The well-led, well-fed church

One weakness in much preaching today is that it is quite individually applied, and in a way that can be transplanted from one church to another without too much difficulty. It is not focussed enough on a particular congregation, and therefore lacks the force to move that church to better obedience.

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One window into integrating teaching and leadership more biblically, is to think first about the purposes of preaching.  I put ‘purposes’ in the plural because it is easy to become distracted by thinking that preaching has only one purpose, and then to overlook –  or even dismiss – others.  For instance, here are seven purposes of preaching:

  • preaching declares the glory of Christ – it is doxological
  • preaching explains the content of a verse, passage, book or biblical/doctrinal theme – it is educational
  • preaching addresses the questions of unbelievers and believers – it is apologetic
  • preaching puts the truth claims of Christ into the minds of the hearers – it is confrontational
  • preaching calls on unbelievers to trust in Christ – it is evangelistic
  • preaching brings the promises of the bible to bear on the burdens that believers carry – it is pastoral
  • preaching outlines the way that sin is to be resisted in the power of the Holy Spirit – it is transformational

You could probably outline other tasks that preaching achieves, but even that list shows that it silly to take one of those themes, and make it so pre-eminent that the others become invalid. it is much better to start to ask how they are related, and how they differ functionally.

I want to stress one more:

  • preaching challenges the local body of Christ to obey God’s Word together – it is directional

Now that contains at least two elements:

First, that kind or preaching moves beyond an individual focus, to a corporate one.

The Greek word, katartizein, meaning to restore or mend, was used literally in the New Testament of fishermen mending their nets (Matt 4:21), but also metaphorically for a range of issues, and particularly for the pastoral task of restoring relationships in a church:

 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Cor. 1:10)

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Gal 6:1)

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor 13:11)

Preaching is in a unique position to do this, because it addresses a gathered group of Christians together, and talks to them corporately, as well as individually.  A moment’s reflection shows that most New Testament letters were written to churches rather than individuals, and that they largely identify issues to be addressed together.

I suspect that one masked weakness in much preaching today is that it is quite individually applied, and in a way that can be transplanted from one church to another without too much difficulty. It is not focussed enough on a particular congregation, and therefore lacks the force to move that church to better obedience.

Second, the biblical levers to move a church are not limited to a sermon. 

Consider a pastor’s Sunday: in the morning, the sermon is on Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and explicitly addresses the question of alcohol abuse in the life of a Christian disciple.  That afternoon, there’s a counselling session with a young father who struggle       es with alcohol.  Later, the youth team needs some guidance on how to handle the teens on their weekend away, given that last year one of them smuggled in a bootle of vodka.  And on the Monday night there’s an elders’ meeting, at which the pastor recounts all the events of the previous 24 hours, and says, ‘You know, if the New Testament is true, we will always have believers who struggle with alcohol.  It was a problem in the New Testament churches, and it’s a problem for us.  So, how do we better help disciples who struggle in this area?’

So they talk deep into the night about setting up a recovery group, or arranging some testimonies, or a system of one-to-one discipling, or bringing in an outside expert, or identifying books for the bookstall, or sending people on a training conference, or preparing for a sermon series with the small groups addressing the issue, or… In other words, they lead.forward-thinking

Leadership is the application of God’s Word to the habits, resources, and plans of a local church in order to be a more biblically obedient church.  Leadership is applying God’s Word together.

I’ve run that through the grid of alcohol because that is such a socially pressing issue, but it seems to me that there are a number of constantly addressed issue in the New Testament where a similar approach. The possible abuses of money, sex, power, and doctrine, are all so prevalent then and now that it should probably be obvious to any church that they need to do something on all of them.

But the critical issue, if we aim to be biblically grounded leaders, is that the twin issues of teaching and leadership are not simply both present, but organically related.  It it is not good enough to say that the pastors ensure that a church is well fed, and the leaders ensure it is well led. That separates the issues out into two meetings held into rooms. Equally, though, it is not good enough for a preacher to think that a sermon is all that is needed to move a congregation forwards.

Process questions

What other purposes of preaching do you think that the New Testament describes?

If you can see how teaching and leadership are related on the issues of alcohol, how can you see the same thinking applied to abuses of money, sex, power, or doctrine?

How does your leadership or preaching need to change?

I wrote a ton of stuff about application in ‘Cutting to the Heart: Applying the Bible in teaching and preaching.’

92937🇬🇧You buy it at a discount from 10ofthose here.

🇬🇧Or from Amazon here. and your Kindle  here.

🇺🇸US readers can buy from Amazon here, and as a Kindle edition,  here.

Aussie? Koorong has it here.

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