Every single week people walk into your church and for the most part they seem to have it together. They make small talk, they dress appropriately, they participate congenially, they listen politely, and at the end of the service they file out quietly.
This common scene is replayed over and over in our churches and can be deceiving. It can create the illusion that most people attending our churches generally have it “together”.
But beneath the veneer of their well-behaved lives is often a swirl of brokenness, fear, and chaos.
It reminds me of going to the airport. You check in at the counter, get your boarding pass and then you head off to the security line.
You know the drill. Show your boarding pass, show your ID, pull out your laptop, take the change out of your pocket, show your boarding pass, pull off your shoes, take off your belt, take off your watch… FINALLY, you put your carry on bag through the scanner. There is a TSA employee sitting there peering into your baggage. That can be an uncomfortable feeling.
The bags going through that scanner come in all different sizes and shapes and colors… much like the people in our congregations. The thing these bags all have in common is that they have zippers. And those zippers are to ensure that whatever is in my baggage stays there. We want to keep the contents private and safe. We don’t want our stuff exposed.
I think that is generally how people feel when they come to our church. They want to keep the contents of their lives private and safe… zipped up tight.
It reminds me of a little piece I read by Frederick Buechner several years ago.
A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president of a bank who twice that week has seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee…The stakes have never been higher.
Let that phrase sink in... the stakes have never been higher. If somehow we had a scanner at our church doors that allowed us to peer into the lives of the people who file in, I am certain we would be shocked and overwhelmed.
I believe this should inform our preaching in at least 3 ways.
1. Be Transparent
I think one of the most powerful things you can do in your preaching is to be “real”. Your people don’t expect you to be perfect but they do expect you to be “real” and credible. Your people want to feel that they can relate to you. Nothing accomplishes that more than a story from your own life. True authenticity is like a magnet that draws people to you and to your message. Don’t be afraid to unzip the baggage of your own life and honestly share some of your own struggles and challenges.
2. Offer Hope
The gospel, after all, is good news. All week long people are beat up and put down. Your sermons ought to inspire hope and help people see a better way. Give them hope that their marriages can be great. Give them hope that God has a good plan for their finances. Give them hope that God’s grace will carry them through the crisis. Give them hope that they serve a God who delights to answer prayers.
1 Peter 1:3 (NIV) says
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I love that verse. God has given us a living hope. It is a hope that is dynamic, active, and alive in my life today. So, what hope will you offer in your sermon this coming weekend?
3. Practical help
I remember growing up in church and hearing hundreds and hundreds of sermons. I would summarize a good majority of those sermons by the words “be more committed”.
But usually what was missing was the “how”. Rarely did those messages include practical next steps I could take on the path to being more “committed”. Every week in your preparation I would encourage you to ask YBH? Yes, but how? People will often hear the truth of God’s word and agree with what you are teaching, but won’t know “how” to live it out in their every day lives. What does it look like practically to love my wife as Christ loved the church? How do I manage my finances in a way that honors God? What next steps do I need to take to resolve a conflict with a friend? In learning to study God’s word, HOW do I get started?
Be practical and specific in your preaching.
As you stand before your people this weekend, I pray that you will have a greater awareness than ever before what kind of baggage they are carrying.
And remember, the stakes have never been higher.