I was thinking about how we often use words in ways contrary to their actual or original meanings. Some would say that language evolves, and to a point, that may be true. For example, the word “gay” used to mean happy. However, it is rarely used in that fashion today! Likewise the word “church” used to mean the “Body of Christ,” and while that’s still partly true, apparently it means more now too, as evidenced by a “Buddhist Church” sign I saw recently. Yet another example of how we use words differently today stems from my use of the nickname “Preacher” on a couple online biker sites that I visit from time to time. When asked about that nickname, I tell people that it reminds me of a time when I was a pastor, or a “Preacher.” But what does that mean? Well, the way I used that word back in those days, is vastly different than I use that word "preacher" today.
I would like to focus on “preaching” on this post today. Lets look at that word “Preach.” According to my dictionary, “preach” is defined as follows: 1, speak publicly on a religious subject; 2, deliver (a sermon); 3, make known by preaching; proclaim: to preach the Gospel; 4, advise or recommend strongly; urge.
In true Christian communities, probably the most accepted and understood definition of “preach” has to do with proclaiming the Gospel. So far, I’m sure we have no disagreement here. A preacher is one who focuses his energies on preaching the Gospel message. However, it is at this very point that it all begins to get a little grey for me, and it is also at this point where we will probably also begin to see some disagreement among believers. A quick caveat before I go any further: I mean no offense, and if this does offend you, I beg your forgiveness.
If a preacher in a church setting preaches anything other than the Gospel, is he still a preacher? Is it not true that the only proper theme of preaching is Jesus? If so, then anything other than preaching Jesus is essentially a false gospel, and in the truest sense, is not Christian preaching at all (see: Galatians 1: 6-10). I remember sitting on a pew once and hearing a sermon about the attributes of Harry Potter. Was that preaching? Not in my books it wasn’t! Then what was it? To this day, I haven’t a clue. Everything seemed to be there, everything that is except for Jesus.
Likewise, if those in the pews are all already Christians, do they need to have the Gospel preached to them yet again and again? If so, is that not like implying that they lose their salvation during the week and have to come again Sunday after Sunday to be re-saved? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Of course that’s not why people go to church Sunday after Sunday!
Having said that, then can we say that what the pastor does from behind his pulpit cannot rightly be called “preaching,” since it is assumed that his congregation is already saved? Some would argue that there could be non-Christians in church that day, so he has to preach. Yes, I would agree with that, but probably not in the same way as those who use such arguments would mean it. Churches are full of religious people, but that’s not to say they are necessarily full of true Christians.
The very vast majority of self proclaimed agnostics and atheists, the very ones who need to have the Gospel preached to them, are never (or almost never) found in church buildings. Church buildings, and the events therein, are irrelevant to most non-believers. (Ironically they’ve also become irrelevant to many true Christians as well, as evidenced by the growing number of true Christians outside of the institutional church today). For institutional church leaders to expect to reach the lost in their buildings seems a little naïve to me. If we want to reach the lost, and be able to preach the Gospel to the lost, then doesn’t it make sense to go where the lost are?
Some would say (in error), “well the pastor can’t be everywhere, so he must focus his ministry in one location.” I would argue, since when was preaching the Gospel something that only a pastor was supposed to do? When did that become his job? Are you a Christian? Do you love Jesus? Does the Holy Spirit dwell in you? Do you have lips, and a tongue that can speak words? Do you have arms that can embrace, and feet that can walk with others? Guess what, you’re qualified for the job! If we’re “followers” of Jesus, then isn’t it time that we got off the pews and followed?
Jesus said in the Great Commission, “Therefore GO and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Go where? Go to where the lost are. Go to where the agnostics and the atheists are. Go to where your friends and neighbors and coworkers are. He didn’t say, “Therefore wait for them to COME and hear the Gospel.” He also didn’t say, contrary to popular belief, to invite them to church. He didn’t say to wait until 10:30 Sunday morning for them to come to your church building. He said, “GO!” Why have we gotten this so backwards?
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words,” said Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Preaching is not just something that comes from behind a pulpit and from a trained professional pastor; it comes as much, if not more so, from a believer’s body language and from his everyday relationships. Preaching of the Gospel must be a part of our very lives, no matter where we find ourselves from day to day.
From where did we ever get this crazy notion that preaching the Gospel happens only for 20 or 30 minutes on a Sunday morning in some church building? Yes, something happens there, but personally I doubt very much that it’s preaching that occurs. What happens there is probably better called “encouragement,” but it’s not “preaching” in the sense that “preaching” has been understood by the early church. If it was the same, then where are the “daily” converts (Acts 2:47) like the early church experienced? Ok, lets settle for “weekly” converts; where are they? How about “monthly?” How many have been saved this past “year?” I rest my case.
Do you see my point? “Preaching” has to do with proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the result of preaching is conversions to the Christian faith. I don’t know what the statistics are, or if there even are any statistics on this, but I suspect that the vast majority of true conversions to Christianity have always happened out in the world rather than in some church building somewhere.
Have we become lethargic and content to simply “shuffle sheep” and call that church growth? Could it be that the reason our communities are not being saved is because we’ve somehow redefined what it means to preach of the Gospel? Could it be time for each of us to adopt the nickname “Preacher” and personally take the responsibility of proclaiming and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I wonder.