Monday, January 9, 2012

From the Pulpit to the Pew (A Guest Post)

**Today's post was written by Ryan Sarpalius. He is a Human Performance Manager for the largest utility in California. He graduated from The Master's College in Santa Clarita, CA and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a wife, Candace and three children, Owen (age 6), Ella (age 5) and Jack (age 7 mo.). Ryan writes for the blog Witherless.**

I’m not a pastor. I’m not an Academic or a Professional Counselor. I’m an average guy, saved by grace, trying to be the best Husband, Father and Employee that I can. It might seem strange, then that I am writing about the importance of preaching. It is a little bit strange. But while Pastors and Seminary Professors place a high value on sound preaching and teaching, those of us who listen have slowly come to value it less and less.

This is a big problem.

The Importance of Preaching
Preaching is important because it is a profoundly divine component of biblical worship that moves and shakes God’s people to glorify God’s name.

If we who are not pastors are to benefit from the very glorious purpose and design of preaching, we must understand that “to the extent that the preacher faithfully explains and applies the Scriptures, we are hearing the very words of God through the voice of a man. The preaching of the Word of God IS THE WORD OF GOD.” (Art Azurdia; The Master’s Seminary Chapel; Jan 18, 2007)

Many readers may have had the privilege to spend years under a faithful, hard-working, godly pastor who faithfully preaches God’s Word, holding it in high-esteem and working diligently to apply the meaning to their hearers. Other readers might not even know what a “pulpit” or a “pew” is. Perhaps I should have called this “From the Music Stand to the Comfy Stackable Chair.”

The bottom line is there are pastors who view preaching with high-regard and there are pastors who do not.

I’ve found myself sitting under the teaching of both. As I have observed preaching and the affect it has on the lives of my family and I, I have to come to realize that sound biblical preaching DOES matter.

It matters a great deal.

Several factors have contributed to the decline in biblical preaching. You can read more about my thoughts on that here:

Aspects of Biblical Preaching
Polluted preaching can sometimes be difficult to discern. So it is important we seek to understand what biblical preaching looks like. The shepherding of our souls and the worship of our Creator are at stake.

Here are 3 things to look for when searching out good preaching:

Cross Centered
Sitting under preaching that consistently leaves out the message of the cross will slowly starve your soul.

Paul says to the Corinthian Church, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2)

Many churches and pastors give lip-service to “the Gospel” but fail to adequately preach God’s good news of grace to their hearers from every text of Scripture. While the message of the cross is not necessarily explicit in every text, we know that the entirety of Scripture is intending to teach us about Who God is, who we are and the wonderful message of saving love throughout redemptive history. THAT is what nourishes our soul.

You may ask, “Doesn’t that just mean every sermon will be exactly the same every time?” This leads to the next aspect of biblical preaching; Expository.      

Jeff Ray in his book, Expository Preaching says, “In preaching, exposition is the detailed interpretation, logical amplification, and practical application of a passage of Scripture.”
Jeff D. Ray, Expository Preaching (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940)

When seeking out healthy, biblical preaching, it is important to find teaching that exposes the meaning of the text as it was originally written and then be told how that meaning applies to God’s people today. It is typically verse-by-verse preaching through one book of the Bible at a time, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be.

One of the dangers in today’s pulpits is “textual” preaching that appears to be expositional, but really is not. That is to say the preaching starts in a text, which may follow the text from the week before, but then the message shoots off into something else entirely. For example, I’ve heard a pastor start in Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” and immediately go to Genesis 3 (and remain there) to talk about why God created men and women equal. While it is gloriously true both men and women are equal in God’s sight, that’s really not the meaning of Colossians 3:18.

The text of Scripture chosen by the preacher should not be a launching pad into personal thoughts and unrelated ideas, but should link the hearers to the context of God’s Word and help us understand what God meant when He said it.

The advantage of expository preaching for those of us in the seats is that even if your pastor/teacher is unable to adequately apply the text to you, you’re able to truly “see” the meaning of the text and allow the Spirit to apply its meaning to your life.

God Glorifying
It seems this should go without saying, but I fear that in many pulpits today man, not God, has become the center of preaching. There is such a hyper-focus on being relevant, keeping listeners engaged and applying the truth of the Word that many preachers are failing to keep the worship of God at the center of their preaching.

In California we have an unbelievably awesome sandwich shop called, Mr. Pickles. You can spot one a mile away because you can see a teenager dressed-up in a giant pickle suit dancing feverishly and sometimes spinning a sign. I know that when I see that dancing pickle, I can pull over and order a Turkey & Avocado on Dutch Crunch with garlic-pesto sauce.

In much the same way, we can identify biblical preaching by the way in which it seeks to bring honor to God and His Word. Is the preaching you’re listening to using a text to give you “10 Steps To A Better You,” or is it unpacking the dynamic truth of the Word of God and stirring up your affections for our Savior?

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy the following famous words about faithful preaching. As we listen in, we can see our responsibility of turning toward the truth and avoiding teachers who suit our own passions:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

It is true that God can speak to his people in spite of poor preaching. But we ought to work hard to place ourselves under the preaching and teaching of a faithful minister who holds God’s Word in high esteem and loves to see the good news of the Gospel seeping out of every verse he preaches.

It is God’s Word through the message preached that flows from the pulpit to the pew (or comfy stackable chair).

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