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There are 168 hours in our week. The preaching event is less than a one-hour sound-bite out of each week. Even if we hear more than one sermon per week, it leaves us with over 165 hours to apply those sermons to our lives. Life outside the church building makes our communities the practical epicenter of our Christianity. Preaching has a prominent place in our lives, but it’s only a supplemental prominence when talking about the change process. The New Testament does not make preaching the central focus of progressive sanctification.
The gospel has that role in our lives. To be more specific, Jesus Christ has a prominent and preeminent role in our lives, and preaching is one way to bring the gospel into view. The epicenter of our Christianity is a cross, a tomb, and a resurrected life. Preaching is an instrument to help us see, experience, and understand the gospel—the centrality of Christ. Preaching is a significant tool, but one of many. Moses seemed to understand the balance between sound preaching and sound application when he taught the children of Israel how to parent. He gave them the Word of God. Then, he gave them practical instructions on how to take the Word of God to their homes so they could apply it to their lives.
Public Preaching: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
Private Application: You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Jesus’ primary discipleship method took place in the context of people’s lives where they were living. He did not disciple at the same place daily, and it was not primarily a monologue. Jesus took His discipleship outdoors and used those contexts to draw out His disciples. He discipled by using the physical world (e.g., birds, flowers, camels, nard) to illustrate the spiritual world (e.g., provision, sovereignty, anxiousness, worship, service, humility). Here is a classic illustration of how He went from the physical, concrete to the spiritual.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:25-34).
Jesus was so in tune with His world and audience that He never missed an opportunity to teach them God’s practical and relevant ways. He did this through interpersonal interaction with His community. Sometimes, He would teach them through a stand-up monologue, and then later, He would practically work out His teaching lesson through interaction—two-way community dialogue.
Public Preaching: Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching, he said to them: Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold. And he said, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Private Application: And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven. And he said to them, Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables (Mark 4:1-13)?
In verses 1-9, Jesus was teaching to a massive crowd from the pulpit, so to speak. In verses 10-13, He begins to unpack the teaching lesson in a personal, customized, relevant, and practical way for His community. The pulpit is a great place to exalt the Savior, expound the gospel, and call people to live in holiness. To be sure, God-ordained preaching for the proclamation of His Word is critical and prominent in our lives. It is the foolishness of preaching that confounds the wise and empowers the faithful (1 Corinthians 1:18).
In addition to great preaching, you also find in Scripture that it is in the living rooms of the community where the truths preached from the pulpit work out in the contexts of lives. You can encourage someone repeatedly from the pulpit to serve, and he may understand, personalize, and apply what you’re saying. But if you bring a towel and basin to his living room and wash your friend’s feet, you can be assured he will never forget that one act of other-centered serving (see John 13:15; Matthew 26:13). Helping others is where Jesus excelled. He contextualized His preached Word in the community of the believers. He did not let the preached Word stand alone. He modeled His message to drive home His points.
Mable has heard wonderful preaching over the past 16 years of her life. Nearly every Sunday, she has been encouraged, enlightened, and envisioned how to be a woman for God. Recently, a growing bitterness took root in her soul toward her church, her pastor, and some of her friends. The more she hears the beautiful truths from the Word declared from the pulpit, the more cynical and suspicious she becomes. She’s seeing the discontinuity between the preached Word on Sunday and her marriage and family during the week. The dots are not practically connecting for her.
Sadly, her cynicism and suspicion are directed toward God—though she would never say it that way. She hoped for a different life and believed it would come by “going to church,” as she put it. Her belief regarding the church is why she committed herself to God and the meetings of the church. She even took on a ministry in the church to help in whatever way she could. Her faith and practice were genuine. Mable loves God. But like a person asleep in a boat, only to awake hours later to find they drifted beyond the buoys, Mable’s marriage has seemingly slipped past the point of no return. All the while, she is faithfully committed to her local church. Mable is not struggling with sound doctrine. She does not have a theological problem regarding her understanding of the Bible.
What she has is a methodological problem. Building a knowledge base through learning and growing in theological understanding is half the equation. Mable is getting good information on Sunday morning. It is consistently biblical, easy to understand, and well-delivered. Her problem and need is the other half of the solution. Her church has not provided or trained her to take the good Word preached and work it out in the milieu (contexts) of her life. She needs a way to ensure clear and practical application. The Lord did not design the Sunday church meeting to fulfill that part of what she must have. Mable is half-full: She knows the Word, but she does not have the equipping to apply it practically in ways that matter to her life, marriage, and other relationships. If she continues this way, she’ll run on empty before long.
These questions will serve a person like Mable as she thinks through biblical solutions regarding comprehensive discipleship in the context of a local church community. As you reflect on this chapter, consider using these questions as a template for your thoughts. Ask these questions about your church. With all humility and charity, discuss them among your friends. I have designed them to bring clarity to your life and church community. They will challenge you to think through your motives for being part of your local church and your reasons for attending each week.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).