I present to you, Volume 3 in our series on knowing how to strike the right note in witnessing to your friends, to leading a warm and welcoming Bible study, or to help inspire and energize the walks of people around you… and how to avoid being that person that rubs everyone the wrong way.
Sincerity and earnestness don’t get it done. I see a lot of ministries try to move things forward by cranking up the sincerity and earnestness up to 12. You know, it’s the worship leader who starts the prayer time off with “MMMmmm Lord we just want to come before you. MMM, and we just want to praise you mmmMMM.” Sure there’s nothing wrong with all that, but make no mistake, it isn’t helping.
Imagine you go to the doctor and he says, “I just want to heal you today. MMMmmm. I just want to get this diagnosis right.” You know what, I hope you get it right enough for both of us, meanwhile, you just focus on getting the healing done. If you can’t get that done, it really doesn’t matter how sincere you are. It’s not like your sincerity is going to make anything better.
Study the people, then study the Bible. Most of the pastors I work with can literally spend days studying the Bible to prepare for a Sunday sermon. Then they’ll preach without ever speaking to a single human being about that same topic (ya know, humans, like the ones you’re writing this sermon for). You have to understand what’s wrong with us, before you can help lead us out.
Study us. Ask us what we’re dealing with. Listen. Then tell us how all this Bible stuff applies, and helps us out of this pit we’re stuck in.
Teach doctrine, don’t preach it. We need to know good doctrine, and we need to be reminded of it even after we know it. But make no mistake, it don’t preach. A sermon is about exhorting, encouraging, challenging, convicting, uplifting, revealing, you name it.
Dry points of theology and random Bible facts are what you call a lecture, not a sermon. This isn’t an academic exercise. We’re here to be discipled. Sure, you can, and should, teach doctrine within a good sermon, but you can’t make a sermon out of just that. You can put almonds in my Hershey’s bar, but you can’t give me a handful of almonds and call it a chocolate bar.
Preach freedom. Jesus says, in Luke 4:18, “God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners”. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 1 Peter 2:16 says “Live as free people”. Galatians 5:1 says (as if rubbing it in), “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
If I feel further weighed down by fear, shame, or guilt, as a result of what you tell me, then you have utterly failed to set me free. If you don’t know the words that will set me free, keep silent. Your goal is for me to throw off everything that hinders me, and the sin that so easily entangles me, and get me running, with perseverance, this race marked out for me (Hebrews 12:1).
Get-to, not have-to. Everything about this Christian life is a joy and a privilege. If you turn it into an obligation, suddenly I’m looking for a way to avoid it. I don’t have to read my Bible, I get to read the very words of God and know His heart. I don’t have to attend church, I get to be with my true family, the people who understand me and don’t judge me. All those have-to’s can be expressed as get-to’s, it just takes some time, and maybe a healthy focus on what this Christian life is actually like.