(This is post No.3 on the practice of proclaiming the gospel. Please don’t read this post if you have not read post 1, and post 2)
In the Great Giveaway I wrote a chapter entitled “The Myth of Expository Preaching: Why We Must Do More Than Wear Scrolls On Our Foreheads.” I admit I still love that title. It gets across the idea that preaching is much more than presenting “accurate” Biblical information that Christians can “apply” to their lives with the hopes of improving as Christians. This kind of preaching is a mechanical exercise. It puts the hearer in charge “over” the Word, not in submission to the Word under the Lordship of Christ. That’s bad, because when I am in charge of what I’m hearing, transformation rarely happens.
Instead, preaching the Gospel should set into motion a dynamic whereby the Holy Spirit inhabits the arena of two or more people, the preacher and the hearer. In this arena, there is a mutual practice of listening and proclaiming, testing and responding. We discern the Spirit together. There must always be a response.
The weekly gathering should be an excellent training-ground for this listening-responding dynamic to the Gospel. Here, as we gather to hear the gospel proclaimed, we learn how to listen every day for God in our everyday lives in and through Scripture. We in essence learn what proclaiming Gospel looks like for the times when the Spirit prompts us to proclaim the Gospel into people’s lives as we live in the neighborhood.
In order for the Sunday gathering to be the training ground for every Christian to be proclaimers of the gospel (be involved in this same dynamic throughout the week) we need the following elements in our preaching at the gathering (this is how I see preaching happening at Life on the Vine).
1.) Mutual submission. When we gather, we come to submit to the Word, to refuse to analyze, criticize, take notes, filter etc. We recognize this is the arena of the Holy Spirit. We must learn this posture, the posturing of our-selves to hear. So the preacher begins his preaching with the prayer of mutuality: “The Lord be with you” and the community responds “also with you.” There’s no proclamation without a submission to the work of the Holy Spirit. That is the Kingdom. We need to practice this here together, so we can do it regularly in everyday life.
2.) Connection. We must connect intimately by listening to what is happening with one another in our lives. We must connect. The preacher must be present as a real person in the midst of the people. (This cannot happen in a video venue church). The community must also be present. At Life on the Vine, we start out with a story, a means to describe the reality we’re all dealing with. The preacher in one sense becomes vulnerable. The preacher describes the reality he/she sees that we’re all dealing with. Then the preacher has a question for the community. We have a dialogue between preacher and hearers. The preacher listens. This mimics the posture that goes on in everyday life between our neighbors and us. There’s no proclamation without connection. We need to practice this here together, so we can do it regularly in everyday life.
3.) The gospel proclaimed. The gospel is then proclaimed. It is good news that God has come in Jesus Christ to set things right. He reigns. Will we live under this reign? Will we participate in His salvation? The preacher describes out of the text the world as it is under Jesus as Lord. This world must be unfolded, described as revealed in a text. It must be preached over the specific context.
The gospel is not just one particular version (4 spiritual laws, Roman Road etc). This version certainly applied so well to so many across the West from the Reformation on to the territories of Western Christendom But there is now so much more awareness of the full orbit of the good news: that God has fulfilled His promise to make the world right through Jesus. Jesus has become Lord and God is reconciling the world to Himself through the person, work of Jesus Christ on the cross, resurrection and His current reign. Preaching (proclaiming the gospel) communicates this gospel so that it makes sense out of our context. Proclaiming goes from the text’s reality to our reality making it possible to see Jesus as Lord at work. By the Holy Spirit, we now see things we could not see before.
Every “sermon” therefore must provide a clear proclamation/declaration of the reality that Jesus is Lord over against the counter stories we are fed each minute of our lives in the world. It is a declaration. Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing! (Luke 4). This is really true! This is reality! At Life on the Vine the preacher will often start a sentence “And so this morning, we declare …,” “On the basis of Scripture today, we proclaim …” In this way, proclaiming the gospel is a “reality-defining,” “reality-creating” event.
4.) The invitation. With every proclamation there is an invitation of sorts. “Repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). The reality of the good news is the Kingdom in Christ has begun, Jesus is Lord and Savior. The question is will we by faith enter in? Will we by the Spirit participate in the making of all things new? The preacher/proclaimer must invite in. Such an invitation can never be coercive. It is always out of a posture of mutual submission, a witness of humility. If the proclamation is certain, the invitation is humble.
5.) Response. Lastly there must be some space for response: a time to respond to what we have just heard. We must learn how to make space in our own lives to respond to God. In the every day activity of our lives, we must take time to be quiet, respond and pray. Sometimes there will be a response of faith – I will take step of obedience in my life, a confession of sin, an affirmation of God’s truth, an act of praise and thanksgiving, a prayer of submission of some circumstance into God’s working (Kingdom). At Life on the Vine, at the end of the sermon, before we go to the Table, the preacher gives us a one-line prayer to guide the response where we fill in the blank. It is a precious time of people around the Table praying and responding to what God has been saying. It is better than an altar call. We are all encouraged. During this time, I have been witness to so much of what God is doing among us. Of course, some of our preachers have used other means for responses but I won’t go into that right now.
In summary, I believe we have lost the art of proclaiming the gospel in our Christian culture. We have turned preaching into a performance. The congregation has been pacified. We settle for a good communicator who can smoothly deliver some excellent “teaching” with some humor. He or she got the congregation through another sermon and kept us interested. This we consider a major accomplishment. Sometimes the congregants leave with some good notes on things we’ve got to work on. If done often enough, this kind of preaching turns into a works righteousness mentality. Rarely are we changed by the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives right then and there. Probably most disturbing of all, we have lost the practice of proclaiming gospel for our everyday lives as we live among the world which desperately needs the gospel proclaimed. I believe it is of singular importance for the missional churches of tomorrow to recapture the proclamation of the gospel.