Series Theme: Looking for a Better Church: A Church Check
Title: 3. Preaching & Teaching
3.1 Common Failures
Perhaps the easiest way to focus on preaching that takes us somewhere (assuming we have accepted all that we have considered in the previous Parts) is to observe some of the ways that preaching and teaching in the local church falls short of being a tool for working towards bringing about some of the goals we have for our people, as we see them displayed in various parts of this series. Each of these things that follow are failures or weaknesses that I have observed more than a few times in the local church (in a number of places) over the last three years in particular. I will try and make each of them short and sweet.
a) Failure to have Structure :
Often in a church with a number of preachers it seems that those who preach do that which appears right in their own eyes (which they hope is Holy Spirit led and sometimes is and sometimes isn't!) which may be good for the moment but does little to develop the church and individuals within it, in the ways we have been considering and will yet consider in later Parts.
Remedy : Leaders agree a programme of preaching for say three months at a time (more or less). A two month ‘structured period' could perhaps be followed by a month of ‘random choices'. I do not use random in any negative way).
b) Failure to Disciple:
If the primary goals of preaching/teaching are to inform and bring change to individuals, any message should have both those goals. Preaching can often be a simple impartation of the knowledge about a Bible passage. As good as that may be, it is only the start; the objective should be to create change in us the listeners, to turn us into better disciples of Jesus. The word always needs to be applied and a challenge brought to come to commitment over an issue, or start working out an issue in our lives.
Remedy : Clarify the goals of the church (see part 1) and preach / teach for change in people. NB. As suggested above a two month directive teaching on a theme of growth, say, could be followed by a month of more varied subjects.
c) Failure to Mature & Equip People :
Preaching can often simply be rerunning absolute fundamentals of the Faith, ignoring the teaching of Hebrews 5 to move on in maturity and equipping of the saints. Often this is a congregation of people who appear to have been around the kingdom for many years. Ask them basics about prayer, for example, and they can all come up with acceptable Biblical examples. Ask them about spiritual warfare and that may not be so. Ask them about their experience of spiritual warfare and capability in it, they may probably feel more out of their depth. Jesus taught “ go and make disciples ….teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) Obedience means putting into practice the character of Christ growing within us, and learning to be vessels of service as the Holy Spirit equips and enables us to do the works of God.
Remedy: as for b) above. However some of these things may be more appropriately taught in groups, for example, learning to listen to God and learning to pass on God's personal word (i.e. to prophesy)
d) Failure of authority & enthusiasm :
The person ‘out front' preaching (Sundays) or teaching (House Groups) can often convey an absence of spiritual authority and an absence of real enthusiasm for the wonder of the Word.
Authority: Preachers who only read the Bible to prepare a ‘message' or ‘sermon' will never convey spiritual authority. Those who God calls to preach or teach need to spend their lives in the word (when they have time or make time) so that the word comes alive and becomes part of them and thrills them and changes them. As they develop their spiritual lives in prayer, relating directly to Jesus, and feed on the word, so they will be changed and will become those of authority. The people need to know this is GOD'S inspired word and that it is vital for their lives. Authority conveys that.
Enthusiasm : One of the things about mid-twentieth century preacher, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was that so often he spoke as if the words of scripture that he was expounding were THE most important words in the Bible – again and again even though the passages were different. This was his way of saying, “This is the word of God and it is vital!” The preacher or teacher needs to convey something of the wonder of the word, not only by the content of what they bring, but also by the way they bring it.
Remedy : Teach and challenge those who preach or teach to develop their daily lives in the word and with God to bring authoritative, positive preaching and teaching.
e) Failure to Motivate by Faith :
We are no longer under the Law but there is therefore a temptation to use the teaching/instructions of the New Testament as rules/laws to motivate change. This is legalism – beware the words ‘ought' or ‘should'. Although these words do convey a truth in terms of direction, in practice they provoke failure, guilt and so spiritual death.
Motivation always needs to start from God's heart for us, His intent to bless us and steer us clear from behaviour that is contrary to His design for us, which is harmful to us and destructive. Motivation by grace always gives something to be reached for, something to which we may aspire.
Motivation is thus
Law gives a duty to work for, grace gives a goal to aspire to. (To see this in far more detail, please see www.readbiblealive.com - “Looking at Preaching Afresh, Part 7. Teaching Godliness or Self-Help”)
Remedy: Teach on motivating by grace and not law.
f) Failure in Accountability:
Possibly because of a frailty of relationships there can often appear no accountability, and thus when there specific actual wrong teaching coming from the front it can go without comment. We should never be afraid of challenging discussion but we will where there is only shallow fellowship and weak relationships.
Remedy: Build closer fellowship between leaders/preachers and encourage personal assessment and considerations for improvement. Teach the ability to discuss, even argue theology without it being seen or felt to be a personal attack.
g) Failure in Study Methods in the Word:
Bible knowledge often appears very shallow in many churches in today's age, but even more the ability to ‘divide the word' appears absent. This is about learning how to take in not only the surface content of Scripture but also to go deeper in meaning.
The thought of correcting wrong thinking in Bible Studies also seems absent very often in churches. The leader who fails to stop when a wrong answer has been given to a biblical question may do so because they lack the wisdom to know how to say without the feeling of put-down, “OK, let's thinks that through from a wider biblical perspective and see where the truth lies.” Again this speaks of frailty of relationships. (‘Challenging' wrong thinking should be distinguished from ‘attacking' the person - which should never happen, but may appear that way where there is poor teaching, weak fellowship, and shallow relationships.)
If we are to stand against the lies of the world, we need to be developing robust Christians who are not afraid to think deeply about what they find in the Bible .
Remedy: Teach Bible Study methods and encourage question and challenge.
3.2 And So….
Remember these things are to be seen in the context of a church that is going somewhere, a church that is training and equipping its people in a variety of ways but, ultimately, with the goal of producing disciples who will bear fruit.
The Bible is there to lead us into knowledge of God, of the truth about mankind, of the plan and purpose of God to redeem men and women, of the means and working of salvation and ongoing sanctification, of the reality of the Church and God's purposes to use it to bring in His kingdom on earth.
Now if that sentence is true – and it is – then how we communicate it by preaching (touching the spirit) and teaching (touching the intellect) to bring about those changes implied in all that, is of vital importance. Failure to note these things and take steps to remedy them will mean we will NOT achieve the goals we spoke about in earlier parts.