NOTE: I began writing this post on May the 7th and never finished it. Today I will. Part 2 in the title refers to this post as Part 1.
Please see UPDATES @ the bottom of this post that point to people including Bob Hyatt, Darryl Dash and Len Hjalmarson.
As I type this post, mid-Friday afternoon (May 7th, 2009), tens of thousands of church leaders are preparing their sermons for this coming Sunday. Some are in their church office, door firmly shut, a Do Not Disturb sign literally or figuratively in place.
Others are in their home office. Their spouses and children knowing well enough to leave them alone.
The cool leaders are in the local St. Arbucks, an over-priced Venti of surprisingly poor quality coffee close at hand, as they scribble notes into their Moleskinés while searching Logos on their MacBooks.
Still others are somewhere listening to (insert your favourite preacher) as they copy down the theme, the examples and sometimes even the personal stories of those "gifted preachers." (I've heard of one copyist who preached something along the lines of "when my three daughters and I were in Hawaii" – the problem being he'd never left mainland North America and he only had a son – an extreme case, no doubt.)
For many, if not most of these preachers, the Sunday service will be their primary point of contact with members of their congregations. This will be the place where these preachers hope to impact their listeners with the preacher's understanding of the gospel. For some it's the gospel of self-help, of living your best life now, of God as Santa Claus.
For others, the Gospel has ruined them for anything else – they are madly in love with their Saviour – and they pray fervently that the words they've laboured over that week will be words of life to those gathered. And across the breadth of churches on my continent, there will be every kind of sermon preached in between those two extremes.
I would guess that in the 27 years I've been a Christian, I've probably listened to heard close to 1,500 sermons. Though I know many have impacted me (including any number from Barry Parker, Jenny Andison and Dan MacDonald in my fair city), I can accurately remember the message of four (six). One was Bob Roxburgh at Millmead Baptist Church in Guildford, UK in the fall of 1987. Bob's primary point was that the only real sign of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a person's life was the Fruit of the Spirit – rather than the wild charismatic gifts too many of us then sought.
The second was actually a pre-Advent series of three sermons from Fleming Rutledge preached at Little Trinity in the late fall of 2008 under the theme of Advent Begins in the Dark. You can read one of them here. I have them in iTunes and have listened to them numerous times. (She is my favourite preacher bar none.)
The other two sermons were both preached at Christmas Eve services, a number of years apart, by different preachers- one focused on Satan and the other on Dying Well. Sigh. (I remember them both too well as Imbi and I had been so thankful that the non-believing friends we'd invited hadn't shown up either time. Aside: Regina Spektor's Laughing With is playing as I type this paragraph.)
However, I do remember, often in great detail, the hundreds of times that people more mature in the Faith shared their lives with me – telling me stories of what the Lord has done and what He can do – often opening my eyes to the Scriptures while they did this. Many guided me on my journey with gentle correction or words of encouragement. Others kicked me so hard in the buttocks that I still feel the pain. (And I'm not suggesting I didn't deserve that form of correction.)
Some of these people have been with me for all of the journey so far. Others were only around or available for a short time. (My father-in-law died in my fifth year of being a believer – after having had a profound impact on me – and I still miss him, 23 years later.)
I haven't only learned from people "more mature in the faith" than me. My kids, their cousins and their friends have taught me plenty. (I should also note that my wife, Imbi has played a huge role in my growth as a Christian as have a number of members of her family, including two who would not identify themselves as evangelicals.)
Sermons Don't Make Disciples
After this post of mine (Part 1 to this post's Part 2) prompted by Kevin DeYoung, I dropped by to read the next in his series on Reggie McNeal's book, Missional Renaissance. In the comments, DeYoung says this,
If I had to summarize the mission of the church in two words it would be: make disciples. [emphasis added]
If you read the "Part 1" post, you would know I don't disagree with that statement. My question to Kevin would be, "how do you think disciples are made?"
According to his co-author, Ted Kluck, in their book, Why We Love the Church (link is to my review), Kevin spends 20 hours a week preparing his "45 minute expositional sermons," for which Ted is both "thankful" and "glad." (Pg 67) My not particularly positive comment on this in my original review prompted a response from Andrew Jones that led to an interesting discussion in the comments on his post – with many great comments from my friend, Triple D.
If you are spending 20 hours a week preparing your sermon, while involved in raising a young family (in DeYoung's case), managing the "business of church" with all the cares and concerns of your congregation and physical plant, elders meetings, etc not to mention blog and book writing – how exactly does one go about "making disciples."
A friend of mine once led a rather large youth group in a mid-western Canadian city. They saw kids coming to Christ by the dozens. My friend and his team began to disciple those kids and then realized that the people who were "raising their hands for salvation" in the main services were not being discipled in any meaningful way. He approached the senior pastor, who he was close to at that time, to talk about how to create more effective discipleship and got this response, "you just need to encourage people to hear my sermons on Sundays and Wednesday nights. That's all the discipling they need."
But sermons don't make disciples – though living life together just might.
Let me play the Jesus-shaped discipleship card. Jesus made his disciples by living with them. He didn't preach at them – though he did preach – rather, he was in intimate relationship with them. And that intimate relationship, combined with the power of the Holy Spirit, turned them into people who helped change the world.
Do me a favour and go read Matthew 28:19-20. Even if it's for the eleventy-seventh time. Jesus is telling the disciples to do what he has shown them to do through living life with them. He doesn't say, "go write great sermons and preach them in the Temple." He tells them (and us) to "go and make disciples of all the nations." (Make a point of reading Luke 9:57 to Luke 10:23 as well to see both how Jesus trained disciples and the cost of that discipleship.)
I do not debate that preaching plays a role in making disciples of "all the nations" – but if your primary function as a church leader is writing and delivering sermons – how much are you really a part of the discipleship-making conspiracy? (Conspire is from the latin, conspirare- to breath together.)
Please understand that I am not arguing against the importance of teaching. I am arguing that hands-on teaching – where there is a level of intimacy and transparency between the teacher and the taught – is more effective in discipleship-making than the lecture-style nature of preaching.
I would further argue – and this coming out of months of discussion with Imbi – that unless the church recovers the art of catechesis, the "ministry of grounding new believers in the essentials of the faith", our efforts to make disciples will be less than fruitful. (The above quote is from the back cover of J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett's Grounded in the Gospel – one of the books in my reading cue.)
Finally, I acknowledge that your stellar preaching may in fact draw a crowd – but how many disciples are being made while you are not being disturbed.
UPDATE 1: Please pray for Gary Parrett who was critically injured in a bus crash in Korea.
UPDATE 2: Please read a repost of Bob Hyatt's which he's posted in response to this one.
UPDATE 3: Len Hjalmarson's post chaordic leadership, embodiment, adds some very good stuff to this discussion. He quotes from Gary Goodell's Where Would Jesus Lead,
UPDATE 4: Darryl Dash pushes back with Sermons DO Make Disciples.