We wield the most powerful truth there is; the gospel! Why does it seem like it bounces off? Where is the personal transformation?
Anybody else thought this on Monday morning? I doubt I’m alone...I think many of us feel frustrated that our preaching doesn’t seem to result in the kind of life transformation we would like to see. We spend a lot of time, energy, and prayer over our messages, and sometimes it’s easy to wonder if they’re making any difference at all. This just seems wrong to me…are we missing something?
Before the Lord called me into ministry, I had extensive experience teaching in the university classroom. I taught and wrote courses at the university level. With this backdrop, I was excited to expand my skill set into a new area of kingdom ministry: preaching. As I began to learn and be mentored, I was surprised that the majority of the attention was given to communication technique. Now don’t get me wrong here; I do believe good communication technique is essential for effective preaching, but communication technique is a lot like the musicianship a worship leader needs; it is a necessary requirement, but it is far from the entire package. Communication is something we can always continue to grow in, but because I was already a communicator, I was looking for what set preaching apart.
Communication is the natural skill set that the Lord uses as the foundation to layer upon the spiritual dynamics that occur in authentic preaching. Preaching transcends good communication in that it is a form of ministry. It is so much more than the exchange of information or ideas; it is a spiritual event wherein the Spirit of God ministers grace and sows the seeds of transformation into people’s lives. The end result of preaching should be an individual who has not only learned something, but who has also encountered something. We see this kind of response to Jesus’ teaching (Mark 1:21-27), and those of us who undertake the task of preaching ought to strive to live towards his example.
I speak with many preachers who unfortunately haven’t cultivated preaching as a form of Holy Spirit ministry. If we aren’t intentionally partnering with the Spirit as we preach, how can we expect our activities to bear his fruit? Our first step is to change our mindset and to intentionally cultivate the supernatural dynamics of preaching just as much as the natural ones.
I’ve found that one of the most important elements of spiritually empowered preaching involves understanding where we do (and do not) carry spiritual authority for transformation. Jesus, as the victorious king, is the source of all authority; all authority belongs to him (Matthew 28:18). We are empowered to broker his authority to the extent that it has been active in our lives. In short, whatever God has given us, we can give away (example: 1 Corinthians 1:4). Freely we have received, so freely we can give.
The catch here is that there is a world of difference between experiencing the authority of Jesus in our lives and learning Biblical truth. It is so easy to assume that because we understand something we will be able to preach it transformationally. My experience is that it is not so; there is a world of difference between truth that is held by the mind and truth that has been opened up to the heart. Preach from a place of understanding and you’ll multiply understanding. Preach from transformation and you’ll multiply transformation.
Am I saying that we should never stand on the Word of God and preach until it becomes our experience? Not at all. There is a time and place for that, but I believe a significant portion of our preaching needs to come out of things the Lord has established in our lives. Truths we have wrestled to the ground ourselves, places where God himself has spoken and directed our steps, where we have surrendered and walked with God into a clearer image of Jesus Christ our savior. These are spiritual paths that we not only see on the map of the Scriptures, but ones on which we have left our own footprints. It is our journey with the Lord, not our communication skills, that undergirds transformational preaching.
I would encourage every preacher to take a good catalogue of the truth they know and the truth they own. I think you’ll find that as you preach out of the truth that God has established in your life, you’ll find it works differently; transformation begets transformation. The Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth, written not only in the Word of God but also in our own lives. The spiritual impact drives far deeper into people’s lives. It is a beautiful moment to declare who the Lord has been for us and feel the presence of God settle upon the room. Truth stirs in the hearers’ minds and hearts, God’s grace draws near afresh, and the hearers will leave a different person than they came in.