Monday, October 15, 2007

Sermon Question 5: Why are So Many Sermons Evangelistic in Focus?

Why are so many sermons primarily evangelistic?

When the church gathers, the vast majority of the people are either saved or at least think they are saved. Those who are saved certainly do not need to hear primarily evangelistic sermons. Those who believe they are saved, but in fact are not, have already heard the gospel so many times in church that they are highly unlikely to respond to it in that setting. If they were ever to accept the gospel, it would probably be outside the church building.

There certainly is a place for evangelism inside and outside the gathering of the body. Whenever I preach, I try to take some time to explain the beauty of the gospel. However, it is not my primary focus when speaking to the church. Sometimes I just make a short reference to the gospel if the biblical text I am preaching from is not directly related to it.

In the bible, I don't see people coming to Christ when the church assembles. Rather, it appears to me that the church is supposed to take the gospel out to the world by living it out and proclaiming it verbally. Matthew 5:14-16 says, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (ESV)

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, spoke mostly about living out the Christian life. He was speaking to people who certainly did not understand fully what he had come to earth to accomplish. In light of that, it seems foolish for preachers to proclaim evangelistic messages to people in the pews who already know and believe what Jesus accomplished.

I'm speaking mostly from a Southern Baptist (SBC) background because that is where I have spent the past 11 years. Most SBC churches are currently plateaued or declining in number. My personal experience is also that many SBC churches are fairly shallow in doctrine once you get past the gospel. Please do not misunderstand me. The gospel is critical. Without it, nothing else in the Christian life matters.

SBC churches, for the most part, do not need another sermon on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The members of the body need, rather, sermons that focus on issues such as personal holiness, marriage and family, prayer, servanthood, and the biblical functioning of the church.

Our SBC churches need spiritual depth. I imagine most churches outside the SBC also need spiritual depth. One great way for this to take place is for the preacher (assuming it is one person because in most churches it usually is), to preach through books of the bible. He will then be forced to preach about topics that might not be his favorites. In this manner, he will cover a much broader range of issues. This will, in turn, strengthen the church.

Let's keep the gospel at the center of the church. Let's not keep the gospel the sole focus of the church.

15 comments:

Corey Reynolds said...

Interesting, your thoughts go in the same direction as my own. I just posted some thoughts on the invitation system over at my blog.

tenjuices said...

you hit the nail on the head. I thought I was gonna walk the aisle in preaching class just so we could say after 300 evangelistic sermons that someone got saved... I think the Spirit stopped me though.

Alan Knox said...

Ed,

I was humming "Just as I am" and praying for your salvation after every one of those sermons... well, except mine and yours and Eric's sermons. :)

-Alan

Eric said...

Corey,

I just read your post and really liked it. What a relief it would be to just rid ourselves of the invitation.

Eric said...

Ed (ten),

I wish you had come forward during preaching class. That might have shown some of the "invitation crowd" just how silly it has become.

Eric said...

Alan,

How have our churches gotten to this point? The invitation has become a sacred-cow that needs to be butchered.

tenjuices said...

WOW. I can't believe you said that about the sacred cow. Never happens.

Richard Boyce said...

When I witness and present the Gospel, I have the audacity to leave the prayer aspect out of it. Took me a bit to get rid of the guilty feeling.

There are two things that pluck my nerves:

Preachers demanding everyone in the congregation to come down to the altar (because no one can talk with God where they stand/sit);

People thinking that you can't possibly present the Gospel without the prayer at the end.


Faith is what saves...at the moment of belief a person is justified...so technically the person is born-again before they open their mouth...ergo, I'll leave the prayer out of it so as to avoid more Matthew 7 'converts'.

Anyways, nice article.

I appreciate your acknowledgment that without the Gospel, nothing else matters. I agree though, the Church is for growth and worship...not necessarily evangelism.

Eric said...

Richard,

Thanks for the comments. It sounds like we are thinking along the same lines.

I find it ironic that on the one hand our SBC churches are worried about having unsaved church members, but on the other hand they continue to have a drawn out, emotionally-based invitations. Hmmmm. I wonder if there could be any connection between the two?

You are right to say that justification comes at the moment of faith. I wonder when and where the "sinner's prayer" came from.

Eric

Joe Blackmon said...

I totally agree that the church needs sound Biblical expository preaching. People need to have a hunger and thrist for God's word and I think the preacher, in the way he preaches, can go a long way in cultivating that love of Scripture. There are SO many SBC churches, though, where the idea of pastor preaching sequential exposition for longer than a few months would seem odd to the congregation. We need to pray for pastors to be bold and faithful expositors of the word of God.

Richard Boyce said...

I think that opening the altar isn't itself inappropriate...but here's the problem:

1. Should the church wait in silence while one person kneels at the altar?

2. Should they sing while encouraging more to come, which simply compounds problem number 1?

3. Perhaps the altar should be in a different room so that church can still let out without interfering with said person?



Altar calls are....weird. Reckon I'll have to cross that bridge if I come to it in my ministry.


As to the sinner's prayer, I think Billy Graham is the one who brought it en vogue. That, and Bright's "4 spiritual laws and a prayer". I can't find it in scripture.


One of my blog articles begins with this:

"One of the most damnable heresies you’ll ever hear is that if you ask God to come into your heart and save you, He definitely will. Let me repeat myself: that God will save you just because you say the sinner’s prayer is a lie."


Should make for some interesting reading, huh?

I like the New Tribes approach. Start with Genesis, leave out the magic prayer. Sure does make things simpler.

Eric said...

Joe,

Thanks for your comment.

I think many of our churches lack a taste for God's word because they have never been exposed to systematic teaching, book by book. I guess all we can do is preach and teach, text by text.

Eric said...

Richard,

I think most of us would agree that the farther we get away from the biblical model, the more problems we will run into. There are no altar calls in scripture, so no wonder they seem so weird. There are no "sinner's prayers" in scripture; therefore, they lead to problems.

As for New Tribes, I like them also. It is interesting that we (evangelicals in general) seem to be doing good work overseas with storying through the bible beginning with Genesis. Why aren't we doing that here?

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Between yourself,Alan and others, I'm almost persuaded to emigrate. What hair is left is the wrong color now, and the joints too creaky. Oh, well! I can dream.

Eric said...

John,

Thanks again for the compliment. I really hope these types of ideas will, with the blessing of the Lord, lead to some substantive changes within at least some of our churches.

Tradition certainly is difficult to overcome.

Eric