Preaching Articles

Church history isn’t just for theology geeks like me. A working knowledge of Church history teaches us to be humble. Our footprints aren’t the first tracks on this road. The trend today is to stay as relevant and current as possible. I take no issue with relevancy. Jesus spoke the language of His day to real people living real life. But a lot of churches today live and worship as though they invented the concepts.

No pin pops the balloon of ecclesiastical pride more effectively than the knowledge that you didn’t invent your successes and your mistakes aren’t original. The Church today is generally ignorant of the cycles, tensions and rhythms of our own history. But Church history isn’t just the pursuit of the obscurantist nerd or the disinterested seminarian squeaking out a passing grade.

C.S. Lewis quipped, “History is a story written by the finger of God.” Church history is a worshipful affair that teaches us what God has done, guiding us to know what God is doing and pointing to what He will do!

If the past matters, how do you teach it? Here are two ways to incorporate the lessons of the past into your preaching today.

1. Incorporate biographical sketches into preaching. People love stories about other people. We love to relate. We are debtors to the saints of the past. Pay back some of that debt by telling the stories of people like Francis Turettin. He defended basic core truths of the Bible in the 1600s. Today isn’t the first period of Church history when Christians had to defend the Bible.

Preach a biographical sermon and hook the major theme of the biography to a directly related passage of Scripture. Use the biography as a platform for real life relevance. Passionately demonstrate how that person lived out the Gospel and elevate the Scripture while doing it. Defend the Scripture like this person. Live in faith like this person. Always use the biography as a platform for elevating Scripture. In biographical sketches it’s easy to elevate the person too much. The biography is a way to point to the power of God.

2. Use snippets of Church history for introductions and conclusion. This may be the most accomplishable way to incorporate Church history into your ministry. Open a sermon on a passage of Scripture about the Great Commission with the account of David Brainerd, who persevered to evangelize Native Americans. He was not terribly successful in terms of numbers of converts but was very influential through the account of his life published by Jonathan Edwards.

Go out of your way to track down stories, accounts and information about church history. While I was pastor of a very old church in Virginia I visited the local library to track down records from the 1700s that mentioned the church. I incorporated local history into sermon introductions and conclusions occasionally. I found that, especially for long-time church members from that region, it made the entire content of the sermon more memorable and more personally meaningful.

Don’t neglect the past for the sake of the present. The past has something to teach us for the future. I like the way Emerson put it, “The name of Jesus is not so much written as plowed into the history of the world."

Incorporating Church history into our preaching is a way to plow the truths of the Bible into the minds of people with the plow of how God has been and is revealing His ultimate plan and will for the ages through His Church. 

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

Talk about it...

Daniel Leavitt

commented on May 14, 2015

My church is in a young pot smoking neighborhood. There are three pot shops within a stones throw. When I start preaching church history I see eyes roll. They didn't come to church for ancient history lessons, they came to hear me explain to them how God can make there current situation better. They want to know if I have anything relevant to say about there life today! They are almost challenging me to hear what I have to say about gays, the environment, legalized pot, etc. They have real concerns about today's issues. I lose them when I start talking about Moody or even Billy Graham. They have not heard of these people and could care less about them. They are more worried about how they can trust Jesus when they could never trust anyone before.

Chris Surber

commented on May 14, 2015

I don't at all think that these thoughts and your context are needfully mutual exclusive. I'd go further into history than Moody or Graham for that crowd anyway. I'd hunt for an ancient follower of Jesus who followed Christ through trial and tell them about him or her.

Anonymous

commented on May 15, 2015

Daniel, I understand what you are talking about but may I offer a point to consider? You can still reach back to saints of the past but then connect them to the present by showing how man's character has not changed in the time span but how the power of God can make a difference. We can show that no matter what changes there are in society, education, technology, etc. mankind is basically the same since the fall and the only hope is through Christ.

Stephen Belokur

commented on May 14, 2015

Awesome Article!!! PTL!!!

Brad Abley

commented on May 14, 2015

Thank you, Chris, for the challenge. Daniel, I have an idea that will help: The Bible gives us a history of how the Christians dealt with similar challenges. In taking them to Scripture to show them what it says about the topics you mention and how to deal with those topics, you could also share with them how men like Billy Graham dealt with racial issues even in his crusades -- refusing to have segregated seating -- or how Spurgeon inspired his church to care for the poor -- or how Moody did the same. In other words, let your people see and know that they are not the only generation to deal with hard things; that others preceded them and were successful by maintaining the power of the truth of the gospel and not compromising with the culture. Hope this helps...

Robert Leroe

commented on May 14, 2015

Many Protestants are ignorant of what's happened in the church after the Book of Acts. Catholics put us to shame by their knowledge of key historic individuals. And there is so much relevant to today by knowing the lives of these significant leaders.

Charles Wesner

commented on May 15, 2015

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in KC MO has the largest collection of Spurgeon in the nation. Take a look at their website and check out the Spurgeon Center For Biblical Studies

Donald Moncrief

commented on May 14, 2015

Does anybody know of any good resources out there regarding church history? In particular something - a set of books, etc - that is more a compilation. I know I could read full-blown biographies on people like Moody and Spurgeon but I already have too many books I've started and not finished now. I'd like the Reader's Digest version(s) of these if they exist.

Anonymous

commented on May 15, 2015

Daniel, I understand what you are talking about but may I offer a point to consider? You can still reach back to saints of the past but then connect them to the present by showing how man's character has not changed in the time span but how the power of God can make a difference. We can show that no matter what changes there are in society, education, technology, etc. mankind is basically the same since the fall and the only hope is through Christ.

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