?” Not only that, but the church needs preaching that points them to their eternal home.  The letters of 1 & 2 Peter are the embodiment of eternal focus in amid a chaotic culture. Peter places a strong emphasis on the fact that believers are aliens, sojourners, or exiles, just passing through while here on earth. Our citizenship is in heaven.

A faithful preacher doesn’t guarantee “your best life now.” A faithful preacher declares that your best life is yet to come.

  1. The church needs preaching that is fueled by love

On the subject of a preacher’s love, Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.”

Love is giving people the truth. Love is preaching with a moist eye. Love is seeing them as souls in need of their beautiful Savior!

As a young pastor, I was once in a meeting where I heard a leader refer to people as “giving units.” I’d never heard such a term but quickly realized that this how many church administrations view people. Such talk is disgusting for a preacher of God’s word and whether one realized it or not, such talk trains the mind to view people as a means to the financial bottom line. Yes, we can make projections and see families within the local church as those who support the work of ministry and allow that budgets be created and sustained. But they are never to be referred to or seen as “giving units.” They are precious people who need the gospel. And, their giving and spiritual gifts are the outworking of gospel transformation that occurs when God uses the loving and faithful preaching of church leaders (Ephesians 4:12).

In 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul reminds his young protégé in the faith, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Preachers motivated not by money or pragmatic results, but by love, are what the church needs today.

If you’re a preacher, may you fulfill your ministry with a heart of love for God’s glory and God’s people. If you’re a member of Christ’s flock, may you find and flourish in pastures led by faithful preachers of God’s word.

8 Ways Expository Preaching Changed Our Church

I was thankful to not be in the front row of class that morning. The famed old expositor leaned over his lectern with a glare. Tensions rose, and the air conditioner silently kicked on. Did the older man rise on his toes? Suddenly, with the growl of a mama bear over cubs, he roared, “Every sermon is an argument where I argue, and you must believe!” Then, as quickly as they’d lifted, the heels settled back to the gray linoleum floor. The glare behind the glasses softened. The wrinkled brow disappeared. The moment passed.  The patriarch’s grandfatherly tone returned, and he began instructing us on the 20th-century failures of experiential preaching, sentimental preaching, analogical preaching, cultural preaching, so on, and so forth.

I’ll never forget that day. Of all my years in school, that one sentence – along with the glare, guts, and ferocity – marked me for life. I’d grown up viewing preaching as pastor talking “about” the Bible. I’d attended a typical evangelical bible school and been told that good preaching was telling people “about” God. Thus, my pulpit resume came lined with quips about the Bible, a menagerie of popular theologies, and a boatload of emotional anecdotes. However, in class that day, the preaching “semi-truck” plowed over my heart –preaching wasn’t talking about God but speaking for God.

Faithful expository preaching meant that the Word of God is presented as the words of God. It sounds funny to write it that way, in tautology, but this was earth-shaking news. Every word of Scripture was pure ‘truth’ and ‘argument’ of God, flowing out upon people, forcing they either accept or reject His holy position. The light had dawned: expositional preaching was the only preaching that had any power. Faithful preaching could only be expositional preaching.

After class, I went home and began tracing through old books, writing out the family tree of historic bible expositors. I was ecstatic to learn that God didn’t speak with multiple meanings. I was humbled to learn that those who studied the grammatical, historical, and literary context of God’s Word could know precisely what God said. I was encouraged to know that faithful preaching wasn’t fancy. The goal wasn’t to be inventive or funny; the goal was to be right…God would do the rest! My studies began in earnest: What did the author write? What did the author mean? What are the primary verbs? What is the supporting syntax? How does it correlate to the remainder of God’s revealed Word?

Through tears, I learned that inerrancy demands exposition. If I believed the Bible was true (which I did!), I didn’t have a choice but to preach what it said. If I had an inerrant text, that meant God wrote it. If God wrote it, I couldn’t change it. Thus, my only option was to preach it. Exposition was the single type of preaching that brought the full text to the hearer and allowed the hearer to know the Bible. Only the expositor walked in the full assurance of God, knowing it was irrelevant what people thought, and only relevant what God thinks. People needed to hear from God. Our young church plant needed to hear from God. So, that’s what we did. And, expository preaching changed our church:

  1. Exposition Showcased the Authority of God. When we began to teach God’s Word in a verse-by-verse manner, people came to realize who was really in charge. John Piper well describes the danger of non-exposition, “The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy talking about other things more than what the Bible teaches. On the other hand, the Bible oriented preacher says, ‘I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.’ He feels the weight and the joy of his trust.”[1] As long as we are circling God’s Word, preaching the latest news clippings, hijacking from online sources, or pushing sentimental self-help fixes, people know (consciously and subconsciously!) that we somehow view ourselves as the authority (Ps. 19:7-9). However, preaching God’s Word in God’s way proves once and for all who is sovereign King.
  2. Exposition Spiritually Deepened Praise and Worship. People who know the Word know to worship. Instead of continuing our emotionally stimulating Sunday morning experiences, we worked to ground our church in the Word, emphasizing the depths of truth, instead of the shallows of emotionalism. In his short manual Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon cajoled the plight of evangelical pulpits, “Even when one can discern a unified point in a sermon, it’s rarely a point worth making, and certainly not worth making in a Christian pulpit during a service of worship.”[2] Pastors must be preachers, not entertainers. There must be a depth of truth that leads to the extent of praise. Expositors understand they are not The Entertainer, but the Worship Leader, informing people of truth that will drive their devotion. Exposition slowly turns the church from being a place where consumers our king to a place where Christ is King.
  3. Exposition Signaled the Lordship of Christ. Many modern preachers have returned to slick titles (e.g., Bishop, Pastrix, Lead) to signal their power over a church. In our early days, we tried all the titles, all the tactics, and all the taglines. However, expositors know that Jesus is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:17). There are only two ways to lead a church – revelation or manipulation – manipulation works through channels of fear, money, popularity, curt maxims, or supposed signs and wonders. Churches built on forms of manipulation elevate the ‘holy men’ lauded, applauded, self-focused, and money-hungry. Not expositors — expositors have elected revelation as the source of church authority. Scripture, not influence, is the rule of faith and practice for their church, and the pastor is merely the facilitator of truth for the Great Shepherd.
  4. Exposition Synced Saints With Their Heritage. We found that modern gimmick preaching based on relevance, trends, and viral videos, didn’t connect Christians with their hallowed halls of Christian history. [Often, it disdains the past!] And, every time one of my “hip” trendy pastor friends flamed out due to finances or immorality, the congregation he’d jumpstarted in some strip mall or school gymnasium was left orphaned and without a family tree or denomination to rescue. Within days, his jaded people would disappear, and the church building sold to a condo developer. Conversely, expositors ground their people in the ancestry of historic Christianity, the progeny of patristics, reformers, and redemptive history. What Christian isn’t encouraged to find hundreds of generations have held their theology?
  5. Exposition Sanctified Saints by the Holy Spirit. We had to fire the entire worship team. Early on in our ministry, it became clear that many of our leaders and their spouses weren’t regenerate. There’d been professions of faith, but no possession of faith and the nasty fruit proved the reprobate root. Expositors know the Holy Spirit uses the Word, so only proper exposition facilitates the work of the Word to save and sanctify (Jn. 17:17). Jonathan Edwards famously called this spiritual surgery, “(The preacher) has put his patient to great pain, but goes on to thrust his lance in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand…would be one that would heal the hurt slightly, crying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”[3] Edwards’ point is clear; expositors keep driving the scalpel until there’s complete healing! Those who communicate around the Word (e.g., Joel Osteen, Judah Smith, Bill Johnson, Steven Furtick) are in open rebellion against God. Luther reacted against the Catholic Church because it didn’t speak for God. It’s been well said, “True ministers are brokers of one book.” By not expositing the Word, we undermine God and His heart for sanctification, because we neglect the very tool the Spirit promised to use.
  6. Exposition Submerged Pastors in Sanctifying Grace. In the early days when I borrowed sermons or composed anecdotal talks, filled with fad illustrations, and light stories, I (the supposed pastor) wasn’t being exposed to the sanctifying Scriptures. I wasn’t drinking of God. However, expositors know that weekly study becomes the harbinger of God’s sanctifying grace – He touches His man in the trenches of exegetical “spade” work – When preaching verse-by-verse, searching out God’s proposition, connecting doctrines of Scripture, the expositor will naturally find himself at God’s mercy. Have we not all begged God for illumination? Do we not arrive at a point where the pen and prayer flow almost simultaneously? A mentor, Dr. Steven Lawson, once told us, “Too many men cry out for more giftedness but feign the quest for more godliness. To write like Calvin, you must become Calvin.”
  7. Exposition Simplified the Tough Truths. When we were an entertainment-oriented church, we rarely touched so-called “tough” truths. As with much of evangelicalism, we were nervous the “tough” facts might scare people. But, expositors know that all truth, regardless of popularity, comes from God. Thus, only an expositor can preach every truth with equal vigor, knowing the soul-battle is between the listener and God, not the listener and the preacher. Alec Motyer writes, “Of the ninety-seven verbs used in the N.T. for communicating God’s truth – at least fifty-six are declarative – verbs like kyrusso, to ‘herald, proclaim’ or didasko, ‘to teach,’ even laleo, ‘to speak, chat.’ Our primary task is to make the truth plain!”[4] To this end, Paul encourages, “We have the mind of Christ…” (1 Cor. 2:16) How do we speak the mind of Christ? Preach the Word! How do we respond to questions? Preach the Word! It is alarming how many modern preachers dance around cultural issues like homosexuality. All they need to say, no matter the subject or audience, is, “The Word of God says…” Preaching by nature will offend. However, we are not heralds of self…we are heralds of the King. A holy God demands sinners repent and believe. If they do not, they will face judgment. That’s God’s message, not ours. Expositors don’t pull punches. Expositors know that if we don’t declare the things that offend the sinful, then we forfeit the right to report grace that makes cheerful.[5]
  8. Exposition Satisfied People in the Glory of God. For years my preaching was typical evangelical fluff centered on “you” instead of God. Expositors know “you” preaching doesn’t help anyone. Expositors know that when preaching stops being about the pain, struggles, platitudes, and depressions, and starts being about God’s holiness, providence, self-existence, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, faithfulness, etc., they have a hope beyond the grave (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:1). Topical entertainment preaching is a band-aid that won’t cure. Jeremiah called this “superficial wound treatment.” People leave church pumped for an hour then can’t recall one truth in their hours of distress. Expositors don’t let their church slap on a band-aid of analogy, intuition, quotes, maxims, and humor, for their death-wound! Expositors want their people dependent on God’s revealed truth, so all their thinking is Christ-centered. Expositors know life will eventually imitate theology. People will live out their beliefs. People don’t live on emotion, but what is embedded below emotion. The fewer convictions a church has, the more susceptible it is to temptation. A sheep unfed has no strength to stand.

F.W. Boreham once shared a story depicting the passion of Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne:

Years after McCheyne’s passing, a young man visited the famous minister’s church. Approaching the associate minister, he questioned, “Where did McCheyne get his preaching power?” The associate took the youthful inquirer into the vestry and asked him to open his Bible and sit in the chair used by the great preacher.

“Now put your elbows on the table,” he said. “Now, put your face in your hands.” The visitor obeyed. “Now let the tears fall. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”

The man then led the young minister to the pulpit and gave a fresh series of instructions. “Put your elbows down. Now, put your face in your hands.” The young man did as he was told. “Now let the tears fall again. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do it!”[6]

This is the way to do it. An expositor is moved over his Bible in the study then stands moved over people in the pulpit. Expository preaching changes a church.

Anthony G. Wood is the pastor-teacher of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California and has been leading the church since planting it in 2011. He is the co-author of Defining Deception, and is currently completing his doctorate at The Master’s Seminary. Anthony and his wife, Breanne, have three children.

_____________________________________________________

[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), 124.

[2] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009), 69.

[3] Jonathan Edward, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, ed. C.C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972) 390-91.

[4] Alec Motyer, Preaching: Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2013), 103

[5] For an insightful explanation of ‘quiet confidence’ in preaching, see John Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 35-36.

[6] See F.W. Boreham, A Late Lark Singing (London: Epworth Press, 1945), 66.

 

Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Some years ago we did things a little differently at our church than we do now. We had a band that was filled with hired guns and we paid them to play the lights out every Sunday. To illustrate: our guitarist would tour the world with a famous boy-band, then roll in on Sundays to put on a show for our church – true story.

As far as the sermons would go, they were a mixture of some Bible, exciting and emotionally driven stories, and an ending that was designed to move everyone into an emotional response to the message. We were the typically modern, attractional, evangelical church. And make no mistake about it, lots people were dawning our doors. But they were not coming for doctrine – they came for the personalities, the music and the emotion. It was working!

This is why it seemed like our teaching-pastor had lost his mind when he suddenly got up one Sunday having “fired” all the hired musicians and telling the congregation, “If someone is musically gifted and won’t play for free, this church will no longer be a good fit.” Going even further he started preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible to grow our church in doctrine, and songs changed from the latest Jesus Culture or Hillsong hits to songs rich in theological truths. Emotionally driven services were replaced by the clear preaching of God’s word. Suddenly there were calls for biblical action out of love and obedience for Christ!

Then, there was an exodus. We went from being a brand-new shiny object – a fast-growing church plant holding multiple services and cruising through the 300-attendance mark – to suddenly having empty seats everywhere. Eventually we grew past where we once were, but this time, it would not be merely numerical, it was spiritual.

Sound doctrine (paired with prayer and patience) did the heavy lifting.

We Need Sound Doctrine

From big name preachers suggesting we “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament, to sermon series on mere behavior modifications from self-help books, to entire services being absent of the Bible but full of entertainment, the church today is in dire need of a strong dose of good ole’ fashion sound doctrine.

In short, doctrine matters.

Nothing else will satisfy the deepest needs of the human heart. Nothing else will quench the spiritual thirst of believers who have been transformed by the Gospel, and nothing is more true to the mandate of Christ’s commission in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus didn’t suggest that someof what He taught be passed along in whatever modernized way His disciples saw fit. Nor did He give the nod to whatever methods get people in the door. He said that “making disciples” included “teaching them to observe all (emphasis added)” that He commanded (Matt. 28:20).

When the Apostle Paul was providing ministry instructions to his young protégé in the faith – Timothy – he hammered home imperative after imperative concerning the importance of sound doctrine! From that model alone there is no question of what a good minister of the Gospel is to do. We must be nourished on – and nourishing others on –  words of faith and sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

What Exactly Constitutes “Sound Doctrine”?

Sound doctrine in the Christian faith is accurate Bible teaching. “Doctrine” can be defined as the central beliefs that are held by a group of people and “sound” implies that something is reliable. Therefore, when churches spend more time entertaining people and giving shallow sermons, they are not fulfilling what a church is supposed to do and be. We must be preaching and teaching the central beliefs of the Christian faith based on what the Bible teaches – regardless of how the world around us is changing. Like a reliable friend who will tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want to hear, a reliable church (and specifically the preachers) should be giving you the truth and nothing but the truth.

Why Preaching Sound Doctrine Matters

Much is at stake, but great things are in store if a church stops playing games and bolts the Bible to the pulpit and the pulpit to the floor boards. Sure, some people may not like it, but God’s word promises that the blessings will outweigh the backlash.

Let’s look at five reasons that preaching sound doctrine matters:

  1. It is Required of Faithful Pastor-Elders

Do you know a pastor-elder who doesn’t want to be faithful in their duty for Christ? Most of them do. Plainly, the pastor-elders who are called to be the servant-leaders of the church are failing their duty if sound doctrine is not the central focus of the teaching and preaching ministry. Churchstaffing.com does not determine a pastor’s job description, nor does any other agency. God has, and continues to expect His mouth-pieces to fulfill His purposes laid out in Scripture. Men of God must be faithful. The New Testament lays out the role of those who oversee the church in no uncertain terms (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Tim. 4:6, 11-13, 16; 2 Tim. 3:10, 14-17; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). God commands that His people be served spiritual food loaded with sound doctrine. A pastor-elder can be gifted in many ways, but he is only faithful if in all that he does he preaches sound doctrine.

  1. It Saves the Lost

Church growth from disgruntled “transfers” are a dime-a-dozen…especially in America where we treat our churches like restaurants and the customer is always right. But the real deal when it comes to preaching sound doctrine is genuine conversions that happen when the lost come to faith by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Of course, people transferring from a doctrinally dangerous church to one that preaches sound doctrine is wonderful, but it can be argued that few things are sweeter than seeing new believers come face to face with the awe-inspiring power of the living Word through faithful preaching! From old sinful ways to new creation in Christ, sound doctrine washes over the heart and mind of lost sheep, regenerates their soul, and preserves their faith (1 Tim. 4:16).

  1. It Empowers the Saved

Sound doctrine catapults the people of God into spiritual growth because they are building their lives on the bedrock foundation of God’s Word rightly taught and rightly applied. They are mobilized and equipped to live mature in their faith and protected from false teaching (Eph. 4:11-14). Sound doctrine empowers Christians to live high-impact lives because they are living out right relationships with God, fellow believers, and the world. A right relationship with God means a proper view of the Gospel and His attributes like holiness and omnipotence. A right relationship with fellow believers means serving one another (Gal. 5:13), loving one another (Rom. 13:8), forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32), exhorting one another (Heb. 3:13), and stirring one another up towards good works (Heb. 10:24)! A right relationship with people in the world means evangelizing them (Rom. 1:16), being a model in your Christian witness (Col. 4:5), and never compromising the truth (1 Cor. 16:13). It’s incredibly amazing what can happen when Christians are taught sound doctrine and live their lives for the glory of God.

  1. It Purifies the Church 

Preaching sound doctrine is important because it not only produces strong believers, it purifies the church of false ones. This may not seem like a very “nice” strategy, but consider for a moment what Jesus did to thin out the ranks of those who were superficially following Him merely for divine favors. Luke records Jesus delivering one of His toughest truths when the crowds were large (Luke 14:25-35). Jesus was dishing out free food, miracles, and wisdom, but the minute He pushed into deep doctrine and hard truths, it divided the real followers from the false ones. True converts love God’s Word, false converts will be repulsed by it. Eventually, as books of the Bible are unpacked and the glorious doctrines contained in Scripture are laid bare for all to see, a decision will inevitably be made by those who hear the truth. Their hearts will either turn towards it, or they’ll scoff at it and turn away. This is a vital part of a preacher’s duty in the ministry of the word. In doing so he is participating in Christ’s building of His church, which includes purging it of imposters.

  1. It Impacts the Future

Now before you imagine “preaching sound doctrine” as a sort-of boring academic forum in the church each week, remind yourself of what sound doctrine is one final time: reliable and accurate Biblical teaching. Preaching sound doctrine is may seem dull and simple, but it’s dynamic!  If the New Testament church was willing to bet their ministries on it, why shouldn’t we? The impact of this is exponential and powerful. When sound doctrine was taught in the early church, it exploded (Acts 2:40-41). If a generation of believers will preach sound doctrine and stand for the truth, they will be modeling faithfulness for those who will come next. In other words, they’ll be discipling the next generation of disciple-making disciples with the foundation they’ll need to glorify God. 

While many more important benefits can be added to this list, the fact remains, preaching sound doctrine matters – both now and in eternity.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally featured in Theology for Life Magazine (Volume 5, Issue 3, Fall 2018) as “The Importance of Preaching Sound Doctrine.” 

Reaching Those Caught in Deception

Like all generations throughout church history, one of the primary focuses we need to be pre-occupied with today is taking the gospel to those who have never heard it before. However, as apostasy increases and seemingly faithful men and women go rogue theologically, we’ll need not only “outreach” (to those who’ve never heard the gospel), but great emphasis on “inreach” (to those believing in a false gospel). Yes, many false Christians are getting the teachers they raised up for themselves (2 Timothy 4:3-4), but within the masses of apostates there are sheep who need to be rescued. We’re faced with the tall task of evangelism within our own ranks and it’s no walk in the park. One moment we see a glimmer of hope in someone we reach try to reach, only to experience another moment of sorrow when someone we love is swept up in deceit. Maybe you’ve blown up a few Thanksgiving dinners trying to tell people like it is, or held personal crusades at work during a lunch break. In the end, many Christians who are trying to reach those caught in deception are left wondering how people could be so blind? How do they not see that what they believe or are being taught is not in line with Scripture? Even when you show them the Bible and put that up next to the lies they’re being taught, they just don’t see it! Why won’t they change in light of the truth? Questions swirl in our mind as we wonder what to do and how to do it.

A Biblical Roadmap for Rescue

No doubt that’s what Jude’s readers would have dealing with as well back in the early days of the church. Apostasy suddenly everywhere; people who’d seemed to have made a genuine confession of faith were being carried away by false doctrines. It was hard to tell who the good guys were and who should be avoided. Further, they would have been seeing friends and family get targeted by deceivers just like we do today.

Is there a clear roadmap for distinguishing when to walk with someone patiently, when to rush in and go for the all-out rescue, and when to put distance between ourselves and the danger? We undoubtedly need to share the truth and be on mission as Christians, but biblical strategies need to be employed.

Jude shows us how: 

Jude 22 – “And have mercy on some, who are doubting…”

The Doubters are the group that may challenge your patience the most because you just want them to wake up and see the plain truth.  Doubting (diakrino) literally gives the picture of someone wavering on the line, then partial to one side but uncertain, then in the middle but hesitant to fully cross over. Imagine the people who drive you a little crazy because you just want them to make a decision already! These are confused individuals; vulnerable and have been manipulated by clever false teachers. Keep the door open for them. Get into their life. Take off your shoes, stay a while, and build relationship with them for the purpose of reaching them. You don’t drive by and toss a study Bible at them saying, “Here! Figure this out then we can talk.” You buy them a study Bible and commit to coffee meet-ups for however long it takes. Your goal is to live between the tension of convincing them about the truth, and depending on God to open their eyes to the truth. Put your own heart issues before the Lord and resist the urge to use brash and harsh words. Remember God’s mercy towards you, learn patience, ask questions, and stick with them. God has you in their life for a reason.

Jude 23a – “save others, snatching them out of the fire…”

The Deceived are fully convinced they have the real truth. We are to be in full rescue operation mode with them – boldly confronting their errors and calling them to repentance. Like a coast guard helicopter flying into an offshore storm, we’re on the lookout for those drowning in the sea of apostasy, dropping the rope, and pulling them up. And if they reject the rope? We never stop praying, never stop trying, and never stop hoping they will be awakened to the danger they are in. Jude undoubtedly understands the sovereignty of God in saving His children and in keeping His children saved, but he’s equally aware of the vessels through which God so often saves. That is, the faithful witness of His people! (Acts 1:8; Romans 10:17). Snatching (harpazo) is the same word used in John 10:12 of the wolf snatching the sheep away from the hireling shepherd, and in John 10:28 of no one being able to snatch Jesus’ sheep from His hand. Jude has in mind a quick and alert state of readiness to rescue people. Notice there is no opt-out clause. No amendment. No free pass because of God’s sovereignty. No giving up because they reject you. A true Christian is patiently, yet relentlessly looking for opportunities to snatch brands from the burning.

Jude 23b – “and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”

The Dangerous are those whose garments have been soiled with Satanic deception. They are those who fly the flag of false doctrines with pride, convincing people with their smooth talk and flattery (Romans 16:18). They fill the seats of churches, infiltrate the highest levels of authority, and undermine Christ through greed and heretical teaching (2 Peter 2:1-3). They are bold loyalists to apostasy, enemies of the truth, and set against Christ. We must never sacrifice the truth in the name of unity with these, yet we are called to be merciful so as to not be indifferent to the fact that they still have a soul in need of salvation. Yet, we show mercy with a fearsome devotion to our own morality and doctrinal purity. One commentator writes, “Mercy takes into account moral distinctions. It does not treat evil as of no consequence. Christians have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” What this means is we are acutely aware of where they are heading but believing that God can change anyone so long as they’re breathing. We’re aware that many will fall away but we’re also fixated on our role to evangelize everyone in sight. We’re wincing in agony for their defilement of the gospel but calling them to repentance from a healthy distance.

It is biblical instruction like this that keeps us both tough and tender. Tough on truth – unwavering in our commitment to it. Yet, tender in our hope that apostates turn to the truth – praying for their souls.

Sometimes we’re playing offense. Sometimes we’re playing defense. All along, we must be trusting God’s power to save His people (Romans 1:16), and being faithful to play our part.

4 Ways Pastors Can Cultivate Discernment in Their Church

Pastoral ministry is a serious work that requires work. When it comes to a pastor’s mandate to proclaim the truth and protect God’s people from error, The task is nothing short of a divine burden.Pastoral ministry can be described as a daily spiritual battle for souls that never seems to end. There are times when it can feel like a constant warzone across the landscape of the Christian world with causalities in the pulpit and in the pew. – and it probably is.

One of the ways to reduce spiritual casualties is equipping church members to be discerning. With false teachers using blending so much truth into their poisonous errors, people need faithful leaders to consistently provide objective truth they can depend on. Charles Spurgeon said it perfectly when he explained, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”

There are many ways that pastors can cultivate discernment in their church. I’ve offered 4 here that can help you get started in the right direction:

  1. Make a Big Deal About Sound Doctrine

A pastor who wants to cultivate theological discernment within the church needs to first be excited about teaching sound doctrine himself! A congregation that is fed a steady diet of sound doctrine is going to be growing like a well-rounded, balanced body. Like resistance to muscles in the weight room, solid doctrinal teaching breaks down old ways of carnal thinking and builds up the mind; bringing a believer to maturity. A pastor shouldn’t view doctrine as an inconvenience, but rather, as essential to the health of the church. Theological discernment can be cultivated not by merely telling the church to be discerning but by serving them a feast of sound doctrine that makes them discerning. Making a big deal about sound doctrine will be rooted in making much about Christ. A pastor ought to teach straight out of the Bible on Christology, Pneumatology, and other “ologies” that help people have a proper view of self and a high view of God. Sound doctrine is kryptonite to biblical illiteracy and protects people from falling prey to false teaching.

  1. Make the “Why” Clear

Pastors can be guilty of assuming people know the reason for everything they’re teaching. In order to cultivate discernment in a church, people have to know why any of it matters. A congregation’s lack of understanding is usually at the root of their indifference to discernment. Furthermore, the word “discernment” sparks thoughts of sinister behavior, deception, and conflict. Those are not things the average church member is eager to face. Most of them are just trying to make it through another day at work without any conflict. A pastor’s passionate sermon may leave them asking, “Why is the pastor on this bandwagon about doctrine and discernment?” or “Did our pastor just turn into one of those guys looking for a heretic around every corner?” Look to biblical examples of faithful men who explained the “why” along with instructions to be discerning and defend the faith. Paul did this in his farewell to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38), and when he had to teach the Corinthians concerning their use of spiritual gifts and correct a few things in the process (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). Jude did this when he wanted to write about the common faith he shared with his readers, but instead, had to deal with false teaching and apostasy (Jude 3). Train your leaders, and your church on why doctrine and defending the faith matters.

  1. Make Sure You Model It

People are quite often a reflection of their leadership. Chances are, if it matters to you, it will eventually matter to them. Pastors who are absent-minded when it comes to theological discernment will often produce a flock who is as well. Modeling discernment is showing people how you got to your conclusions, and more importantly, what the bible says on the issue. If you’re praying for a culture of theological discernment and trying to take steps towards equipping your church to be theologically discerning, make sure you are practicing what you preach. Your example will be a powerful tool in God’s hands.

  1. Make Resources Available to Your People (God’s People)

There is arguably nothing worse than majoring on the problem without offering a solution. Yes, a sermon will certainly do the job and the Bible is all we need to show people the answers they seek. Still, excellent resources are available to engage people’s minds and equip them in specific ways. Online blogs and popular books are bombarding your people each day. If you let the latest Christian marketing fads guide their discernment, you’ll get the results – and they probably won’t always be on point. Give them a fighting chance by resourcing them with trusted material. As the old saying applies: Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll feed himself for the rest of his life. A false teacher, a “new gospel,” and the winds of culture are no match for a church who is equipped to know the truth and discern the truth for themselves.

One of the most loving things that a pastor can do for his church is to equip them to be theologically discerning believers at a time when many are falling prey to divergent doctrines.

The Preacher’s Proclamation

An old sermon illustration that makes its way around from time to time goes like this:

There was a young preacher who was not lazy, just conceited. He frequently boasted in public that all the time he needed to prepare his “great sermons” was the few short moments it took him to walk from his parsonage, to the church just next door. Well, one day the congregation decided it was time to burst his bloated ego and help the man improve his preaching ministry. So, they bought him a new parsonage eight miles away!

Now that’s a congregation with their priorities in order and one lucky pastor.

In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon stressed the vitality of preaching when he wrote,

We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter petty nothings…If we speak as ambassadors for God, we need never complain of want for matter, for our message is full to overflowing. The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit the whole faith once for all delivered to the saints must be proclaimed by us.

When it comes to those who preach the Word, the church can settle for nothing less than faithfulness to the Word of God. New fads are a dime-a-dozen, the latest pragmatic gimmicks change like the weather, but one thing remains tried, tested, and true – God’s Word to His people.

The preacher and the people are both responsible for protecting the pulpit in the church. When the pulpit isn’t held in high regard, sheep become malnourished by fast-food style preaching that contains little nutritional value. When pastoral ministry becomes just another career requiring a beefy resume and social media platform, pulpits fill with hireling preachers who take a paycheck, wear a title, but run at the first sign of hard work. The church needs fearless heralds who will put on their work-boots, roll up their sleeves, and boldly feed Christ’s precious flock no matter what the cost. Like waterless clouds that produce no rain, so is the preacher who makes a proclamation to people but fails to preach God’s Word. When there is no divine food for the soul, there will be spiritual famine in the land.

The preacher must proclaim the truth and the people must proclaim, “We want the truth! And nothing but the truth!”

When the Apostle Paul provided young Timothy with one of the first handbooks on preaching – and boy, is it ever still a best-seller – he gave him timeless wisdom that we must still heed today. Throughout the pastoral letters, Paul gives numerous imperatives that every preacher should pay close attention to, but five of these can prove immensely useful in governing the preacher’s proclamation. These imperative commands are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and through them, we are given the greatest church growth strategy this world has ever known, that is, spiritual growth.

1. Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2a)

Paul was never one to mince words when it came to the message. In his mind, preaching was to be unadulterated, Christ-centered, Gospel truth. After all, that is the power of God unto Salvation (Romans 1:16). That doesn’t leave room for much else. On other occasions he told Timothy to avoid worldly fables (1 Timothy 4:7), empty chatter (1 Timothy 6:20), to be accurate (2 Timothy 2:15), and that Scripture was all he needed to be fully equipped (2 Timothy 3:16-17). A preacher doesn’t need another proclamation – and neither do the people.

Word-saturated preaching does what nothing else can do. Such preaching increases people’s faith (Romans 10:17), reveals God’s will (Deuteronomy 29:29), increase biblical literacy (1 Peter 2:1), and gives people lasting peace (Ephesians 2:17-18).

Ever wonder what it is that makes a congregation go from worrying, doubting, and complaining to saying, “Ahhhh, I needed that”? It is the Word of God soothing their soul and setting their minds on Christ.

Give the people what they need. Preach the Word.

2. Be Ready In Season and Out of Season (2 Timothy 4:2b)

Paul continues with an imperative to instantly be ready. Whether it’s popular or not, convenient or not, with or without your bible app – be ready. This is one of the quintessential marks of a true preacher and his mandated proclamation. His message is internalized. He is living it, breathing it, and armed with it. It doesn’t matter what political firestorm is brewing, he is ready with the Word. It doesn’t matter what polemical drama is stirring, he is ready with the Word. It doesn’t matter what he can personally gain by compromising the message, he is ready with the Word.

Our Christian culture today can greatly benefit from taking a page out of Paul’s book. Though we face some varying levels of persecution, he serves as a lofty inspiration. Whether shipwrecked, chained to a guard, beaten, questioned, or threatened with death – he considered every difficult obstacle still as an opportunity.

No matter the climate or the cost, the preacher is always ready.

3. Reprove (2 Timothy 4:2c)

Tolerance is the climate of today’s millennial culture – but our preaching must be counter-culture. Simply put, the preacher is to reprove if he is, in fact, a preacher. This means that he must correct people’s thinking with the truth of God’s Word and trust the Holy Spirit’s work in convicting people of their error. What good is a pastor if he doesn’t tell you right from wrong or truth from tricks? Furthermore, what good is a pastor who does not reprove out of love for the people?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching.” Therein lies wisdom for every preacher who reproves the people. God’s love for His people is directly related to His loving correction of His people (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19). What better way for a preacher to show his love for people than to show them the way of truth?

4. Rebuke (2 Timothy 4:2d)

The second of two negative commands settles the matter: preaching the Word includes giving people the hard truth. Rebuke must be clear, and as already stated, it must be done in love. The preacher is a not a rigid surgeon with cold hands and a sharp scalpel – he is a warm, kind, and caring shepherd. To rebuke is not to use the staff to beat the sheep – it is to use the staff to draw the boundary lines of safety. The preacher is never desirous of pugnacious controversy. We must, like Paul in Philippians 3:18, even deal with false teachers through “weeping.”

There is also no room for passive aggressive manipulation in the preacher’s rebuke. To sharply and clearly tell people about the consequences of their error requires that a preacher be forthright and honest. Little is accomplished when preachers attempt to rebuke people with “hints.”

Better is open rebuke, than love that is concealed (Proverbs 27:5). The preacher who rebukes proves he is a lover and protector of God’s people.

5. Exhort (2 Timothy 4:2e)

The preacher must afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. He must walk with his people and be an encouraging voice as they are taken captive by God’s grace. To bring people to a place of great conviction, and to offer a clear correction, but offer no encouragement is to merely place weights on people and walking away. Exhortation is the call to action through the grace and power that the Holy Spirit provides. The preacher proclaims the truth and encourages the people to walk in a manner that is worthy of their calling and to look to Christ as the Author and Finisher of their faith.

Unfortunately, exhortation is often misunderstood as a license to unleash on people but offer little help in the wake of such a lashing. We get exhortation wrong when confining it to the likes of drive-by evangelism, or drive-by discipleship. When a preacher is brash with people from the pulpit, then too busy to walk with people after the sermon, exhortation has scarcely been achieved. It’s an ivory-tower preacher who appears once a week in the pulpit but does not come alongside the people throughout the week. That style of ministry is not what Paul had in mind as he instructed pastors and preachers.

In the end, Paul says that the preacher’s proclamation must include one key element: “great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2f). People are not won to truth by verbal assaults. Such preaching is easy. Anyone can be angry and use the Bible as a hammer, but Paul capstones his call for the preacher’s method by raising the bar. Translated in English as “patient,” the Greek word makrothume (meaning to abide under; or endure) makes it quite clear that in all of the preacher’s proclaiming, he must be patient with people. That is what sets him apart as God’s mouthpiece.

On the topic of effective preaching H.B. Charles Jr. wrote, “Our preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.”

Always remember: Churches don’t die. God’s voice in them does when a preacher fails to preach the Word, and the people fail to demand that Word be preached.

Preach the Word.


This article originally appeared on “For the Church” @ www.ftc.co

 

Pastors and Politics: The Trump Card

We’re cruising into the first year of Trump in the White House. A bitter divide has unquestionably developed and many Christians have found themselves in middle of the mayhem. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single pastor who hasn’t been influenced, pressured, or scolded on both sides of the table. It’s been that way since Trump’s campaign began.

As a pastor observing the political climate that can saturate a church, it’s been a year of incredible growth, and challenges. I’ll never forget the Sunday that a congregant came right up to me and said, “Why doesn’t he [the teaching-pastor] man up and side with Trump from the pulpit? That Hillary was from the Devil! God’s man is in the White House.” His wife pleaded with him to let it go, but to no avail.

In another confrontation, a congregant raged, “Trump is train-wreck! Christians who voted for him are poorly mistaken.”

Few things can pacify political charged Christians. Only one thing has sustained us.

Outside of our local church, the airwaves rang out from each side while the world peered on from the bleachers. Like two heavyweights trying to land the knockout blow, back and forth the haymakers swung.

One pastor declared, “We are going to see another great spiritual awakening.” Another affirmed, “The Lord’s hand is upon this man, even though the world does not realize it and cannot realize it due to their spiritual blindness.” Others weren’t so convinced. “How anyone sees Trump as the savior of the evangelicals is beyond me. Doesn’t have a Christian bone in his body,” sneered a doubter. “We’re all sinners… but c’mon… the evangelical right is choosing this guy to lead their ‘spiritual awakening?’”

In a sobering statement, a pastor told Christianity Today, “The election was fueled with anger and slander, and we’re culturally fatigued.”

He’s absolutely right, and there’s no end to the consternation in sight.

Regardless of your position on Trump’s campaign for change, and whether or not you believe America is better than it was, we’re in this together for at least another few years. Before you throw in the towel on finding common ground, there is something we can (and definitely should) agree on. That is, that the one thing hasn’t changed: a pastor’s calling to preach Christ.

In a year where optimistic enthusiasm and apocalyptic outcry have jousted for top headlines, pastors looking to give people hope need look no further than the Hope of the world. What people need the most is a renewed perspective that hinges on a kingdom that is not of this world. For the Christian, our King is not dependent on an election – He’s already won victory over the god of this world. Death could not hold Him, Satan couldn’t stop Him, and He’s given His people a Great Commission that transcends an oval office. The Prince of Peace can comfort those who are conflicted by the government. The comforting Redeemer can heal the broken-hearted. The Rock of Ages can calm the anxious soul.

Quite honestly, little attention and direct instruction are given in Scripture with regard to pastors and the topic of politics. But what is? Preaching Christ.

Where do Christians who change the world find their inspiration? Jesus.

Where do Christians who are anxious find their peace? Jesus.

Where do Christians who are fearful find their courage? Jesus.

So, what else do we need? Combine the greatest pre-game speech, and the most riveting political rally cry and they’d still fall astronomically short of a single word from Jesus.

Paul said it many different ways but his point was always the same. People need Christ, Christ, and more Christ! “Let men regard us as servants of Christ,” he declared to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:1). “Preach the word,” he stressed to young Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2). “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” he said as he explained his own reliance on the Spirit to fulfill his calling (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It was Charles Spurgeon who humbly said, “I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.” Even the famed Prince of Preachers saw himself as a mere compass pointing to the True North. He must have lived that reality because, as the story goes, a man went to see one of the other well-known preachers of the day and after hearing him preach he was overheard saying, “What a preacher!” A short time later, this same man went to hear Spurgeon preach and afterward he exclaimed, “What a Savior!” Therein lies the ultimate achievement of every preacher who dawns the pulpit.

I don’t know what strategy your church has taken to bring perspective to a wild year, but there is a particular book that offers incredibly worth-while wisdom.

When the author of Hebrews penned a beautiful letter to his primarily Jewish audience at the time, the goal was crystal-clear; elevate and exalt Christ. No political agenda. No social initiative hiding behind spiritualized lingo. Just Jesus. In just the first few verses this is accomplished with precision, and pastors do well to take notice. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author celebrates the changeless and powerful King! He was, is, and forever will be the Savior of this world. No matter how many heroes that humanity concocts, one Hero trumps them all. And no, it’s not the Donald.

Want to utilize a time-tested strategy to encourage people through the ups and downs of politics and vacillating cultural fads?

Remind them to turn their eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of His glory and grace.

After a year of political wars, personal struggles, celebrating victories and mourning deep losses, most Christians can sometimes find themselves just holding on for dear life. Right there at the beginning of that letter to the Hebrews are eight Christ-centered truths that remind us all who is in control.

Here they are:

  • Christ is the voice of God to us (Hebrews 1:1-2a)
  • Christ is the Heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2b)
  • Christ is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3a)
  • Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3b)
  • Christ is upholding all things (Hebrews 1:3c)
  • Christ has made purification for sin (Hebrews 1:3d)
  • Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 1:3e)
  • Christ is better than the angels (Hebrews 1:4)

Each one of those could be a sermon in and of itself. What if people were given those truths from the pulpit more often? What could happen if politics were kept in their proper place and the pulpit roared with righteous zeal for the risen Christ?

He’s coming back one day. Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Our job is to preach that message every chance we get and keep the main thing the main thing. Let’s make sure people are ready for their moment with Him.


This article originally appeared on “For the Church” @ www.ftc.co