Preaching is the greatest tool a pastor has in his church. Nothing else comes close. Pastoral care is important. Small groups are crucial. Nothing compares to preaching though.
If your church were a ship, preaching would be the rudder – it’s what moves the church. No matter how big a ship is, it needs a rudder. No matter how big your church gets, it needs a rudder as well.
Since so much hangs on the balance of your preaching, you better know why you are doing it. Everything hangs on you understanding that. To do that, you need to keep in mind God’s purpose for man and God’s purpose for his Word.
First, take a look at God’s purpose for man. Paul tells us what that is in Romans 8:28-29 (NLT): “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters.”
God wants us to be like Jesus. That’s his purpose for every person on the planet. And it isn’t Plan B. It’s been his purpose from the creation of the earth. In Genesis 1:26 (NIV), God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”
Until you understand that God’s purpose for us is to make us more like Jesus, you’re not ready to preach. The goal of our preaching should be to help people become more like Jesus.
But what does it mean to be more like Jesus? God wants us to be more like him in three ways:
1. How we think (convictions)
2. How we feel (character)
3. How we act (conduct)
How does God create Christlikeness? Through his Word. The Bible tells us in James 1:23-25 (NIV): “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”
Notice this Scripture says we are to look intently at the Word, not forget it, and then do it. That’s a big problem for most of our churches. We look intently at the Word of God, then we forget it and don’t do it. When you get all three, that’s when God’s blessing comes.
Unfortunately, most pastors use a method that encourages people to look at God’s Word, then forget it and not do it. People are being informed but not transformed. It’s the number one problem in our churches. George Gallup has said it this way: “Never before in the history of the United States has the Gospel of Jesus Christ made such inroads while at the same time making so little difference in how people actually live.”
The purpose of God’s Word
But the problem isn’t the people, it’s the preaching. To fix the problem, we’ve got to better understand the purpose of preaching. To better understand the purpose of preaching, we need to better understand the purpose of God’s Word.
Whenever you bring up the purpose of God’s Word, people will inevitably turn to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which of course spells it out. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NKJV).
Unfortunately, people usually stop way too soon when interpreting this verse. When asked about the purpose of God’s Word, they simply say for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. That’s not all the verses say. Notice the end. Paul tells us that Scripture has been given for all of those reasons “so that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The purpose of Scripture is to change our character (“be complete”) and our conduct (“thoroughly equipped for every good work”). Since that’s the purpose of God’s Word, that’s what our goal should be when we preach the Word as well.
How do you help people change their character and conduct through preaching? One word – application. That’s where life change happens. Most classically trained pastors have been taught to center their messages around the interpretation of the Word. Their method makes interpretation an end in itself and just leaves application to the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, the result of application-less preaching is that our churches are half full and financially strapped. Our country’s morals are going down the drain. And Christians act no different than non-Christians. They get divorced at the same rate as their non-Christian friends, and Christian singles are sleeping with one another.
Pastors, that’s a preaching problem. God is clear in the book of Isaiah when he says that his Word will not come back void. And it won’t. But we look around at what’s happening in our churches and it seems as if his Word is coming back void. People say that we need to make the Bible relevant. Baloney. The Bible is relevant. The best way to be relevant is to be eternal – and that’s the Bible. What’s irrelevant is how we’re sharing it.
You have the most important task on the planet when you share God’s Word with people each week. Make that time count. Nothing will influence your church more. Your goal is none other than changed lives. Make a commitment to preach in a way that’s consistent with God’s purpose for man and his purpose for his Word. That’s how you change lives.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved