What some aging Christians need from the younger generation is an invitation to lean into the local church, and not retreat or retire.
But others from the older generation need a different challenge — a summons to lay aside suspicion of everyone young enough to be your child, a charge to dispose of a derogatory view of the real-live specimen of the next generation. And, in particular, some older leaders need to hear a plea not to get off the bus, but to aggressively make room for young leaders at the front.
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If you are a Christian then you have convictions. If you are a Christian who knows other Christians then you probably have realized that we don’t all agree on everything. As a result, it is incumbent upon those who name Christ to consider how we engage with those who have different doctrinal foundations and ministry expressions. The two loudest arguments we hear are those who tend to be overly critical and those who tend to be overly accepting. On the one side folks want to limit their full affirmation and support of a teacher and ministry to those within their “tribe” (referring to people just like them). Others, resisting this, build a big tent and welcome as many people in there as they can.
As I have thought about this more and more I find it ironic that both sides are after the same thing: influence. One side wants to protect people by minimizing it and others want to influence people by expanding it. It is truly fascinating to watch and observe.
Because I care about truth and influence I have attempted to think through the issue a bit by providing some basic reminders. I realize these could be greatly expanded but I don’t think they can be reduced.
In 1971, just six years after being invited to teach New Testament and preaching at the Graduate Seminary of Phillips University, Fred Craddock put his thoughts on preaching into a book. That book, As One Without Authority, launched something of a revolution in preaching. Craddock proposed that preaching was on trial in the contemporary church, and that it was fast becoming an anachronism.
He reflected that the church might “celebrate the memory of preaching in ways appropriate to her gratitude and to affix plaques on old pulpits as an aid to those who tour the churches.” Yet, he warned, “the church cannot live on the thin diet of fond memories.”
Why did Craddock see such disaster for the pulpit? Among other contributing factors, Craddock cited “the loss of certainty and the increase in tentativeness on the part of the preacher.”
Puritan theologian William Perkins wrote that preaching “has four great principles: to read the text distinctly, from canonical Scripture; to give it sense and understanding according to the Scripture itself; to collect a few profitable points of doctrine out of its natural sense; and to apply, if you have the gift, the doctrines to the life and manner of men in a simple and plain speech.”
There is something refreshingly simple about that description. Our aim as preachers is not to be the most erudite scholar of the age. Our aim is not to titillate and amuse. Our aim is not to build a big church.
Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it means, tie it to other scriptures so people can see the whole a little better, and apply it to life so it bites and heals, instructs, and edifies. What better way to accomplish this end than through expository preaching?