In 14 years of marriage, Molly & I visited numerous churches — probably over 40 of them. While preparing for church planting again, we sought to learn from each how the Lord was at work.
As we’d participate, we’d observe how the service was led (perhaps you do this too). Endeavoring to be constructively critical, our hope was to learn & grow from each community of faith. God gave us a variety of questions to ponder during our journey.
Did musical worship start with a bang, or was there a call to worship to help people transition from the world into the throne room of God? Were the songs vertical in nature (ascribing worship to God) or about us? Was prayer sincere homage, or simply a way to transition people on/off stage? Was the offering treated as central in worship (as throughout Scripture), or hidden as much as possible?
Was the service a one- or two-man show? If not, did the others who spoke do so freely, or according to a tight script? Did people engage us as visitors? As we picked up our kids, we’d always ask, “What did you learn today?” After having our children over an hour, it’s not too much to ask that they leave a teensy bit deeper in the Gospel.
Of course, the sermon is the easiest target. After all, imagine how daunting it is speak to a group of people who have walked with Jesus decades longer than you. It’s no surprise then, how hard we’d see pastors try to make an impact. We witnessed various methods employed in attempts to teach, persuade, or entertain. Their motives are likely noble, hoping their message will help people grow in Christ. But that task is impossible for man. It requires the Spirit at work … through Scripture.
This past Sunday, however, a first-time visitor introduced herself and had something to tell me. Looking me square in the eyes, the young lady shook my hand and said, “Thank you for preaching the Word.”
It’s the highest compliment I can receive.
It’s not that sermons at The Mission are anything special. We simply teach verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, glorifying Christ in the Gospel. This past Sunday we were in Nehemiah 10. That’s because last week we’d finished chapter 9. No glitz, gimmicks, pomp, or pretense. Just the Bible taught in an understandable way. Jesus Christ crucified. Amazing grace.
I am still growing in the gospel and have much to learn in the faith. It’s because I know I have nothing to offer in myself, that I hide behind God’s Word on Sunday. My prayer is that God puts His words on my mouth, and by sermon’s end, people see Christ alone.
Judging by our experience (and the recent visitor’s words), sermons in America tend to be long on opinion and short on Scripture. I pray that isn’t so, because simply preaching God’s Word shouldn’t be special.
It should be the norm.