I am convinced that many churches in the U.S. find themselves in a quandary these days. Pastors are frustrated because week after week no matter how long and hard they prepare to preach, their hearers in the church pews will continue to be “hearers and not doers” of the Word. No amount of pastoral education or congregational exposure to the truth will ever change this unfortunate fact. The problem is not education or information. It’s obedience.
First, most preachers believe that the only thing we are to “invite” people to do when we preach is to “be saved.” We preach for conversions, which lead to baptisms, which lead to church growth and denominational ladder-climbing. Yes, we are even guilty of preaching the gospel of Christ for our own ends, which is shameful. Each Sunday we go for the jugular of the lost person that we hope showed up by chance. And if no one bites, we leave our congregation with a sense of guilt and shame for not bringing their friends to church. As the last verse of “Just as I Am” comes to a close, we hang our heads in disappointment and remind the church with all the joy we can muster to come back for the evening service followed by the monthly business meeting. On second thought, we might repeat the last verse again in hopes that one of the youth will “rededicate.”
Of course we are to preach EVERY time for decision. The gospel demands a response. But the gospel is not just about a conversion experience. It is about experiencing the grace of God throughout our entire life and walk with Jesus. Our mission is to make disciples, not converts. So even if the Sunday morning congregation is filled with believers, we should still preach for decisions because our mission is to make disciples. Therefore missional preaching is always aimed at challenging the hearer to do whatever Jesus is telling them through biblical exposition and proclamation. There are ALWAYS NEXT STEPS for anyone hearing God’s word preached.
This makes the preacher’s task even more involved. He must know what the mission of the church is and make it clear to the congregation. He must refuse to settle for anything less. He will be tempted each week with attaboys and encouragements from his hearers. “Wow pastor, good word today!” “Man I’ve heard that passage preached before, but never as well as you delivered it today. You really opened my eyes today.” “You hit a home run today preacher! great job.” If we are content with such responses, we are fools. Consider this scenario. A father (like me) of five (again, like me) calls his children to the living room of their very messy house. After everyone assembles, he tells them about how messy the house is and that he expects everyone to do their part to clean it up. After explaining with great moral urgency the need for a clean house, and outlining the three-point plan for getting the job done, his children all applaud. Each one comes by and shakes his hand with big smiles and pats him on the back saying, “Great job dad! Man, I’ve heard mom give speeches before on cleaning, but yours exceeded hers by far.” “Wow, dad, no one knows how to clean a house like you!” “Dad, I was going to watch the game this afternoon, but I might just come back to hear part 2 of your cleaning series.” Each compliment is followed by an abrupt exit back upstairs to play.
Now if you are this father, I bet you aren’t smiling. I wouldn’t be. I don’t think any parent would be satisfied with such a response. So why are so many preachers satisfied with the accolades? Why are so many preachers satisfied with the comments and praises that actually insult our heavenly Father? Because many of us think that our job is simply to proclaim a message well, when in fact it is to lead our church on mission. It is to equip and mobilize. Missional preaching mobilizes people to continue following Jesus.
Becoming more articulate, going deeper, having an attractive voice, preaching shorter sermons, wearing different clothes, overemphasizing hand gestures and the like, will NEVER make a disciple. As Neil Cole put it, “If the cross of Christ does not motivate your people, your sermon certainly will not.” It is an insidious pride in preachers that assumes anything we do personally could outshine Calvary! That our personalities could endear someone to Christ more than the old rugged cross! So preach the cross and show your congregation, from Scripture, what it means to FOLLOW Jesus. And then hold them accountable to do just that. And if you aren’t willing to risk your livelihood to hold them accountable, the enemy has won the battle over your church, and neither you, nor your church is a threat to the kingdom of darkness. (A church that refuses to follow Christ is just a religious organization with a Christian name.) But if you are willing to risk it, and end up losing your salaried position and religious reputation, be of good cheer, for you are advancing in your walk as a Christ-follower, and the enemy considers you a threat.
The congregation must agree with one another about the mission of the church to be disciples and make disciples. They must agree that they all share the same DNA as Christ followers and are all on the same journey together. They must anticipate hearing new marching orders from God’s word every time they gather for worship.
In Matthew 22:37-40 and 28:19-20 we find what many have called the “great commandment and great commission.” They can basically be boiled down to this: love God, love others, and make disciples. Jesus has told us how to love one another, how to love God, and how to follow Him (Jesus). Every church should have a localized expression of this triad written down and practiced. It should be preached, taught, talked about regularly, and well illustrated. It is also best if the church, or at least a core group within the church, develops this expression with the leadership of the pastor(s). In my experience, when a singular pastor forms the mission statement, though his motives be noble, the church body gets suspicious and rejects it. The church must go through the process of prayer and searching so that the level of congregational ownership is high. This is usually the most difficult phase of missional church development because much humility, patience, and deference is needed.
Once the values of the great commandment and great commission are expressed through a localized mission statement, the church must begin the process of filtering everything through the values of the mission statement. Programs, positions, budgets, and many other things must be reorganized under the marching orders of Jesus expressed in the mission statement. Some programs will need to be eliminated. Some budgets may need to be reduced or cut. Some budgets may need to be increased, like missions, church planting, and benevolence. Some services might need to be eliminated or revamped for more missional impact. Sometimes aligning church life to the great commission means a complete overhaul of certain philosophies of ministry.
The sacrifice for missional alignment is great. A church may lose key leaders, servants, volunteers, and even close friends. But the benefits to being on mission with Jesus is exponential and eternally impactful. If a religious group of 300 became a missional church of 50, the gates of hell would tremble in fear.
Here are the three missional values our church uses to express our mission. We consider them the three life rhythms of a Christ-follower found in Scripture.
- Leaning into the lives of others. (Love your neighbor) -Life in Community
- Looking up to God for direction. (Love the Lord your God) -Life in Communion
- Living out our faith in the world. (Make disciples) -Life in Commission
A missional church must begin to see the preacher/pastor as the equipper. Paul describes the gifts given by the Spirit, in Ephesians, as for the “equipping of the saints for the work of service.” The weekly worship gathering should be a time where ambassador-missionaries come together to be challenged, equipped, encouraged, and inspired to go engage their respective mission fields with the gospel. We should never leave satisfied without knowing how to better love our neighbor, love our God, and follow our Savior. A warm fuzzy feeling will never satisfy the Christ-follower. A pretty homily will not appease the hunger for one’s unbelieving friend to be born again. The church is an army that must be equipped for enemy engagement on the battlefield of everyday life.
For the church to be healthy and faithful to Christ, preachers must preach for the mobilization of disciples. Likewise, congregations must begin to lay everything at the foot of the cross and embrace the mission to make disciples. We must assemble with expectation and excitement to be equipped for the work of ministry. We must come for the purpose of being mobilized.