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Preaching Grace Rather Than To-Do Lists

When we share five ways to be a better parent, what are we communicating about the gospel?

I once had a seminary student say to me, “I can’t wait to start preaching so I can tell people what to do!” That’s the popular conception of preaching: someone standing in front telling other people what to do. The assumption of inadequacy is built into that understanding of the word preach: “You are not living the way I (or maybe God) want you to live, so I need to tell you all the ways you are disappointing me (and maybe God) and give you ways to improve.” We can picture the furrowed brow and wagging finger.

Who would want to listen to that?

But so often this is exactly what we do when we preach. We are subtle, most of us. We don’t usually wag our fingers at our congregants and tell them all of the ways they are messing up. But how often do our sermons end with ways our people can improve?

  • If your relationship with God is important to you, you will make a commitment to talk to him every day.
  • If you want to take your discipleship to the next level, you will start incorporating service into your life.
  • Our children deserve the best this church can give them. What can you do to invest in the lives of our children?
  • Isn’t it time for your money to be invested in eternity?

Too often, we make following Jesus sound burdensome.

A student plunked down in the chair next to me. “My boyfriend broke up with me,” she began. “It wasn’t a good relationship, and now that it’s over I realized how far I am from God. I really want to get close to God again.”

I consoled her over the breakup and commended her desire to grow closer to God. “Tell me,” I asked her, “what do people usually do to get close to God?” She was easily able to list the usual spiritual disciplines: read Scripture, pray, go to church. “You know all the right answers,” I said.
“What’s keeping you from doing them?”

“They sound like so much work,” she said. “I don’t know if I have it in me to do the work.”

Many of the people we preach to know the right answers. Some of us have the joy of discipling new believers who don’t know how to follow Jesus. In either case, we invite them to read Scripture, serve, pray, worship. Why don’t they do it? Because we make it sound like such work!

As one middle-age dad said to me, “I come into church carrying all the burdens of the week. I have a long list of things I need to do at home, at work, as a spouse or a friend or a parent. I am well aware of where I am not measuring up. When I go to church, I long to hear comfort and assurance, something that will lighten my load. What I get instead are more things for my to-do list—pray more, read more, serve more. Here are five ways to be a better parent. Three ways to evangelize at work. I leave thinking that I am simply not enough. It’s exhausting.”

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