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Missio Mondays
Written or edited by Jeff Christopherson (Christopherson3), Missio Mondays is a weekly examination of key missiological issues affecting church planting and evangelism within North America. Read more from this column.
February 24, 2020Missio Mondays

Practically, What is Church Planting Preaching?

(The Art of Church Planting Preaching) Part 2
Practically, What is Church Planting Preaching?
Image: Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

Last week, we began to tackle the distinction between classical preaching (usually aimed at an audience comfortably ensconced in an evangelical worldview), and church planting preaching that, by its very nature, becomes sympathetic to the rational, emotional and spiritual needs of Kingdom seekers within secularity.[1]

To that end, we looked at the first two of six distinguishing marks that characterize church planting preaching. They were:

1. Empathize with your Audience. In this, as missionary envoys, we account for differences in worldview perspectives, biblical exposure, and societal sensibilities. Our message is encoded and sent with precision to its intended receivers.

2. Frame the Issue. Why is this talk significant? What is at stake if I fail to adjust my life to this Kingdom principle? Effective church-planting preachers normally begin by framing the issue in the souls of their audience before ever rolling up their sleeves to explain the answer.

Now, with our audience squarely in mind, from Scripture, we begin to answer the deep longings of the heart by giving a biblically clear answer, by making relevant applications, by introducing a bigger problem, and by allowing for a gospel resolution.

Let’s look at the final four principles:

3. Give a Biblical Answer

At this point, church-planting preaching parallels classic expository preaching in numerous ways. With the firm conviction that the unchanging Word of God speaks powerfully to the lives of twenty-first century issues, the preacher approaches the craft with the care and precision of a surgeon as he carefully exposes the eternal Words of God to the temporal situations of man. With the confidence that the Holy Spirit is guiding and empowering the entire experience, the preacher feels released to freely share deep and troubling concepts knowing that simple words are being propelled by far more than skillful communication techniques.

If the audiences of church planters reflect the constituency of their local communities more than the constituency of those who generally attend religious assemblies, the spirit of how the biblical answer is communicated is highly significant. Taking cues from the character of Christ, the preacher will want to, as closely as possible, emulate his King as one who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Those within secularity are acquainted with “preacher” caricatures – usually memes on polar extremes. When they think of “preaching,” images of isolated grace (which is not grace), or isolated truth (which is not truth) spring to their minds. They think of angry preachers wagging crooked fingers and frothing at the mouth while they self-righteously declare a gospel-less “truth.” Or they have images of Oprah-esque “grace” preachers softly preening sweet nothings as they dish out their weekly diet of lump-free spiritual pabulum. What they rarely see is God’s spokesman, kindly and intelligently revealing the Kingdom of God in a gentle and believable manner.

When they observe in the character of the preacher, that this is not a sermon being preached but a message being lived and passed on, the audience’s skepticism tends to evaporate, and the Holy Spirit has much room to work.

It also may be noteworthy in this discussion of “giving a biblical answer” that we learn from Jesus and His disciples in how they communicated eternal truths. When you look at the teaching ministry of Jesus and the example of preaching in the book of Acts, you see messages that are generously illustrated with stories, validating testimonies, and contemporary parables. What should we learn from them about biblical preaching? By carefully and creatively constructing stories and images that further reinforce the deep biblical truths in memorable ways, we might more closely find ourselves preaching like Jesus.

Stories and illustrations are not extraneous “fluffies” but are powerful tools in gaining understanding and acceptance of life-and-death concepts. Failing to follow in Jesus’ teaching example will leave much of our audience uninformed, uninspired, and unchanged.

4. Make Double Applications

Perhaps this point is the single greatest distinguishing factor between church-planting preaching and the preaching with which we are most familiar.

We have been long conversant with the necessity of helping our audience navigate the path toward personal application. There is a familiar Christian saying, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.” This quote, often attributed to the evangelist D. L. Moody, captures an important truth about our relationship with God’s Word. There must be an application of spiritual truths in order to see a transformation in our spiritual lives. In other words, sacred knowledge not personally applied is sacred only to darkness. Light demands a much more honest application. So biblical application to the lives of his audience becomes a priority for the preacher as a protection against creating an environment of biblical Gnosticism. Many reinforce this practice by refusing to ever entitle a sermon point as a “fact” but only as an application.

Imagine that you were going to teach from Philippians 1:

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (vv. 12–14)

Traditionally an approach to outlining a passage like this would look something like this:

Three things we can learn about Paul’s problems:

  1. Paul’s problems advanced the gospel (v. 12).
  2. Through Paul’s problems, important leaders heard the gospel (v. 13).
  3. Paul’s problems inspired courage (v. 14).

This would be a biblically faithful, factually based approach to teaching the passage. What is missing? The applications, if present at all, would be hidden several layers deep within the sermon. Another way to approach this passage would be to lead the hearer to make personal applications—front and center:

Three questions that will change my perspective on my problems:

  1. How does God want to use my problems? (v. 12)
  2. Who might be blessed through my problems? (v. 13)
  3. What major breakthrough can come from my problems? (v. 14)

With personal application as the centerpiece of the message, what the audience takes home is a plan for transformation, not simply another set of biblical facts. Effective church-planting preachers, by intuitively knowing the needs of their audience, drive hard toward transformation by zeroing in on personal application.

A second application is unique to effective church-planting preachers—corporate application. When a major theme is conveyed, the personal application comes first, followed by a corporate application.

Church-planting preaching must be laced with vision. So much of what you wish to communicate is future – there are few traditional trappings around you to tell help the story. So, you must paint the picture of the future in the minds of your hearers. The corporate application is how your vision for the church is seen in then pages of Scripture.

In the earliest days of a church plant, all a church planter has is vision. The substance of that vision is not yet constructed, so a vivid description of that vision regularly articulated is absolutely essential. Point by point, the preacher states, “That is why we . . .” “That is why we never . . .” “We live out this principle through . . .” The present-future becomes indelibly tattooed in your audience’s imagination through the vehicle of consistent corporate applications.

Examples of Corporate Applications (CA) to the message in Philippians 1 could be:

Three questions that will change my perspective on my problems:

How does God want to use my problems? (v. 12)

CA: Our church plant wanted to rent Holy Trinity Church but ended up in this community center. We found ourselves extremely integrated into our community. This was always our greatest value.

Who might be blessed through my problems? (v. 13)

CA: We were asked to start an “after-school program.” It has grown incredibly. Parents who aren’t from our church are now volunteering to help.

What major breakthrough can come from my problems? (v. 14)

CA: We see a new missional community starting from this. We need a few leaders to help. We’ll have a quick information meeting in the foyer after worship.

Attached to every biblical precept is an application to reinforce another facet of the church’s vision. A skillful communicator will work hard to never miss the opportunity.

5. Introduce a Bigger Problem

So, let’s quickly restate. After we frame the issue in the minds of our audience, we present a biblical answer that has both personal and corporate applications. The audience sympathizes with the need, understands the solution, and is grateful for the applications. But there is one big problem. For many in the room, the application of the answer is utterly impossible.

In the example given from Philippians 1, my perspective on my problems can only be changed when I have the ability to see my life from God’s perspective. I need a new set of eyes. I need spiritual eyes. I need the presence of Christ in my life. For church planters and missionary pastors, almost every principle you will teach will be spiritually out of reach for many of your listeners. This provides a perfect opportunity to introduce your audience to faith in Jesus Christ.

Setting up a universal problem and applying a biblical answer always leads the hearer to the limits of his personal resources. This leads us to the final phase.

6. Allow for Gospel Resolution

With the spiritual need carefully explained, the missionary proclaimer has the perfect opportunity to guide Kingdom seekers into a saving relationship with their King. The methods for “drawing the net” are varied, but it is essential that the church-planting preacher give the spiritually moved audience an opportunity to respond to the gospel in a culturally appropriate way.

Effective preaching within the context of secularity seems to involve these six essential ingredients. With practice, the empathetic art of framing the issue, giving a biblical answer, making two types of applications, introducing a bigger problem, and providing an opportunity for resolution become a second-nature skill set of planters.

And with it their craft becomes increasingly powerful.

Jeff Christopherson is a church planter, pastor, author and Missiologist at the Send Institute - an interdenominational church planting and evangelism think tank.

[1] Kingdom Seeker are those warm to Kingdom ideals – but have not been introduced to their rightful King. This concept is fully fleshed out in my book, Kingdom Matrix – Designing a Church for the Kingdom of God

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Practically, What is Church Planting Preaching?