I am continuing this series on some odd and end thoughts about how that expository preaching changed my thinking. Part 1 is available here.
It Forced a Change In How I Looked at Success
Success is no longer the size of the building, crowd, or offering total. For me success has had a huge shift toward hungering for excellence instead of “success.” All of this came about when I took a look at Paul’s approach to those he mentored.
“Timothy, you stay in Ephesus and pastor these 25,000 or so. Teach doctrine diligently and understand there are a few beasts you will have to confront but this is where real spiritual warfare will play into your advantage. Spiritual warfare comprises far more than just angels and demons, Timothy, it has much to do with your tools. Keep your belt of doctrine on. Make sure you have a breastplate of holiness secured to the belt of doctrine. Keep your shoes of peace on it is an amazing foundation to fight from. Peace in your heart is more important than chasing devils around, they will come to you and you won’t have to go find ‘em. Your shield of faith can extinguish a lot of lies and doubts that will try to consume you. Faith in your God and in His Book will help you in the long run. Put on your helmet because it is your hope, your salvation. Be savvy and bold with your Sword, which is the Word. It can get you out of some tenable and dangerous situations. Lastly, don’t forget that a praying preacher can do much harm in the hands of an awesome God.”
“Titus, while Timothy is shepherding the church in Ephesus. Boy what a dandy and a plum that she is! Everybody wants to pastor Ephesus! But anyways, Titus, I need for you to go down here to Crete. It is a hard and difficult spot in the road. They run 25 to 50 on Sundays and that is depending on the weather. They are a bunch on slow-bellies and liars and they need some things to be set straight. That is what I want you to do! Stay there and be faithful until I tell you to move or the Lord comes back, whichever comes first. See you sometime in the future, God bless you!” (Dalmatia would also be in his assignment as would Nicopolis.)
I was also arrested when it came to the fact that Paul told Timothy about how that Onesiphorus had to care for the chains of Paul. How is that for apostolic ministry? Managing a chain? You bet! I am coming to understand more and more something I heard someone say a few years ago, “If you are too big to do the little things, you are too little to do the big things!” It takes excellence to fulfill the ministry of a chain, not very successful but a whole lot of excellence!
Paul moved men around like chess pieces. What became prevalent to me as I sorted this out in moving through the Epistles was that God is more concerned with faithfulness and obedience than he is with the American trappings of success. As usual, I always feel like I have to qualify what I am saying/writing and I do so now, I am not for laziness in sort of fashion! Work diligently and faithfully and let God take care of the details. Worry with the depth of ministry and God will take care of breadth of ministry!
Far too much of modern Christianity is geared toward personal success and fulfillment. While this may be the cravings of our culture, it is not the message of Christianity. Scripture, especially the NT epistles, calls us as saints with a leaning toward service and even servant-hood. If you understand that the backdrop of church history and the role that many of those in the early Church who ended up dying for their faith, how can I reconcile that with a gospel of “self-fulfillment”? Try to tell a martyr about self-fulfillment here in this life and he will tell you that fulfillment only comes after we are released from this earthly body.
The success paradigm will lead you to many unrealistic expectations concerning ministry. However if you understand that to faithfully preach the Word year in and year out is the goal, church growth will take care of itself. I want to make sure that you as the reader understands the context in which I am stating this, personal evangelism and corporate evangelistic efforts of the church must continue. Strong preaching will allow you to speak the very mind of Jesus Christ.
Serve where you are. . . faithfully. . . diligently. . . until death or the Lord returns. . . .
Illustrations Are Not Good Foundations
I have to admit that this was a battle that I had to fight out in the trenches of my mind. One of the trends that “thought” preaching takes up is to take a nifty illustration and then create an entire sermon around it. I have to admit that I loved taking a story and then setting up the message around the illustration. I have heard some masterful sermons that totally stunned my senses because of the power of the illustration. However, what I found was that years later, I could not remember the sermon at all but could remember the story. Some would say this is beneficial but my lingering doubt about this process is that it detracts from the very power of the Scriptures we are attempting to preach.
A preacher who continually allows the illustration to outshine the Biblical message will cause a church to minimize the power of Scripture. Sermons that are heavy on illustration and light on Scripture will not encourage the church to dig into personal Bible study. I have found that the more a man attempts to open up the Scripture the more that people will suddenly begin to search out the Scriptures between Sundays.
This can lead to faulty theology because what happens is that the preacher will take Scripture and use it to fit his illustration. Sad to say but far too many illustrations turn God into a very sentimental and manageable deity that exists solely for my whims and an ends to my means. Many of the rags to riches stories that are used as illustrations may unwittingly exercise the idea that God is always there to make life “happier” and “fulfilling” when ultimately the sovereignty of God prevails in the advancement of His kingdom.
Another calamity that occurs with making the illustration the foundation is when the story overrides the message, it clearly detracts from Scripture. Subtly and even unconsciously what the speaker is saying is that the story is more important than the principle of Scripture. Whatever human effort it took to accomplish the task, God acquiesced to the man instead of the man seeking the guidance of God for His will and purpose. Honestly, we love those kinds of rags-to-riches stories of human perseverance.
It is important to put the message together first and then have a wide range of reading that will allow you to insert good illustrations without having to put the message together around the illustration. 2 Corinthians 10:3, Paul is stating that he is human but he is appealing to spiritual means as weaponry. In 10:4, there is an attempt to tear down strongholds (fortress, prison, or tomb is the Greek rendering). In 10:5, Paul speaks of destroying ideas of the modern day. Spiritual warfare is assaulting erroneous ideas and you do it with Scripture not cool illustrations.