The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 16 Summer 2015
Summer 2015 Edition
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
“Strengthening the Church in Biblical Preaching and Leadership”
Part I. The Power For Preaching
“The Lost Power and Authority in Preaching”
Every preacher is capable of preaching with great spiritual power so long as he is genuinely called of God to preach.
“Divine unction for preaching is available to all. It is not reserved for some chosen people... Divine unction is freely given by God. It cannot be learned, earned, or manufactured but only given through yearning. There are two sides to it: human and divine. It has something to do with prayer but everything to do with God.”1
To preach with power, you must (a) know God intimately; (b) understand His Word; (c) be adequately prepared, and (d) be empowered by the Holy Spirit. When we fail in our preaching task we become more aware that the power for preaching is not from us but from God. Only when we are conscious of this do we derive power from the Lord.
The most revealing factor that a preacher has spiritual power is the transformation of people’s lives by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God so that (a) their hearts are touched; (b) their minds are stretched (i.e. we teach them what they did not know); (c) their wills are yielded (i.e. submissive); and (d) their consciences are pricked, with the result that their lives are spiritually transformed.
The measure of spiritual power is not outward response, but the internal awareness of sin, the desire for holiness, repentance, and love for Christ.
Let me suggest some causes of lost spiritual power in preaching
1. Lost passion for God. The main cause of lost power among preachers is that they lose their passion for God. When that happens, they become mediocre in their thinking, ministry, and preaching, and they become susceptible to a worldly spirit. This may occur when a preacher has been at a church for a period of time and becomes settled and comfortable with the church and the church with him, because then it is very tempting to relax spiritually. Then he may be tempted to quit striving for the Lord and he loses a sense of vigilance and freshness. That is when the devil gains opportunity to devour him. This problem is amplified by the fact that many churches not only do not seek godly leaders but do not want godly leaders, and instead are willing to settle for mediocrity.
2. Conformity to the culture. Preachers often lose power because they act in a way that is compatible with their culture rather than with their calling and position. This attempt to relate better to the people and culture often results in a compromise of moral standards and a style of dress and talk that takes on the character of the culture around them. Conformity to the culture puts out the fire of God in a preacher’s heart. The warning, “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4) is just as applicable to preachers as to anyone else.
3. Lack of authority. So many preachers today do not (perhaps, cannot) preach with conviction or authority. They do not (perhaps, cannot) say “Thus says the Lord”. So, what is our authorization to preach? Dr. Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) has put it this way,
“What is our warrant to preach? What is our authorization? It comes down to this – God has spoken. God has revealed Himself, forfeiting His personal privacy that we might know Him. He is not silent, and He has commissioned us to speak. He calls and equips men to preach His Word. He is not silent and we are not to be silent. We are to speak, preach, and teach His Word.”2
Our only authority and authorization for preaching is to speak the Word of God. If you preach anything else, your preaching will have no life-changing power. If you do not preach the Word, you will not speak with authority because what you say is not authorized by God – it is not God’s Word.
Many preachers today are not preaching the Word! They speak about cultural issues, philosophical issues (mainly their philosophy of life), psychological issues, and motivational issues, but they do not preach the Word of God. They may briefly read or quote a Scripture to give their message a spiritual flavour, but they do not preach that text. They do not preach biblically; therefore, they do not speak God’s words and they do not preach with authority.
Why do so many preachers not preach with authority? Several reasons come to mind:
1. They do not preach with authority because their thinking is worldly. It comes back again to this issue of conformity to the culture that I just spoke about. Many preachers have adopted (especially in our N. American society) postmodern thinking, even though they may not admit it or even consciously know it. That’s why they do not speak with authority, because postmodernism says, “There is no absolute truth for everyone. So, I’ll believe what I believe; you believe what you believe. Don't try to tell me what is right or wrong.”
Further, in worldly thinking it’s fashionable and intellectual to not be adamant, not be dogmatic – everything has to be left open for other possibilities. You see this particularly in academic institutions. Students are left to figure out what they believe on their own. The professors are not supposed to influence them. Biblical interpretation keeps changing to accommodate new insights, discoveries, and possibilities that are more in line with worldly thinking. What the Bible meant clearly yesterday is questioned today. Systematic theology is more systematic than it is theological – all kinds of options are given about important matters (like the nature and character of God in Open Theism).
But what kind of teaching is that? How confusing is that for the next generation of pastors and teachers? When worldly thinking invades the church (as it seems to do), the result is that (a) preachers do not speak authoritatively, but tentatively, (b) preachers do not challenge (our thinking and behaviour), but comfort us, (c) preachers do not teach, but merely suggest, (d) preachers do not speak with boldness, but hesitancy, (e) preachers do not give answers, but questions, (f) preachers do not deliver certainties, but doubts, (g) preaching is not offensive, but accommodating.
Or, to put it in the words of another,
“There are question marks where there should be exclamation points. There is hesitancy where there should be boldness. There is advice where there should be teaching. There are ideas where there should be doctrine. There are impressions where there should be imperatives.”3
Fred Craddock (Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University) put it this way ...
“Rarely if ever in the history of the church have so many firm periods slumped into commas and so many triumphant exclamation marks curled into question marks...Where have all the absolutes gone? The old thunderbolts rust in the attic while the minister tries to lead his people through the morass of relativities and approximate possibilities.”
In a previous era, Craddock continues, preachers “ascended the pulpit to speak of the eternal certainties, truths etched forever in the granite of absolute reality, matters framed for proclamation, not discussion.”4 How true! That was written back in 1971, and how much worse has it gotten since then? Many younger preachers today don't even know the legacy of their predecessors (e.g. from the Reformation to the 19th century) or how they preached!
2. They do not preach with authority because they are afraid of the people. One thing leads to another. If your thinking is worldly, then you will not speak with authority because you fear the people. Why? Because the people’s thinking is worldly as well and worldly thinking says, “Don’t tell me what to do. You have no authority over me. I’ll live however I please. If you don't say what I want to hear, then I’ll go elsewhere.”
Postmodern thinking in the clergy is a response to, and reflection of, postmodern thinking in the pew. Richard Holland of The Masters Seminary, says, “Where truth is relative, ethics are situational, and authority is ever-questioned, there is certainly no welcome mat out for the expository sermon that delineates truth, defines morality, and declares the authority of God.”5
Someone else has said, “We dare not speak with authority ... because people simply will not accept it. An age of question marks is allergic to the exclamation mark. An age that finds comfort in commas will find resistance to periods.”6
3. They do not preach with authority because they do not understand, and have not applied to themselves, the Word. To preach with authority, you must first know what the Word says and what it means and apply it to yourself. Failing that you cannot speak with authority. How can you teach it to others, if you don't know what it means? How can you apply it to others, if you have not first applied it to yourself? This takes two things:
(a) You have to study it well, based on solid hermeneutical principles, exegetical practices, and dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
(b) You have to apply it personally, based on obedience to the Lord and your relationship with Him.
So, what is the antidote for this lack of authority? The antidote is to imitate Jesus who taught “as one having authority” (Matt. 7:28-29). The context is that Jesus had just finished the Sermon on the Mount, in which he challenged the people about life in the kingdom and what that entailed: to be salt and light on earth, to lay up treasure in heaven not on earth, to trust God to provide for our daily needs, and to build our lives on the solid rock and not on sinking sand. The concepts that Jesus taught here and which he challenged the people to obey, were radical. “You have heard it said ... but I say to you” - e.g. that (a) murder and adultery begin in the heart; (b) marriage is lifelong; (c) love your enemies.
Clearly, Jesus’ teaching stood in contrast to the teaching of the scribes. What was the teaching of the scribes like? Apparently, their teaching was like so much of the teaching of our day. They could make Scripture say and mean what they wanted it to say or mean. By the time they finished telling the people all the different possible interpretations of the various rabbis, nobody knew what it meant – there was no authority. They employed misleading arguments and subtle distinctions that so confused the issue that nothing was definitive. And that’s what they wanted. They were like those that the apostle Paul warns us about – those (a) “ who give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification” (1 Tim. 1:4); (b) “who speak lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2); (c) “who have a form of godliness but deny its power” (2 Tim. 3:5); (d) “who because they have itching ears ... turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Someone has said,
“Sadly, many preachers today are also artisans of nuance. They will hint at what a text might be about, but leave a seed of doubt ... These modern spinners of elasticity and masters of equivocation speak a dozen possible interpretations of a text without coming to nay firms conclusions. Even worse, they label as “dogmatic” anyone who claims to have a sure and certain understanding of a text of Scripture. Further, when the plain understanding of a passage threatens to offend their congregation, these preachers assure their listeners in the pew that there is a way through the trouble, an interpretation that will not bother their modern ears.”7
In contrast, Jesus’ teaching was straightforward, plain, and directive – “do this ... don't do that; believe this ... don't believe that” (cf. also, Mk. 11:18; Lk. 4:32; Jn. 7:46; Mk. 6:2). We find this model of teaching also imitated by the apostles in the exposition and authority of the Word of God. When we faithfully speak God’s Word (clearly, plainly, accurately), we are authorized to speak with the full authority of God himself – we are his mouthpiece.
How, then, do we preach with spiritual power? Spiritual power is a power that results from holiness of life and the spirituality of the preacher. It is the power that emanates from one whose life is acceptable to God, and the life of one in whom the Holy Spirit is operative. It is power that God infuses into those whose lives are like Christ, who walk as Jesus walked (1 Jn. 2:6). Only through holiness of life can we reclaim spiritual power in preaching. In order to preach with spiritual power (i.e. for the Word to be life-transforming in its proclamation and in its results), four essential ingredients are necessary:
1. The power of God
2. The power of the Holy Spirit
3. The power of Prayer
4. The power of Scripture
We will look at these four ingredients in our next issue of this journal.
Part II. Preparing For Preaching
“Studying The Text: Personal Resources”
Personal Study / Reading
The primary reason for reading is our own spirituality, to know God. Just as you study secular subjects, so you must read, research, study, and think through the Bible. Make sure you have a Bible reading program. One of the most neglected areas of study is reading the Bible. We spend so much time reading secondary resources that we often neglect reading the Bible. You must know the Bible inside out so that you can embrace the scope of Scripture in your study and messages, and so that you can recall from memory the words of the text or at least the reference.
Prayer is a primary means of understanding what God has said and is saying. Prayer cannot be separated from the work of the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible writers. Prayer and the illumination of Holy Spirit go hand-in-hand in our study. You cannot understand the Bible properly (2 Cor. 2:13-14) or ascribe proper value to it simply by study.
Prayer is a reaching out for God’s help in (a) understanding the Bible; (b) deriving a message from it for this particular people at this time in this place; and (c) applying the Bible to them.
The Holy Spirit has promised to lead us into all truth. He leads us into an understanding of the Word of God which we cannot get in any other way. There is, therefore, no shortcut to this part of sermon preparation.
In addition to “reasoning”, God has given us the ability to “meditate.” Christian meditation differs from other types of secular meditation (e.g. Yoga, TM). Secular meditation focuses on emptying the mind and entering into a mental / spiritual state of nothingness. Christian meditation focuses on filling the mind with thoughts from the Word of God and entering into a state of spiritual connection with God and his Word.
Christian meditation is a matter of turning over in the mind what God has told us in his Word, just as a cow chews cud, to get all the nutrients out of it that we can, to get more than just the taste but the nourishment of it. This allows the Holy Spirit to work in your mind and heart to open up the scope of the text and give a deeper appreciation for it.
Christian meditation produces spiritual light that cannot be gained purely by reasoning or study. As you meditate on the Scriptures:
(a) The Holy Spirit brings to mind other Scriptural connections that you might not otherwise think of while studying the text.
(b) The Holy Spirit grants you an appreciation for the truth of the text - “a knowledge that gets beyond the mind and pierces the soul.”8 This is what Jonathan Edwards described as “A true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them.”9
(c) The Holy Spirit gives you insights into the application of the text for your congregation.
To fully understand the Word and be qualified to preach its message, we must obey what we know. If we do not obey what we know, God will not give us what we do not know. Why should God give us more if we do not obey what He has already given us? Obedience is merely applying the Word we have learned to our own lives.
Part III: Leadership - Being A Godly Role Model
“Your Personal Surrender to the Holy Spirit,” Pt. 6
In the last five editions of this NET Pastors Journal, we have been studying the topic of your personal surrender, as a leader, to the Holy Spirit based on the teaching in Ephesians 5:18-6:20. We have studied the meaning of the Spirit-filled life, the necessity of the Spirit-filled life, the reality of the Spirit-filled life, and (in the last two editions) the activity of the Spirit-filled life.
As we have already seen, the activity of the Spirit-filled life includes Spirit-filled harmony in the home (Eph. 5:22-6:4); Spirit-filled co-operation in the workplace (Eph. 6:5-9); and Spirit-filled victory in the world (Eph. 6:10-20), which concludes the study of this subject in this edition.
Spirit-Filled Victory In The World (Eph. 6:10-20)
Unlike our relationships in the church, the home, and the workplace, our relationship with the world can never be harmonious, but it can be victorious. Filling with the Spirit is immediately followed by warfare in the world. If you’re not attacked by the devil, you’re not filled with the Spirit. To stand against the schemes of the devil, we need God’s strength and protection. I’m just going to outline this passage, not deal with it in detail.
1. Spirit-filled victory in the world requires spiritual protection (6:10-17)
(a) We have the spiritual protection of God’s power (10). Finally, my brothers, be strengthened in the Lord in the power of his might. Since we cannot strengthen ourselves, God provides the strength (hence, the passive be strengthened) for us to withstand the onslaughts of the devil. As with previous instructions the key is in the Lord (10b) - our strength is in and comes from the Lord. We can’t do it ourselves. Because we are in the Lord, we have access to God’s mighty power (10c). His power is ours through Christ.
(b) We have the spiritual protection of God’s armour (11). Put on the whole armour of God (11a). We are protected by putting it on. Armour is no good unless we put it on. God supplies it: we are responsible to put it on. We are protected by a complete armour – the “whole” armour of God. God provides us with a full suit of armour, which includes every weapon, every resource we need for battle. We are protected by divine, supernatural armour – the whole armour “of God.” Our armour for battle is from God. It’s his armour.
(c) We have the spiritual protection against God’s enemy (11b-12) - ... so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (11b). Satan’s schemes began in the Garden of Eden and climaxed at the cross, where Christ overcame him so that we have been liberated from the devil’s bondage. Though Satan has been defeated, he has not yet surrendered. He still wages war with God through God’s people, but God enables us to stand firm against his attacks.
The enemy is the devil – the chief of the opposing army. He is a real being walking around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He is the accuser of the brethren. In order to win the battle we must know the enemy and his tactics.
The devil’s tactics are cunning schemes. His basic nature has not changed since the beginning – “the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field” (Gen. 3:1). His methods are crafty, shrewd, ingenious, and viciously destructive because he is the arch-deceiver.
The battle is not with human forces but spiritual. We do not struggle against flesh and blood (12a). The battle is a struggle, but not a struggle against flesh and blood. Our battle is not with humanity in its weakness and mortality. If that were the case, the fight would be much easier. But the struggle is not with human forces but with spiritual forces of evil. We struggle against rulers (principalities), against authorities (powers), against the world powers of darkness of this age (present darkness), against spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places (12b). It’s a struggle not with flesh and blood but rulers and authorities and world powers. It’s a struggle not with human governments or even demonic dictators but with malevolent, evil, spiritual forces of darkness. These spiritual forces wield cosmic power (κοσμοκρατορες). They are spiritual forces of evil. They operate in and over the darkness of this age. These spiritual forces of evil operate in heavenly places, not the heavenly realms where Christ reigns far above all these forces, but in the heavenly sphere below this realm but above the earth (cf. Eph. 2:20).
2. Spirit-filled victory in the world requires spiritual preparation (6:13-20).
Therefore, take up the whole armour of God (13a). Don't just stand there! Do something! Put it on! ... so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day and, having done all, to stand (13b). You are responsible to put on the armour in order to be able to withstand in the evil day in which we live. In the end result, it’s not about fighting, it’s about standing, and we can’t stand in our own strength.
We experience spiritual victory in our Christian lives through spiritual protection and spiritual preparation. And our spiritual preparation involves being prepared with all the spiritual armour and with all the power of prayer.
(a) Be prepared with all the spiritual armour (6:13-17). Be prepared with the armour of truth. Stand therefore ... having girded your waist with truth (14a). Be prepared with the armour of righteousness. Stand therefore ... having put on the breastplate of righteousness (14b). Be prepared with the armour of the Gospel. Stand therefore ... having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (15). Be prepared with the armour of faith. Stand therefore ... having taken up the shield of faith (16a). Be prepared with the armour of salvation. And take the helmet of salvation (17a). Be prepared with the armour of the Word. And take ... the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (17b).
So, be prepared with all the spiritual armour, and ...
(b) Be prepared with all the power of prayer (6:18-20)
Wearing armour does not of itself assure victory. To be victorious we need power and wisdom to know how to act and think in battle - to listen to our Commander; to hear and understand his tactics. All this we derive from prayer. Notice...
- The variety of prayer. Praying with all prayer and supplication (18a)
- The frequency of prayer. Praying always (18b)
- The means of prayer. Praying in the Spirit (18c)
- The manner of prayer. To this same end, being watchful in all perseverance and petition (18d)
- The object of prayer. For all the saints (18e)
- The specifics of prayer. Pray for me that utterance may be given me that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains – that in it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak (19-20). So, pray for individuals by name. Pray for their needs specifically. Pray especially for those who labour in the gospel. Here are three specific things to pray for those in ministry and leadership: (a) that they will have the right words to speak at the right time; (b) that they will have the courage to act boldly making known the gospel; (c) that nothing will prevent them from serving Christ – not even prison (i.e. that they will act as ambassadors for Christ even in chains)
A Spirit-filled life is the normal Christian life, but many Christians do not live in obedience and submission and are, therefore, not filled with the Spirit. Graham Scrogge said, “Every Christian has eternal life but every Christian may not have abundant life.”
Understanding the will of the Lord (17) is vital for being filled with the Spirit. You can’t be filled with the Spirit if you do not understand and walk in the will of the Lord. To do so would be a contradiction. In other words, to be filled with the Spirit, your life must be compliant with the will of the Lord – submissive and obedient to the revealed word of God.
Spirit-filled people are those who live their lives carefully not recklessly (15). They are careful to imitate God, to walk in love, to abstain from evil, to produce goodness, righteousness, and truth, to expose the evil deeds of the people of darkness, to use their time wisely, to live in the full understanding of the will of the Lord.
Spirit-filled people are careful to give God the glory. You know that you are sealed by the Spirit for time and eternity. You know that the Spirit guarantees you the completion of your redemption. When you are filled with the Spirit, your brain isn’t dull, your speech isn’t impaired, and your conduct isn’t lewd. Rather, your perception of spiritual things is sharpened, your understanding of the will of God is opened, your appreciation of the Word of God is heightened, your overall spiritual well-being is enhanced, your security is complete in Christ, and your face beams with the love of God.
What, then, are the implications and effect of being a Spirit-filled leader?
1. Your influence on others by being a godly role model. Others will want to be like you, because they see Christ in you and that is a powerful factor in church leadership. You will lead by virtue of the power of your personhood.
2. Your credibility and trust as a church leader. Credibility and trust are major factors in leadership. The greatest source of credibility is a godly life – a life filled by the Spirit. The surest way to develop trust is a godly life – a life filled with the Spirit. How can people distrust someone whose life demonstrates that they are filled with the Spirit of God?
3. Your God-given wisdom and direction. There are many leaders in our churches who have experience, money, and ability but lack wisdom and direction.
Experience (and age) does not mean you have wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge coupled with judgement as to right action. Wisdom is discernment and insight in appropriate decisions, actions. Wisdom looks beyond the external, superficial to the internal, real. Wisdom distinguishes between what is easy and quick and what is hard but long term, and chooses to do what is right. Wisdom has its roots in the fear of the Lord. Wisdom is one of the primary and essential components of leadership that is most lacking today in our churches and I believe that stems from the lack of men and women who are filled with the Spirit.
Experience does not mean you have a clear sense of direction. To be an effective leader, you must have a clear sense of direction for the organization you lead. How do we obtain a clear sense of direction for the organization we lead? First, we can only have a clear sense of direction from the word of God. Therefore, we must “study to show ourselves approved to God.” Second, we can only have a clear sense of direction if we are living a Spirit-filled life, in dependence upon God and in obedience to his word. Third, we can only have a clear sense of direction if we live a prayer-filled life. These three components add up to a holy life – the truth of the word of God, the power of the Spirit of God, and the efficacy of prayer.
Part IV: Sermon Outlines
Jesus’ Dialogue with the Disciples
Title: The Shock and Reality of the Resurrection, Part 4,5,6
Point #1: Jesus’ resurrection turns fear into courage (20:19-23)
1. The resurrected Jesus allays our fears (19-20)
a) He allays our fears by what he says (19)
b) He allays our fears by what he does (20)
2. The resurrected Jesus activates our courage (22-23)
a) He activates our courage to continue his work (21)
b) He activates our courage to speak with authority (22-23)
Point #2: Jesus’ resurrection turns unbelief into faith (20:24-29)
1. Unbelief is not convinced by second-hand testimony (24-25a)
2. Unbelief requires concrete proof (25b-28)
a) Concrete proof is what Christ says (26)
b) Concrete proof is what Christ has done (27a)
3. Concrete proof demands a verdict (27b-29)
a) Belief is proven by a great confession of faith (28)
b) Faith is honoured by a great blessing from Christ (29)
(i) It’s good to see and believe (29a)
(ii) It’s better to believe before seeing (29b)
1 Johnson T. K. Lim, Power In Preaching (University Press of America, 2002), 125.
2 R. Albert Mohler, Jr., As One With Authority in “The Masters Seminary Journal (Spring 2011, 89-98), 89.
3 Mohler, 97.
4 Fred B. Cradock, As One With Authority (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1971, reprint 2001), cited by R. Albert Mohler, in As One With Authority, “The Masters Seminary Journal” (Spring 2011, 89-98), 91.
5 Richard Holland, Expository Preaching: The Logical Response to a Robust Bibliology in “The Masters Seminary Journal” (Spring 2011, 19-39), 20.
6 Mohler, 92.
7 Mohler, 93.
8 R. C. Sproul, The Soul’s Quest for God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), 51.
9 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2, revised and corrected, Edward Hickman (Carlisle: PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 14ff.
Related Topics: Pastors