Engage the Word: Can the Gospel Be Preached?
As our church moves into the Engage the Word series we invite you to Pray, Read, Reflect, and Respond. On Sundays we want the worship experiences, including the sermon, to evoke a God-moment in you. But if that’s all that happens, it won’t make much of a difference…
I was part of a great conversation today about making progress in our life journey. We were looking at inspiring moments of special insight or revelation that either changed our lives or remained just moments. That led to a discussion of the role we can play in those outcomes. If we talked about it with someone else, reflected on it, made a plan, had someone hold us accountable, and actually worked on it, we probably produced some results which made it more than a moment. The moment became a life-changing catalyst.
This got me thinking about preaching. How many people have inspiring moments while listening to a sermon? Across the ages there have easily been billions of moments full of inspiration. Of course we need to filter for fleeting moments that aren’t even really of God. But if a fair percentage of what remained really bore fruit, the world would probably be a different place. This is what is so thrilling, terrifying, and fragile about preaching.
In Romans 1:1 the Apostle Paul says he was “set apart for the gospel”. In verse 5 he says his calling is “to bring about the obedience of faith…”. In vv 16-17 Paul says “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith…as it is written, the one who is righteous will live by faith.” (NRSV) The gospel is meant to bring about obedience that comes from faith, producing a righteous life that is lived out in faith.
Preaching alone cannot produce all of that. Sitting and listening to sermons and going back to life as usual doesn’t accomplish much of this either. Preaching can boldly proclaim the truth about God’s transforming grace. Preaching can invite us to respond to grace, living into this new reality in the power of the Holy Spirit. But something more must be in place. The goal of the preacher cannot just be to perform well. The goal of the preacher can be to bring about the obedience of faith… The Holy Spirit takes mere words and can create a moment of insight for people and prompt them to obey. But without a space to share the insight, make a plan, and be encouraged to see it through, the Christian may not fully experience the righteousness of God. And it may not change their world.
Preaching is very important as a catalyst. But without a discipleship structure a sermon is asked to do more than it can. And the results will not be measurable. Can the gospel be preached? Well, certainly a grace-infused vision of it can be. And the Holy Spirit can empower those words creating moments of opportunity. So we must preach. But we also must teach people who can teach others how to help each other truly respond with our lives. Nothing can replace the power of intentional community. Here, good news proclaimed becomes good news embodied becomes a transformed life.
God can do all that. At NewHope we believe in the Radical Optimism of Grace. And we believe in preaching. But we believe in the fullness of the gospel. And this can only be lived with others.
What can we have in place to help people take the next steps? We want you to check out small groups where you can explore with others how these moments make a real difference. May you do more than listen to sermons. May you experience more than just Bible readings. May you experience the gospel. May your life be transformed in-community. May your world never be the same…