I love good preaching. Yes, as a pastor that means I love to preach, but I also really enjoy listening to solid, Christ-centered exposition while cutting my grass or driving to the hospital for a visit with a church member. Books on preaching populate my bookshelves, and my drawers are filled with printed copies of sermons preached by past and present “preaching giants.” It’s true—I like preaching—a lot.
As a pastor of an established church, I find that our church members are used to hearing the Scriptures expounded weekly. Though preachers who ascended the pulpit in the decades before me did not preach exactly like I do, the people have grown into a rhythm of hearing and applying the texts of the Bible. Because of this, most of my sermons have often been driven to the hearts of church members. In fact, I think they should. The church, as evidenced in the New Testament, consists of baptized followers of Jesus who are living on mission together. When “the church” gathers on Sundays, baptized believers are in abundance.
Yet, on any given Sunday I find that many unbelievers occupy some of our church pews. Some of these unbelievers are guests who have come on the arm of a friend, but others are unregenerate church members masking as “good Christians.”
No Sunday church gathering consists of believers alone, and praise God for that reality. We should crave to see non-Christians inhabit the halls of our facilities weekly in order to call them to a response to the gospel of Christ. Yet, for most pastors of established churches, our tendency is to preach to the same people each week. These people come to every gathering of the church, and they normally serve in a dozen different areas. These people are definitely the heart of the church, but they are not the only people there—or at least they shouldn’t be. In any given worship gathering around the world, unbelievers are sitting, listening, and contemplating the claims of Christ. Because of this reality, I’ve come to the conclusion that all pastors must learn to preach like church planters.
Church planters preach to the entire audience, not just Christians.
By God’s grace, church planting has taken the world by storm. Every evangelical seminary around the world has courses to train church planters for their given contexts of ministry. Podcasts and books abound that highlight the preaching ministry of church planters, and we can learn a great deal from them. Church planters, in general, realize that their audience is mixed. Sure, the New Testament church only includes believers, but a worship gathering has guests and other unbelievers who need the gospel just as much as the church members. Illustrations and applications must derive from the text, but how can you illustrate and apply the text for those in your audience who do not know every verse of “Just As I Am” by heart? A church planter knows that unbelievers are present because his whole ministry focuses on fleshing out the gospel for unbelievers in order to form a new church. As a pastor of an established church, I need to learn this from my brother church planters.
Church planters call nonbelievers to respond to the gospel.
The public invitation debate has raged on for decades now, but regardless of a preacher’s views about a public invitation, every sermon demands a response. Since every passage of Scripture finds its roots in the person and work of Jesus, then every sermon must lead the hearers to a point where they contemplate how they will respond to who Jesus is and what he has done. Sure, Christians must also respond to each text, but most established churches primarily focus on the response of the general membership. “Let’s grow in unity.” “Let’s share the gospel with our coworkers.” Yet, many of us forget to call unbelievers to repent and trust Jesus for salvation. A sermon without a call to respond to the gospel, publically or not, resembles a TED talk more than Christ-centered preaching.
Church planters intentionally speak to their intended audience.
No two sermons are created equal, nor should they be. A pastor in New York City will preach a text differently than a pastor in Central Ohio. The pastor in Central Ohio will illustrate his points differently than a pastor in rural Mississippi. Though most would agree that this is the case, many pastors fall to the temptation to preach the same way regardless of the audience. The explanation of the text may be the same at the core, but the words used, illustrations offered, and application points will come across differently depending on the context. Church planters normally understand this concept because they’re seeking to reach a certain city or section of a city with the gospel. Established church pastors often forget this crucial element of preaching, and we can learn much from our brothers starting churches all around us. Make the gospel explicit, but make sure the gospel is spoken to the hearts of the actual audience in the room.
No pastor or church planter nails every aspect of ministry, not even the sermon. Church planters do not necessarily preach better sermons than established church pastors, but church planters can help established church pastors develop a more intentional style of preaching. If the goal is to exalt Christ in the sermon while calling sinners to embrace the Savior, then we could use all the help we can get. Brother pastors, learn to preach like a church planter. May God grant an abundance of fruit because of our faithfulness, and may he also graciously grant fruit in spite of our faithlessness.