When individuals describe their faith journeys, they always reference the first time they were exposed to practical Bible teaching. For some, this happened at a college Bible study. For others, it was in a home. For many women in our country, it was Beth Moore who served as an introduction to this type of teaching. For most, it was when they heard the Bible presented
in practical terms for the first time in a local church. When people tell their stories, it becomes evident that this was not their first exposure to the Bible. It represents the first time they understood what was being taught from the Bible. It was the first time they actually knew what to do with what was being taught. Most Christians can tell you where they were and who was speaking the first time someone made the Bible come alive for them.
It’s unfortunate that someone can grow up hearing sermons and Sunday school lessons, yet never be captivated by the Scriptures. But, unfortunately, that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. And this is not a twentiethor twenty-first century problem.
When Jesus finished what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records the crowd’s response.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28–29)
All teaching and preaching is not the same. The firstcentury teachers of the law were teaching from the same script Jesus would refer to throughout his earthly ministry. Bu
t there was something different about his presentation. He spoke with authority. Apparently he had a passion the other teachers lacked. More specifically, he wasn’t satisfied to simply say what was true. He wanted his audience to act on what they heard. As you may recall, he closed that particular message with a specific call to action along with an emotionally charged promise and warning:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (Matthew 7:24, 26)
Jesus taught for a response. He taught for life change. He didn’t come to simply dispense information. We rarely find him chastising people for their lack of knowledge. It was almost always their lack of faith evidenced by a lack of application. “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” he asked the disciples in the midst of a terrifying ordeal on the water (Matthew 8:26). Jesus wasn’t after mental assent to facts. Jesus was after active, living, do-the-right-thing faith. And when he taught, he taught with that in mind.
Remember the first time you were challenged at that level? Remember how interesting the Bible suddenly became? You sat on the edge of your chair. The time flew by. You took notes. You wanted to know what kind of Bible the teacher or preacher was using so you could get one like it. You couldn’t wait to come back for another round. Yeah, you remember. Something came alive inside of you. Then you did something really crazy. You went out and applied some of what you had heard. And God honored your active faith. Your faith intersected with his faithfulness and your confidence in God got bigger. Practical teaching that moves people to action is one of the primary things God uses to grow our faith.
Fortunately for me, I grew up in a church where this was the norm. I would sit week after week and listen to my dad teach the application of Scripture to my everyday life. Often I was sitting in the back of the balcony and there were a few Sundays as a teenager that I was sitting at the Varsity. For those of you not familiar with Atlanta, the Varsity is the world’s largest drive-in restaurant. It also has rooms where you can watch TV and eat hot dogs. It was ahead of its time. The Varsity is about five blocks from where First Baptist Church of Atlanta used to be. Back in the ‘70s, my dad was on live TV on Sunday mornings. So Louie Giglio and I would sneak out of Sunday school and head down to the Varsity for “church.” Church consisted of Louie, an assorted number of winos sleeping off their Saturday night, and me. I’d climb up on a chair and switch the channel to my dad’s program (the winos were in no shape to argue). We thought of it as evangelism. We would eat and watch TV and then on the way home I could talk about the sermon and my dad would think I had been there. But whether I was watching from the back row of the balcony or the Varsity, my dad showed me that teaching the Word of God wasn’t about knowing stuff; it was about doing stuff. And the impact of that exploded my faith, as well as the faith of thousands of other people.
That being the case, our messages and lesson preparations are not complete until we know what we want our audiences to do with what they are about to hear. To grow our congregants’ faith, we must preach and teach for life change.
Here’s something else you should know. Unchurched, unbelieving people are attracted to communicators who have here’s what to do next tacked on the end of their messages. This is true even when they don’t agree with or understand the premise of what we are talking about. Either way, they like it when we give ‘em something to do. Here’s why.
And this is very important.
People are far more interested in what works than what’s true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no here’s the difference it will make tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you.
Now, that may be discouraging. Especially the fact that you are one of the few who is actually on a quest for truth. And, yes, it is unfortunate that people aren’t
more like you in that regard. But that’s the way it is. It’s pointless to resist. If you try, you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won’t make an iota of a difference in this world. And your kids … more than likely your kids, are going to confuse your church with the church, and once they are out of your house, they probably won’t visit the church house. Then one day they will show up in a church like mine and want to get baptized again because they won’t be sure the first one took. And I’ll be happy to pastor your kids. But I would rather you face the reality of the world we live in and adjust your sails. Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go. If people are more interested in being happy, then play to that. Jesus did.
You’ve studied the Sermon on the Mount. Surely you know that the term Jesus uses over and over in the opening lines of what was perhaps his earliest sermon can be (some say should be) translated happy. But even if you are more comfortable with the term blessed, think about what Jesus does at the beginning of his message. Who doesn’t want to be blessed? Favored? Fortunate? He plays to their human nature, their desire for happiness. Their I-wanna-be-blessed quest. And then, one by one, he challenges their most basic assumptions about … well, about everything! Even the way they prayed. Jesus’ instructions to his first-century audience were so specific. So extreme. We are still wrestling with them today. Wrestling with. That means we don’t actually do them, we just talk about ‘em a lot.
Stanley, A. (2012). Deep and wide: creating churches unchurched people love to attend. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.