“God Used You To Destroy My World”: Preaching and Spiritual Formation

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Below is a repeat post from early last year after the Super Bowl. It gets at an issue I’ll be addressing in some depth at this year’s Ecclesia National Gathering: How preaching changes when we see the Bible as a Grand Drama rather than a “text.”

A couple years ago now we had a large group over to our house for the Super Bowl. I ended up sitting with a lot of people in a room where there was no TV. I think we talked all night. I didn’t see one play of the football game (the Hamilton Tiger Cats weren’t playing). I end up sitting with this guy named George (name changed to protect the innocent) and we started talking about preaching.

He says to me the following on the difference between preaching at Life on the Vine and other churches he’s been to.

“When I’ve been at other churches, I walk away saying “that is something I need to work on for my Christian life … At the Vine, I am confronted with a reality that I see I am not quite there yet and I’m invited to enter. I feel the tension. I can’t go there yet. I’m not ready. Yet I have to respond.”

Then he said,  “and when we have the communal response … it is so painful … because I know if I pray it out loud, if I respond and put it out there is words  … things have forever changed …”

All this was unprovoked and fascinating for me to listen to. It illustrates for me the difference between teaching and preaching. Teaching is informational. We are digging into the backgrounds of texts, the meanings of words, explaining what the text means in terms of its original context.  It is heavy with information. Preaching is proclamation. It declares the truth of God in Christ. It proclaims the reality of Jesus as Lord over us as we submit and what that means for our lives right here and right now. And then we are invited into that reality. It is the Kingdom breaking in by the work of the Spirit. And we, if we hear God speaking to us, we have to respond to Him. At the Vine, there is always a time after our preaching when we respond, most often in prayers of the people when we are given a liturgical prayer to fill in the blank for.  Being in the midst of those prayers is an oasis of the Spirit. It always reminds me of the words of Paul – if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The “being saved” that is happening here in this meeting room after we have just heard the Word proclaimed is the whole entering into the reality (gospel) that God is working in the world. This is why preaching can be God’s instrument to transform the world.

There is always the awkward moment when I meet people after the Sunday gathering just after I have preached. People don’t really know what to say. But I confess, one of the things that makes me cringe is when some one says “I really enjoyed your sermon.” Ouch. I know what they mean. I should be more gracious. And they are being incredibly encouraging. Yet, when they say this this, it reminds me too much of Zizek’s dictum (I’ve read too much Zizek I know) that saying “I enjoy my religion” implies I mustn’t take it too seriously. Instead we are “enjoying” it, keeping it at a distance, so as to not let it endanger my life. This distance is subtle. It was what George was describing so skillfully above. I think classical expository preaching, that focuses on information, borderlines on providing this distance. I think that’s ironic because I think it was originally devised to keep the preaching as close to the Word of God as possible. I wrote a whole chapter on this dynamic in the Great Giveaway many years ago. In the process it informationalized preaching. Gave us an excuse to say “hmmm, that is something I have to work on in my Christian life.” And so we never get to it.

For all these reasons, I much prefer telling the preacher after the gathering:  “Thank-you, God really used you to destroy my world” (versus “I really enjoyed your sermon”). If someone would say that to me, I would also have to confess that I have been destroyed as well and need to trust in Jesus as Lord to do His work in us. I confess I have had my world destroyed more than a few times at Life on the Vine gatherings, by the sermon in worship. And it’s been good.

What do you think about all this? What would you prefer to say to the preacher (or have said to you after you’ve preached?) Is there something to be learned from George about the way we preach?

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6 responses to ““God Used You To Destroy My World”: Preaching and Spiritual Formation

  1. I wish I could come op with an honest remark about a teaching/preaching that wouldn’t elevate the preacher, but would rather elevate God and what is being done in my own heart, or how I feel it is applicable to the community. The struggle I notice is the need to know that your work as a pastor is making a difference. I’d rather the pastor feel and see this impact while working in the streets and people’s homes than from an aftermath as a result of the stage on Sunday (or whatever day the community comes together to celebrate Christ and edify one another). Does that mean I should say nothing? I’m not sure, but I invite the pastor to invite me to work alongside Christ. That is where we will see honest feed back from the wisdom we attain and apply.

    1. Eric,I’m not quite sure what you’re saying. I think I get the sentiment. Despite all my numerous writings that chasten the excessive role preaching plays in ways you talk about, I still believe “proclamation” is central to the formation of communal life in mission. I’m going to post some more on this next Monday.

    2. “What would you prefer to say to the preacher (or have said to you after you’ve preached?)”
      I fully agree with you, proclamation is vital to a communities growth and understand of God’s truth (there is power in learning together). I guess I was trying to get at the motivation for a preacher/pastor to receive or desire feed back from the congregation within and hr, to 24 hrs, or within a week span of a message and it’s over with. What do you think? Should the community be responsible to give verbal feed back? I believe and understand it is important for a pastor to feel supported and to know their work is creating a difference. Most pastoral problems are created by a lack of support and accountability. My prayer would be that pastors would feel affirmed by Christ, scripture, and the community, but if a pastor were to receive no feed back on a message what would this do to his or her morale? I lead musical and non musical worship so I can relate to a degree. I have much to learn on the subject. I’m looking forward to your next post!


  2. Whether one calls it preaching or teaching, it should be speaking the truth so that obedience is produced. If that can be done by parsing a Greek verb, then more power to the “proclaimer.” Obviously, some sort of application, action and transformation should be in view. Read an article this morning entitled “Have Christians Lost the Culture Wars?” Not sure God’s people should even be involved in the culture wars, let alone win them. But from the observations of the article, what is being done to prepare them to participate in restoring God’s kingdom is NOT very effective. Comparing the reputation of Christians in the first century ( “behold how they love one another” ) with their reputation now should make that pretty obvious.
    Which I think means for the most part I agree with you. Granted I seem to be coming from the left field bleachers.

  3. David
    You ask…
    “What do you think about all this? What would you prefer to say to the preacher.”

    How about – Hey Preache; How come you did ALL the Teaching – Preaching – Talking?
    Hey Preacher; How come, others, the whole body, did NOT Participate?

    Then, you won’t have to cringe “when some one says “I really enjoyed your sermon.”“
    Jesus, the “ONE” Teacher, The “ONE” Leader, The “ONE” Shepherd…
    Would get ALL the credit.

    Seems Paul did some Teaching that ALL can and are expected to Participate. 😉

    1 Cor 14:26 KJV
    How is it then, brethren? when ye come together,
    **every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine,**
    hath a tongue, **hath a revelation,** hath an interpretation.
    Let all things be done unto edifying.

    In my experience with “Today’s Religious Systems” it is evident that…

    Paid – Professional – Pastors – in Pulpits – Preaching – to People – in Pews…

    Prevent – Public – Participation – and – Promote – Passive – Pew – Potatoes….

    Procuring – Power – Profit – Prestige – for the Prevailing – Parsing – Pastor…

    Presiding over – Polite Pawns to – Pray – Pay – Stay – and – Obey… 😉

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