Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Mereness of Church: Preaching

Of late, the Lord has been pressing into my thinking about church this idea: church is to be mere.

That's certainly not original to me, far from it. Rather, many times I've heard godly Christian leaders say this and the Lord is showing me how true it is--and how necessary it is. It seems that the more adorned the church is in its corporate life the less nimble, attractive, permeable, and useful. The more we add to what might be termed the simplicity of the church, the more foreign and inhospitable we make it to the wide range of men and women who need to be in her. The more we dress her in worldly pearls and gaudy jewelry, which comes in many forms, the weaker she is under the heaviness of a wardrobe not meant for militant, war-time life.

The need for a mere church can be seen almost everywhere. In this post, a few thoughts on the need for our preaching to be simple, mere, uncluttered and plain.

The last couple of Sundays during the sermon I've been impressed with that. Simple and unadorned is best in the pulpit. The Lord has blessed me with the privilege of pastoring the most diverse congregation I've ever been a part of. And many Sundays I leave the pulpit thinking this illustration or this joke simply had no reach. Perhaps a few folks acquainted with a certain genre of music "got it," but the other 90% were lost. It would have been better to be more mere by finding an application less "tailored" or "local" and accessible by my friends from Zaire, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Australia and Canada.

Last night, Paul and Laurie Alexander shared these wonderful bits from Thomas Watson:
Truth when it is in the plainest dress is most comely. The star shines brightest in its native lustre. Who goes to embroider a pearl? or paint oer gold? It is a sign of a wanton Christian to look most at the fringing and garnishing of a truth. Many like the dressing but loathe the food. When men preach rather words than matter, they catch people's ears, not their souls; they do but court, not convert.

And this pearl:
Some ministers love to soar aloft, like the eagle, and fly above the people's capacities, endeavouring rather to be admired than understood. Ministers should be stars to give light, not clouds to obscure the truth. It is cruelty to souls when we go about to make easy things hard; this many are guilty of in our age, who go into the pulpit only to tie knots.

I need improvement in this area. I've already mentioned the need to think more carefully about humor and illustrations. But there's more I need to do.

As Michael Lawrence would say, write your sermon for the ear and not for the eye. My manuscripts and phrasing are too often written for the eye, as if they were going to be read by the congregation, rather than for the ear, knowing that the Word, preaching, hearing and faith are of a whole.

The language and "deeper" things of commentaries are another form of clutter that sometimes creeps into my preaching. What a tremendous joy it is to have as your full-time calling the study of God's Word, excellent Christian material, and the opening of those treasure chests to your people. It's a great joy and privilege. But how often a great comment or argument from the commentary, fresh and helpful to my soul, enters into the manuscript and weakens the sermon. It was a good gem for me, but probably secondary at best given the need of the congregation to hear God's Word. For me, a good commentary or comment from a commentary should make the sermon and the text clearer, simpler, more easily understood rather than more elaborate and complex. In my pride, I'm tempted to sound smart or want to share something a bit more novel or new to my hearers rather than major on the major point of the text. Consequently, my preaching ceases to be mere at that point and loses some of its helpfulness.

Now, what I'm not saying is that a sermon should be "dumbed down," or that simplicity is akin to elementary. A good sermon on Ephesians 1 or Romans 9 should be plain and clear, well-ordered and understandable, but that doesn't mean the ideas are simplistic! We're dealing in the glorious truths of God--which will mean the ideas are majestic and that we should be careful to not cover them in human wisdom and chatter.

Also, I'm not saying that the preaching should be targeted to the people we judge (usually wrongly) are the least intelligent in the audience. Perhaps most of our pitches should be aimed at the 66th percentile assuming the congregation is on some imagined curve of intellectual and spiritual maturity. The younger or weaker Christian will be fed and stretched, though hopefully not lost, and the older, stronger Christian will or should have discipline to mine God's Word even if they're able to digest "more".

So, mere doesn't mean dumbing down or preaching to the lowest common denominator. But it does mean that the church is to be built upon the pure milk and strong meat of God's Word, which isn't to be confused with the clever philosophy and wisdom of men. And when we do that, we comply with the Lord's purposes for His church, and make the church herself more accessible to more of God's people. A final thought from Watson:
Oftentimes God crowns his labours, and sends most fish into his net, who though he may be less skillful is more faithful; and though he hath less of the brain, yet hath more of the heart (quotes from Gleanings from Thomas Watson (Soli Deo Gloria), pp. 90-91).

6 comments:

ajcarter said...

This is a good word of reminder and encouragement. See ya this evening and may my words be mere for the glory of God's great name.

Tom said...

Thabiti,

Great stuff. I just finished teaching Revelation (because I was forced too do so by an 85 year old lady) to a group of elderly folks in a Retirement Center at Pensacola, FL. Your comments about the Church that dresses itself in "worldly pearls and gaudy jewelry" closely resemble the harlot of Rev 17. I believe John's jaw dropped, as he stood amazed at what the Bride of Christ had become... At any rate, thanks for writing about "mere church." We/I, need constant reminders to keep Church and our walk with Christ "mere".

Thanks,

Tom

ps. I followed the Pure Church (I love the title) link at the 9 Marks Blog.

Anonymous said...

Amen, amen, amen, amen and amen! And by the way.... amen! You are dead on, bro! Gotta vary the pitches - and you have many in your repertoire. God has gifted you with so much, T. Got to pich 'em high and tight, but don't forget you have an awesome slider and a decent split-finger that tails down and away, as well. You can use the split-finger on A-Rod but Griffey will take the same pitch downtown. And at FBC we're blessed with A-Rod's and T-ballers, as well - and everything in between. You're doing a great job of pitching to our souls - not our ears.

Sure, every once in a while you'll toss one out there and I can hear it whistling for a while before it lands and explodes. But most of that is cultural - we'll turn you into a Bracker yet. A little Scuba diving would really help! But then there are one's that are priceless - singing "big Girls Don't Cry" to set up a passage about mourning! THAT was classic! By the way, I'll be mixing that one down over a good groove and it'll be ready for the web any day now!

Bro, I miss you and I love you and I am praying that your time away will be beneficial for the Kingdom and refreshing for you!

Tell T-bone Uncle dave has his scuba gear waiting for him - he should be big enough by the time he returns.

Love to you all,

dave

Anonymous said...

Brother - one of your best posts - ever!!! Dead Serious! The brothers here were just talking about you the other day - we miss you, we love you, we are grateful for you!

Mendon :)

Lisa said...

Fantastic stuff. You just articulated all the stuff that I thought I was meant to be doing ..... :) thank you!

Frederick said...

Dear brother,

I found your blog mentioned on the Together For the Gospel Blog, and was greatly challenged and encouraged by what you wrote about preaching. Thought I would share a quote from Martin Luther, given by Dr. Lloyd-Jones in "Preaching and Preachers".

"A preacher should have the skill to teach the unlearned simply, roundly and plainly; for teaching is of more importance than exhorting. When I preach I regard neither doctors nor magistrates, of whom I have above forty in the congregation. I have all my eyes on the servant maids and the children. And if the learned men are not well pleased with what they hear, well, the door is open."

Thank for sharing your thoughts. May God make us simple preachers of the glorious gospel of Jesus.

In His Easy Yoke,
Bill