Andy Stanley spoke to pastors and teachers at the NewSpring Leadership Conference (NLC) last Thursday about the "one question" he is asked all the time: How do you preach to unbelievers and Christians at the same time during church services?
"It's really your approach, and not your content, that determines how well that you engage unchurched people," said Stanley. Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul were "amazing" at this, he says, which is why they are profound but also seem to be confusing at times, because their message stayed the same but their approach often changed.
Most preachers have "inherited" an approach to ministry and preaching, Stanley says, but they must be careful not to let their approach turn off unbelieving listeners to their otherwise good message.
"If we're not willing to adjust our sails and adjust our approach, you can spend your entire life ... telling the truth and driving people away from it at the same time," he said.
In order to take a better approach to preaching when non-Christians are present, Stanley encouraged pastors to acknowledge from the pulpit that there are people in their church services who don't believe in what is being taught. He also told pastors to "choose a passage of Scripture and stick with it," so as not to confuse unbelievers who aren't familiar with the Bible.
While those suggestions seem easy to implement, he openly acknowledged that some of his other suggestions are more difficult to accept for some pastors and teachers. One such suggestion was his argument that pastors should "intentionally give unbelievers permission not to believe and not to obey."
"Non-Christians aren't supposed to obey the Bible," he said. "We'd love for them to ... But when you preach broadly and you don't differentiate, what unchurched people hear is judgment."
He also encouraged pastors to stop using the phrase "the Bible says" in sermons, because it creates a "house of cards" that is easy to knock down. When students go into freshman English class and they are taught that Adam and Eve are just a myth, for example, their entire view of faith could come crumbling down if their faith is dependent on the Bible as a whole and not on the resurrection alone.
"We do not believe Jesus rose from the dead because Adam and Eve were literal, physical people ... The basis of Christianity is not all the difficult to believe parts of the Old Testament, but as long as we present to our children and to our generation it's all or nothing, that's almost impossible to defend," said Stanley.
So what is his suggested approach? Don't cite the Bible, cite its authors. The authors of the New Testament were either present or knew people who were present to see Jesus Christ killed and resurrected, so point to their testimony and not the scriptures as a whole.
"You know why I believe in the resurrection? Not because of the B-I-B-L-E. Because Matthew saw it, Mark talked to somebody who saw it, Luke interviewed a whole bunch of people who saw it, John saw it, Peter saw it, James saw it ... I don't know what happened to dinosaurs, and I don't know anything about Adam and Eve, but I believe Jesus rose from the dead, and when you start believing Jesus rose from the dead, you're going to take the Old Testament a lot more seriously," said Stanley.
NLC, a one-day leadership event that was attended by over 2,300 people and featured some of the nation's most influential preachers, was held at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C. While many well-known speakers addressed leaders at the event, it would not have been a success without the help of the approximately 400 volunteers that helped make it run smoothly.
The Christian Post spoke with several NewSpring volunteers – including a doctor and an engineer – who took a day off work just to have the opportunity to serve at the event.
Scooter Barnwell, who served as a greeter during the event, is a college student who took the day off from classes in order to serve at his church. One of his professors questioned his priorities, he says, but most of them were accepting of his decision to miss class.
"I can't get away from the cross and just how good Jesus is," said Barnwell. "The fact that he would forgive and take my sins and give me the chance to do something like this, and then give me a desire to do it, I just can't help but serve people."
Andy Stanley is the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., which he founded in 1995 and has since grown into five churches in the Atlanta area and a network of more than 30 partner churches around the world.