Friday, July 22, 2011

Sermons and spiritual growth

From many sources we are told that the key to spiritual growth is more expository teaching and preaching.  Preachers that are faithful in continuing this practice are praised for their hard work and encouraged by their peers into believing that the lack of growth in the body is not their fault.  They press one another to continue in this work because it is the primary means for building up the body.  So pastors are trained how to interpret the scriptures and how to build a flawless outline complete with perfectly sound, reasonable arguments in order to have an effective sermon.
Is this God's design?

Here is how Paul addressed the Corinthians:

and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1Cor 2:4-5

Okay, okay so the preacher is going to say "the power of God works through the plausible words of wisdom so that God gets the glory and not man."  I get that but Paul says "my speech and my message WERE NOT IN plausible words..."  seems to me that not only did Paul recognize God's power to be the seed of faith but that he purposefully avoided cleverly devised arguments so that there was no question.  In fact just prior to this Paul describes how he proclaimed the gospel.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 1Cor 2:1-3.

He then goes on to talk about wisdom revealed through the Spirit.  The wisdom revealed through the Spirit is contrasted with the plausible words of wisdom.  They are not the same.
It begs the question of our acceptable form of teaching to build up the body when that form is contrasted with the power of God through the Spirit.  One could conclude that expository preaching is not only ineffective for spiritual growth as evidenced by the lack of growth within the body but it greatly strengthens that argument to see Paul here saying that wisdom from God does not come from plausible arguments but directly from the Spirit of God through weakness and trembling.

A year ago I would have been up in arms over an argument like this.  Now, I have absolutely no desire to sit quietly and listen to some gifted speaker talk for an hour on a passage of scripture.  My how a lot has changed.  Does that mean I have left my primary means of growing spiritually?  No, spiritual growth does not come from that.  What comes from that is better knowledge of the scriptures, a firmer grasp on the doctrines taught, and a heightened ability to make our own plausible arguments when we go into the world.  An unregenerate person could do the very same thing.  That is not the same thing as spiritual growth.    
Spiritual growth comes from the Spirit and that will be the subject of my next post.


  1. Good thoughts here man. I've struggled with exactly what type/form of preaching is most effective in terms of deepening faith--obviously via the power of the Spirit. Here's where I've landed and thus feel convicted because I've experienced a good bit of inner turmoil and some mouth ulcers over this.

    I've tried to get away from verse-by-verse exposition of the text and gone more the way of "what's the principle here" type preaching. It's somewhat necessary because of the particular flock God has me over at this point.

    However, were I to plant a church or take a church to pastor, I would make it my heartfelt goal each week to show the richness and beauty and glory of Christ and God preaching through books of the Bible. In doing so, it's still possible not to do a running commentary for an hour--that I don't like my friend, and I've heard it done. I don't like guys who ramble for 50 minutes taking every rabbit trail that comes to mind.

    But if we can open the phrases and structures of particular passages and people see the richness of the text and that it DOES speak into their lives, then I believe we preach for transformation in that very moment and at the same time, equip people to read the Scriptures on their own as well...which is what lacks on a ridiculous level currently.

  2. Patrick,

    I can see the value in both ways of preaching (verse by verse exposition and drawing on principles). I think it's good that you "consider" the best way to edify the body you oversee rather than sticking with what many advocate as the "only way" to preach.

    I've found it to be a principle in my own journey that I never really learn and make a truth my own until I share it with others via either speaking or writing. In my mind that puts preaching at the mercy of "one anothering" that preached word before it results in spiritual growth.

    Have you found that to be true for you as well?

  3. Bobby,

    I completely agree with your last statement about making a truth your own by sharing it in some form with others.

    I've always seen preaching, that traditional speech from the pulpit by the local pastor, as more of a "teaching" time. As Patrick says, it can be a time where the text of the Bible is opened up, and the Holy Spirit can use that time to shed illumination on concepts and ideas that Christians need to understand. Its also useful to help the local church body maintain a unity of mission and purpose, if you will.

    But real Christian growth is done an the very small, individual level. Discipleship is a one on one, or very small group, thing. And it's done by example and leadership out of a Christ-centered, humble, servant heart, dying and suffering to help another understand the wonderful, awesome, glorious grace of God.

    Wise, well crafted, plausible arguments do have their place in developing disciples. After all, it was Paul who wrote both the words you quoted, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified", and the book of Romans, perhaps the most studious, well crafted, scholarly argument for The Faith that anyone has ever written in history.

    I think Paul makes the point, good teaching and preaching have their place in God's design to reveal himself to the world. But good teaching or preaching, no matter good it is, is ineffective without one on one discipleship where people get to see and practice God's love in our lives.


As in a biblical church gathering, my word is not complete or final. Participation is allowed, encouraged and expected. Please, don't leave without adding something.