Preacher, talk me into it

July 11th, 2016

Marketers have found my number — my cell phone number, that is. “Rachel from cardholder services” and several other sellers and possible scammers call to tell me that I’ve been especially chosen to receive a “wonderful” offer.

Those calls are wasted on me, however, because I regard any contact from a marketer that I did not initiate with suspicion and as an unwelcome intrusion. And I have standard response: I say nothing and disconnect. Then, I add their number to my phone’s auto reject list, which, thankfully, is causing a drop in the number of unwanted calls I receive.

I have a high resistance to marketing come-ons. I’m not going to let them talk me into something I don’t want.

But I don’t bring that resistance to church with me. I’ve experienced some high and holy moments in church. I’d heard some correction and fresh direction from God in church. I’ve sometimes come away with a renewed determination to love my neighbor as I love myself. As a follower of Jesus, I want to hear from the Lord, and because of that, I arrive at church each week with an openness I never have toward marketers. In fact, I come willing to be “talked into” something. And I suspect a lot of others who come feel similarly.

God has spoken to me in church through various means: At times it was through the music, the prayers, the fellowship, or the total in-church experience. Frequently, it was the sermon that crystalized what I needed to hear — sometimes even when I was the one delivering it, for there was often an element of preaching to myself.

Now retired, I sit under the preaching of others, and I’m frequently impressed by the depth and faithfulness of what I’m hearing from the pulpit. I am surprised, however, by how often preachers don’t tell us in the pews what they want us to do with what they’ve presented. An earlier generation of pulpiteers called this “preaching for decision,” but I suppose we’ve become leery of that language because it was so often associated with altar calls and invitations to “come forward” to receive Christ. That particular practice may seem out of place when we are preaching to same group of people week after week, but the idea of connecting what’s been heard in the sermon with some recommended change in behavior, attitude, outlook, or application is not at all out of place. In fact, it should be expected. Do we want people leaving the service to remain neutral to the claims of scripture?

Perhaps the place to begin is with the statement of purpose our homiletics professors told us to write for our sermons after we have studied the biblical text for the week. There’s a big difference between, for example, “To explain what the kingdom of God is,” and “To help hearers embrace hope because of the kingdom of God.” The first is proposal for an essay; the second is a plan for a sermon. The second can be made even better by adding “by,” as in “To help hearers embrace hope because of the kingdom of God by _____,” and filling in the blank with an action plan: “... by saying ______” or “by asking hearers to _____” or “by urging worshipers to _____” or even “by handing out paper and having hearers write down how they can apply this truth to their own situation.” Or something else.

One preacher I know tells his congregation that at the end of every sermon they should ask “Yeah, but so what?” In fact, he often puts “YBSW?” in the bulletin to remind people to do just that. And in each sermon, he gives some specific suggestions for applying what he’s just presented.

So preachers, if the Lord has laid a message on your heart, not only tell us in the pews what it is, but do your best to talk us into doing something good with it — good for the kingdom of God and our own walk with Christ.

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