Dying to Preach, Reflections

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“It was not Paul’s ambition for the Corinthians to know how much he knew. That was beside the point. His ambition was for them to know Christ alone.”

  – Steven W. Smith, Dying to Preach

The first book I ever read on preaching is considered, by many in seminaries across the country, to be a seminal work on the subject. It started with a chapter bemoaning the place of today’s preacher. “In the past,” it had said, “the preacher was seen as a learned man, and treated as such.” (I’m paraphrasing, but this is actually pretty close to exactly what was written.) The premise of that first chapter was that in the past the preacher was respected, trusted, believed. Today, however, that preacher is seen more as a senile grandpa – a person with a big heart and neither foot in reality. After that first chapter, the book was very helpful in how to craft sermon outlines and manuscripts and so on, but that first chapter always confused me.

Dying to Preach, by Steven W. Smith is an entirely different book. And while Smith doesn’t deal with the actual process of crafting a sermon, he speaks in direct, passionate language about the purpose and means of preaching.

“For the Word of God to live in people, the preacher must die to his right to be thought of as a great preacher. He must embrace the reality that what people need the most will not always be what they want to hear.”

– Smith

For a preacher to effectively preach the Word, he must commit to preach Christ alone. This means he must die. The preacher must die to himself – his name, his axe to grind, his popularity; to the text – he must be faithful to preach only what is in the text, being careful not to use the text to push an agenda or message by placing anything onto the text; and finally to his people – he must put their need to hear Christ at the forefront.

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The Master Plan of Evangelism, Book Response

Master Plan of EvangelismThe Master Plan of Evangelism deals more with discipleship than with evangelism. But the fact that a dichotomy exists between the two in my mind is a problem the book pointed out while I was reading.

I really enjoyed this book. Even though it doesn’t say anything particularly earth-shattering (it simply goes through the pattern of disciple-making and leader-forging modeled by Jesus in the gospels), the way in which Coleman shines a light on Jesus’s intentional interaction with the 12 disciples began to chisel away and add form to the shapeless word-cloud thoughts about church and church planting and structures that Timmis’s Total Church and Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways put into my mind.

“If the patterns of Jesus .. mean anything at all, it teaches that the first duty of a church leadership is to see to it that a foundation is laid in the beginning on which can be built an effective and continuing evangelistic ministry to the multitudes.”

– The Master Plan of Evangelism, p. 32

One of the main thrusts of the book is that Jesus’ primary means of evangelism was not simply to go out into the world and tell people about the presence of the kingdom. In fact, according to the gospels, his primary ministry was to a small group of men who he trained up to go out and spread the gospel.

With this in mind, Coleman presented a new way for me to understand a quote from David Garrison who says, “If you want to see churches planted, then you must set out to plant churches. … If you want to see reproducing churches planted, you must set out to plant reproducing churches.” (Church Planting Movements, p. 181, emphasis mine).

The goal of evangelism is not to make converts – the goal is to make disciples. This was the pattern set forth by Jesus in the beginning, and the instruction given to those disciples in the Great Commission – “Go and make disciples.” To be a disciple is to make disciples. Hirsch might say it’s part of the DNA of a disciple.

When applied specifically to church-planting, Jesus’s pattern of disciple-making for the purpose of evangelism provides an amazing framework for building a growing church. Earth-shattering, right? The One who established the church would also lay the pattern for growing it and keeping it healthy.

The pattern for growing leaders is simple enough: Jesus spent time with his disciples. A lot of time. He modeled for them the vision they would grasp. He sent them out to put their learning into practice. He called them back for evaluation. Then He finally sent them out to continue the work.

With this pattern of church planting, the focus becomes a self-sustaining form of growth. As a planter pours his life into several people, they will be prepared to pour their lives into several other people, and the plant becomes a movement of multiplication, rather than a movement of addition.

According to Coleman, with this type of discipleship some of our “cherished plans” of church structure might have to be changed or altogether removed. For established churches, this might be a painful process which causes us to possibly even reevaluate our understanding of success.

“If Jesus .. found it necessary to stay almost constantly with his few disciples for three years, and even one of them was lost, how can a church expect to do [leadership development/discipling new believers] on an assembly line basis a few days out of the year?”

– The Master Plan of Evangelism, p. 47

In Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways, when speaking on the fact that an increasingly post-Christendom culture means the Church must begin to think of evangelism and discipleship and “doing church” in new ways, he asks the question “What is the irreducible minimum of the faith? What can be done away with? What is too complex and heavy to carry into a new missional situation and an adaptive challenge? We need to eliminate the things that don’t matter.” (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 214).

That question begins to resonate with me much deeper upon reading The Master Plan. As I think about “planting a church”, what am I really thinking about? What ballast do I need to do away with? Far too often when thinking of planting a church, my mind begins to quickly wander to day dreams about what the Sunday morning looks like. But what if my focus is entirely on a small group of people for several years – making a group of disciples who will sustain the work of the church and multiply it?

Would that focus mean I do away with a building or does it change where we meet at all? Would we have a need for paid full-time staff? What about the all-important web presence? I don’t know the answer to those questions yet, but I do know that in order to focus on making disciples is to focus on waging war in the name of God’s kingdom.

Coleman makes a point that both Hirsch and Timmis have made before – that we are not care-takers of the church under siege. We haven’t been called to hold the fort, but to storm the heights. This is the language of Matthew 16:18. “The gates of hell will not prevail” puts the Church clearly in position as the force waging war – established, commissioned, and sustained on the confession “You are the Christ, Son of God.”

As leaders of the church, “It does not matter how many people we enlist for the cause, but how many they conquer for Christ.” (p. 120). Of all the powerful quotes and thought-provoking ideas that I took from this book, the thing that will probably stay with me most vibrantly is the call to make disciples – to pour my life into a group of people so that they are able to go out and do the same. That can’t be done in a classroom setting and it can’t be done exclusively in a pulpit-to-pew setting. It must be done by sharing my life with people.