A Great Sermon Isn’t Enough! – The challenge for today’s Pastor
…”the key here is that signs and wonders are to follow us as we go, not us following signs and wonders as we stay.”
After Pastoring and public speaking for close to fifteen years, I know what it is like to desire to see people transformed as a result of a great sermon. Typically, it is the pastor who has prayed and laboured over the Word he (or she) is about to preach. He knows the power it will have in the Christian’s life, if only they could live according to it. The pastor is so assured of the power of this Word that he advertises it in the church newsletter, posts it on the church sign, and tries to compel his congregation to come and hear him speak because their “lives will be changed.” This would actually be the case if the congregation went beyond just hearing his Word to actually meditating on it throughout the week (the digestion process) and bearing the fruit of it. The reality is that approximately seventy percent of what a person hears having listened to a sermon ONCE is lost within a forty-eight hour period. Staggering. This could probably explain why we struggle to recount what was taught by the time church is over and many of us are sitting around the table at Swiss Chalet!
This is the great deception that is heartbreaking for a pastor to consider—that he is applying maximum effort to deliver the Word when he preaches, but is only getting a minimal result from his congregation. Now don’t get me wrong there is always some result from the Word preached. Lives are changed as we gather together to worship and receive the Word of the Lord in our local gatherings. After all it was a great preach about the saving power of Jesus that got me to the altar to give my heart to the Lord! The mistake we make is when we begin to think that what we do inside our building is the primary method of “changing the world” or fulfilling the Great Commission. The reality is that if this were the case Jesus might have used a different strategy – maybe He would have built a mega church. Instead the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus was all about transforming culture beyond the four walls. This emphasis on the transformation of culture was evidenced in Jesus’ ministry as well as in the ministry of the Apostles. Of the biblically recorded 132 public appearances of Jesus, 122 were in the market place. Only 10 were in the synagogue. Out of the 40 recorded miracles of the apostles, 39 were done in public places.
When it came to preparing my message for Sunday service, this became my greatest shock early on in ministry – the reality that my preaching was not necessarily changing the world. It was later that I discovered through intentional training and equipping a person could not only discover their calling, but could learn HOW to change the world. In their sphere, with the gifts God has given them.
Those who have been saved for a long time have heard hundreds and even thousands of great messages over time, yet can we say we have actually produced the fruit of that? We must take an honest evaluation of what fruit we have produced, or whether we have taken on the culture of wanting to be inspired without paying the price to live out what we have heard.
James talks about not stopping at just being a hearer, but becoming a doer. He additionally encourages us to avoid self-deception (James 1:22). In James 1:22-25, the Greek word for ‘hearers’ is akroates, which describes someone who listens passively in an audience. James was referencing the days of the Greeks who loved to hear a good lecture. When the lecture was finished they would discuss and debate it with no intention of ever applying anything that was heard. It is the same word that is used to describe a person who goes to university or college, but treats the assignments and exams as optional. They have no intention of being accountable or taking responsibility for what they hear. They sit in classes only to listen or to be entertained. In the end, they receive no credit towards a diploma or degree. In some ways, this is the kind of culture that we see in church today. We sit listening to sermons or attending conferences and have no trouble celebrating and discussing the message afterwards with our friends and loved ones with no real system of processing and implementation. James goes on to compare this kind of behaviour to a man who looks at himself in the mirror, but then walks away forgetting what he looks like (James 1:24). What this means is that whether it is a sermon, CD, a Sunday morning message, or even a revelation from God Himself, it should be like looking in a mirror and seeing within yourself what needs to be changed in order for you to become an effective representation of God. Due to a culture of merely hearing what needs to change, we so often walk out of the church meeting and return to our regular daily lives having forgotten what we have heard. Therefore, there can be no change. All that is left is the great void and need to return again next Sunday morning to be inspired – and this places enormous pressure on the pastor to “deliver another great word.”
That is why many of us as believers look no different than the rest of the world. We see our lives in the mirror of His Word, but the moment we put the Bible down, we forget what we look like and neglect the fact that the whole world sees exactly what we look like. We have yet to become doers. We are great hearers and consumers of much knowledge. We even facilitate meetings and gatherings just to discuss revelation that is being released to the Body of Christ. Yet, we have not learned to do the Word in such a way that we become sons and daughters, bearing the image of God to the world.
In some ways, we really have created a culture of people that come to the church service to be entertained. They look to experience something new each Sunday, (which is good) but do not plan on actually applying what they have heard for their own growth, or societal impact. This is scary. It also might explain why so many of the younger generation are leaving the church. Once the church becomes a place for a mere entertaining experience, it can no longer compete with the world because the world specializes in providing the ultimate quick high or great social or entertainment experiences. If church-goers cannot walk away from the message with something that empowers them and makes them more effective during the week, then the average person will not put a high priority on church attendance. Our generation has come to the conclusion that they want something real, something that will change their life and help them fulfill some kind of mission. They want something to give their life for. They want real Christianity and they will not deceive themselves by seeking another mere experience.
I think that we as pastors have had a large part to play in producing passive, spiritually fat, overfed sheep. In our ignorance we have conditioned the people to believe that their role as a Christian is to keep good church attendance, pay tithes, and come listen to us perform (preach) every Sunday. I mean let’s be honest, having a packed out building of people who have come to hear what you have to say from the stage, every week, sure is an ego boost. If you do not believe that this statement is true, just look at the number of pastors fighting other pastors over members leaving their church to attend a different church. These stories about controlling shepherds give you a sense that someone might be focused on building their own kingdom. An overemphasis on church attendance and on numbers rather than societal impact and nation-changing seems to be the norm these days. Of course it is of the utmost importance to partner with God in building a Holy, healthy, cutting edge church, and to gather Believers together for the corporate worship experience – but this was never meant to be the goal or high point of Christianity.
Sadly in some cases, instead of cultivating a sheep’s potential and encouraging that one to be influential in society to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28). I think we may have made the mistake of hoarding heaven’s greatest resources and locking them up in church pews, encouraging them to wait patiently until the rapture. We as believers are called to be salt and light in the world. What good is a building filled with hundreds or thousands of flashlights showing each other how bright we are, but never going out during the week to light up the darkness? At the same time, we also understand the balance in the function of the local church, in that we would be irresponsible to neglect the needs of our own sheep in the name of trying to impact those who don’t yet know the Lord. Hence, the Sunday morning experience must be vibrant, exciting, and relational. As we know, water baptism, communion, and worship together are all part of the power of the Sunday morning corporate gathering. This should never be neglected, because it is an integral part of the big picture of Kingdom life. Nevertheless, although the Sunday morning gathering is important, we also cannot neglect our great commission. Jesus said it best, “Go and make disciples of all Nations.” As seen in the gospels, prior to the cross, the emphasis was on signs and wonders, casting out demons and “keep it within the house of Israel.” After the cross Jesus gave a greater commission when He said, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore, go and disciple nations” (Matthew 28:18–19). Signs and wonders and casting out demons should still follow the believer to prove the gospel we are delivering to the nations. But the key here is that signs and wonders are to follow us as we go, not us following signs and wonders as we stay.
Jesus bled and gave his life, not so that we could attend lectures or hear inspiring sermons, instead He gave his life so that we could give our lives for something greater than ourselves. His dream was that nations would be transformed, not that the carpet colour of our church building would be transformed. If the lecture or sermon does not assist us and empower us to have greater influence in the transformation of our world, then the lecture was really just an experience worth hearing, and that’s all. We do not have time to just be hearers; we must radically apply what we’re hearing because God is waiting to back us up as we carry Kingdom principles out into society. We are to be conduits of the wisdom of God that impacts nations. In other words, we have got the stuff, now let’s go and apply it.
To learn more about how to retain what we learn and unlock destiny beyond the four walls of the church, try the “History Makers Three Day Transformation” experience.