The Transforming Power of the Word of GodAugust 18th, 2022
I began my ministry in the mountains of North Georgia. I was the classic circuit riding preacher. I had four churches which were scattered across the county. I would drive one direction for an 8:30 service. After that service was complete, I would jump in the car and drive across the county to arrive at a 9:30 service which was already in progress. After preaching there, I would again get in my car and drive to another part of the county and preach at 11:00. In the evening I would preach at yet another church to complete the Sunday circuit.
All four of the churches were completely different. One church was filled with college educated professionals who had moved from Atlanta to retire in the mountains. Another church was filled with local farmers who had not finished high school and yet had worked the land for many generations. Yet another church was a “family” church. We had 75 members and, remarkably, 73 out of the 75 were blood related to one another. The fourth church was filled with merchants who served the tourists who came through our area every summer. Despite all of the differences of these groups, educationally, socially, professionally, etc., the one thing I knew they all needed was the Word of God. Let me give you a little insight into the challenge I faced. Early on when I sat down with the Sunday school teachers in one of the churches, a lady remarked that her lesson that week was on the return of Christ. She remarked, “I don’t think I believe in the return of Christ and, if I did, I don’t see how it would make much difference.” Looking back thirty-five years later I realize I was naïve, but I can still remember the shock I felt that anyone could say something like this and actually be a Sunday school teacher. Right then and there I determined that I would teach and train this church in the Word of God.
Because the churches were so different, I couldn’t use the same style of preaching. However, I could use the same content. Over the next six years I would prepare many sermon series. I preached through the parables of Jesus. I preached on the miracles of Jesus. I preached on the death and resurrection of Jesus. I preached through several of Paul’s Epistles. I preached on over ten major Old Testament narratives, and so forth. At the church with the retired professionals I would set forth my full exegetical insights and would point out, for example, the meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word, or how the passage was structured, or fit into the larger narrative, etc. We became known as the “church that teaches the Bible” and people flocked to hear God’s Word. That church grew so rapidly we repeatedly won the evangelism award for our district. When I traveled to the church made of the farmers I would intentionally leave my sermon notes in my car and just preach from my heart. I wouldn’t mention the Greek or Hebrew, but would tell them what it meant and follow it with a strong “hallelujah” or “praise the Lord.” We became known as the “preaching church.” Each church received a message crafted for them, but the content remained essentially unchanged.
To me, we make a mistake by fighting over “preaching styles” just like we make a mistake by fighting over “worship styles.” The issue is not about style, it’s about substance. We must always be committed to solid biblical CONTENT. If we have the right content in our preaching and worship, then style can be freely adapted to the cultural context. Most preaching today is filled with cute stories, bland moralizing and a joke or two. When you squeeze all of that out, there is no actual content. Every week I would intentionally record what gospel point I was seeking to make on that day. Using my own training and the Apostles’ Creed as a guide, I would notice, over time, points I had neglected, and I would work to rectify that. Over a six year period between sermons and weekly Bible studies I was able to teach them the essentials of the entire Bible.
I have never forgotten a book I read years ago which changed my life about preaching. It was from John Stott. He said, “The secret of preaching is not mastering certain techniques, but being mastered by certain convictions.” If your life is filled with a passion for Jesus Christ, for the good news of the gospel, for the transforming power of God’s Word, you can use any style you want, the fruit will come on the tree. After six years I was saying farewell to the church. We had a beautiful tear filled service and a reception afterwards. My wife and I were hugging people one by one during the reception. I will never forget one of those moments. The Sunday school teacher who had told me six years earlier that she didn’t believe in the return of Christ came up to me, and we had a wonderful, long hug. She had become one of our dearest friends. We reminisced about a few special memories, and she turned to leave. Then, after a pause, she turned back to me and said this to me with a smile, “Oh, Tim, by the way, I now know how important the return of Christ is.”
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