Preaching to the Post-Christian Culture
I’ve pastored my church eighteen years. And I can tell you that even though I pastor in the buckle of the Bible Belt, reaching people today is different than it was eighteen years ago. When I first came to Georgia, you could lead somebody to Christ on Tuesday, they’d walk the aisle on Sunday, you baptized them Sunday night and you could move on. Somebody would move into town from another Baptist church, they’d visit your church once or twice, they’d join, and you’d move on. Those days are over, at least where I am. We have people who visit our church months and months and don’t join. It’s harder to reach people for Christ. I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic. It’s a bit more difficult to reach people for Christ; it’s more difficult to get them committed, more difficult to get them down the aisle, more difficult to get them baptized. I think a lot of that has to do with this post-Christian culture we live in.
Having said all of that, my greatest fear is that we hear the term “post-Christian” and we get the shakes. We think “Dear God, I’m not capable of reaching the post-Christian culture.” I hardly even understand what post-Christian culture is. How am I supposed to reach a post-Christian culture?
I have learned both by experience and by study of the Scripture that human beings tend to complicate the simple. When I read about Jesus I find that He came to simplify the complicated. There is a reason why, for example, Jesus spent the vast majority of his ministry telling stories. Almost two thirds of the gospel of Luke is a story—just one parable, one story, after another. If Jesus gave a seminar on preaching, I’m convinced one of the things He would tell us is “Paint word pictures. Tell stories. Say truth in such a way that common, ordinary people, even little children, can understand it and get a handle on it.”
The biggest fear I have in the way pastors and churches today are reacting to this whole concept of a post-Christian culture is a loss of confidence in the Word of God.
The Bible says about itself, in Hebrews 4, that it is a two-edged sword. Either you believe that or not. If you believe that, then you have to agree with this: The Bible cuts whether you believe it will cut or not. You may be a post-Christian who says “I not only don’t believe in absolute truth—it doesn’t matter to me whether there’s truth or not—that doesn’t mean the truth will be ineffective. That doesn’t mean the sword still will not cut.
A young man just a while ago gave me one of the most encouraging testimonies I’ve heard in a long time. One of the men in this group came up to me and said “I got saved in 1997 as I was driving down the road in my truck listening to one of your tapes.” I thought he was going to say, I was preaching on “Turn or burn,” or “If you don’t get saved you’ll fry like a wiener.” But he said “The amazing thing about this sermon is, you weren’t preaching on salvation, you were preaching on tithing.” I said “Well, what happened?” Of course people had been cultivating him and talking to him, and he says “I’m driving down the road listening to your message on tithing, and right in the middle of your message it hit me: I can’t relate to tithing, because I don’t even know God. I pulled my truck over by the side of the road, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart.”
“Now let me get this straight,” I said. “God took a message on tithing and convicted you of your lostness and your need to be saved?” He said “Yes.” Let me tell you something folks; that is the power of the Word of God. I believe if the apostle Paul were here today, and we asked him, “Paul, tell us the number one thing we ought to do to reach a post-Christian culture ,” I guarantee you I know what he would say in three words: “Preach the Word. Preach the Word.”
Why do you think he said “in season, out of season?” In a post-Christian culture pastors, it’s out of season. Look at 2 Timothy 4. I want to talk about preaching the Word, reaching the world.
I heard about a young preacher just out of seminary who had been called to pastor a church in a college town. Almost all the college professors were members of that church. He was preparing his very first sermon, and he got to thinking about that very cultured congregation, all those Ph.D.s who would be there, and it intimidated him. He called his dad, who was also a very wise and godly pastor and said “Dad, I’m really having a hard time preparing my sermon.” “What’s the problem?” his dad asked. “Well, if I talked about geology, I’ll be looking at a Ph.D. in geology. If I talk about sociology, I’ll be staring at a Ph.D. in sociology. If I talk about philosophy, I’ll be facing a Ph.D. in philosophy. What do you think I ought to do?” His dad answered, “Son, why don’t you just preach the Bible? They probably know very little about that.”
That advice is very similar to the counsel that Paul gave to his young protégé Timothy when he wrote in 2 Timothy 4, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Jesus Christ, who is to judge the living and the dead by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the word.” Preach the Word.
Paul makes a very interesting statement to Timothy in the very first sentence. “I charge you, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead.” It doesn’t matter what the editor of your state paper thinks about your ministry. It doesn’t matter what your director of missions thinks about your ministry. It doesn’t matter what your state executive director thinks about your ministry. It doesn’t matter what the president of the Southern Baptist Convention thinks about your ministry. The only thing that matters is, what does God think about your ministry? Paul was reminding Timothy, “One day you’re going to give an account to God for your ministry.”
I want to give you a little word of encouragement about reaching a post-Christian culture. God is not depending on you to reach a post-Christian culture. We’re depending on God to reach a post-Christian culture, and God does that through the preaching of His Word.
I want you to notice several things as we work our way through the text . First, we need to receive the charge to be faithful. Paul said “Preach the Word.” Notice what he said to Timothy. “I’m not charging you to heal the sick; I’m not charging you to raise the dead; I’m not charging you to speak in tongues, I’m not charging you to perform miracles; I’m charging you to preach the Word.” Then Paul did something very bold. He said “I’m not even going to tell you what to preach. I’m going to tell you how to preach. Number one, you need to preach confidently.” Preach the Word. Not book reviews, not economics, not philosophy; preach the Word. Preach the Scripture—the whole counsel of God.
John McArthur said something that I agree with wholeheartedly. “Clearly there was no room in Paul’s philosophy of ministry for the ‘give people what they want’ theory that is so prevalent today. He didn’t urge Timothy to conduct a survey to find out what his people wanted. He didn’t suggest he study demographic data or do research on the felt needs of his people. He commanded him to preach the Word faithfully, systematically, reprovingly, patiently, and let it confront the spirit of the age head on.” Preach the Word.
I want to make something very plain. I’m not dumb. I want to meet needs. What pastor doesn’t want to meet needs? I want to scratch people where they itch. I want to soothe people where they hurt. But Paul said to Timothy, “Don’t start with the needs of people. Start with the Word of God. You know why I believe he said that? We hear so much talk about “felt needs.” The gospel is not addressed to a felt need; it is addressed to an unfelt need. People talk about “seeker services.” If you have a true seeker service, nobody will come. The Bible says there’s none that seeks after God. If you have a true seeker service, you won’t have anybody show up if the Word of God is truth, because there’s none that seeks after God. Should we have sinner sensitive services? No problem. But theologically, to be accurate, you can’t have a “seeker service.” The gospel is not addressed to a felt need, it’s addressed to an unfelt need. The first eight chapters of Romans tell us man’s three greatest needs: Number one, realize he’s a lost sinner; number two, repent of his sins, and number three, by faith receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I submit to you today, those are all unfelt needs. If you don’t believe it, next time you get on an airplane with someone, start talking with them about any one of those three needs and see if they say “You know, I’ve been thinking about that lately.” That happens very rarely. Those are not felt needs. Only the Holy Spirit can convict a person that he’s lost. It is the goodness of God that leads a man to repentance, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The deepest need of individuals in this world today is to confess sin and receive salvation. Those are not felt needs.
Preaching that fails to confront the sinner and convict the sinner and correct the sinner and convert the sinner through the Word of God does not meet people’s greatest needs. You may preach in a way that makes them feel good, you may help them to be better leaders, you might help them to be better lovers, but that type of preaching doesn’t meet real needs. Paul said “Preach the Word.”
There are two or three basics in my ministry I will never give up. I will never give up verse by verse Biblical exposition of the preaching of the Word of God, and I’m going to tell you why. The only power that comes in preaching is the preaching that is connected to the Word of God. It is not preaching that gives the Word of God power; it is the Word of God that gives preaching power, and I don’t believe you have to relegate verse by verse exposition to the back burner of the Wednesday night service in order to reach people for Christ, or to be relevant to where people are. Paul said “Preach the Word.”
You know why I believe he said that? If you will preach the Bible faithfully, you will not only meet felt needs, you will uncover needs that people don’t even know they have. The Bible is still the Word of God without us. Without the Word of God, we’re nothing. Paul said “You preach the Word.”
I believe the Bible is still a book that is a fire that can melt the coldest heart, a sword that can cut the hardest soul, and a lamp that enlighten the darkest mind. He said “You preach the Word.”
Author: Dr. James Merritt, Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church and host of Touching Lives