Preaching at Grace Church pt.1

Today begins a short series on how I/ we think about preaching at Grace Church. In this series I’d like to take on the subjects: what is “deep teaching” really? (there’s lots of misunderstanding on this subject in evangelicalism); why do I preach in the style I do?; how we plan sermons/ themes (calendar wise)? and finally how do we plan the services (creative elements, dramas, videos etc). The hope is to pretty much cover most of the Sunday morning experience and give you a true “behind the scenes” look at it all.

Let’s start with some introductory comments on the topic of “deep teaching/ preaching”.

Some would say teaching is “deep” if It’s academic – seminary level. Others would say, “I didn’t understand it, so it must be deep!” And some define it by whether the pastor uses Greek & Hebrew. Some think if the message is very philosophical than it must be deep. But, what good is “deep teaching” if we can’t understand it and can’t do anything with it? As a pastor, I’ve heard some comment about other preachers and even about me and say, “it’s not deep!” And the difficult thing is when I ask folks to show me what “deep” looks like, they either point to one of the above misconceptions or they say, “it’s just deep”! (not very helpful) When I look at the examples of Scripture, Jesus taught in a matter that exposed hearts, revealed functional saviors and idols – His “deep” teaching went for the heart and invited people to live differently finding life in Him alone.
True “deep” teaching is teaching that gets behind the walls we put up, that goes beyond surface information and penetrates to the heart of the matter. (Hebrews 4:12 is awesome on this!) Proverbs 4:23 says that the heart is a well spring and Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” There is a big aspect of “deep teaching” that must include the heart and must provide Holy Spirit conviction towards life. So first of all, true deep teaching must move past the surface of information to the heart where true transformation takes place. And that often means, true deep teaching will upset comfort zones, stretch thinking and call us to some action that is not what our flesh would normally pursue.
Secondly, deep teaching is not just quoting the Greek or giving you the history. Anyone could go up and read from a commentary and it wouldn’t be deep teaching. Deep teaching connects God’s Truth to our real life. Too often we think if it’s applicational it must not be deep. But if you look at the preaching ministries of Jesus, Paul and Peter you see each of them calling for life change, talking about how life is meant to work – in short applying God’s Truth to the everyday.
I do think the one “good” side of the discussion or comment by some on “I want it to be deep” is a desire for them to hear/ see the preacher’s study process. Meaning, some appreciate understanding how you got a certain point and as a communicator, sometimes I do the “heavy lifting” and study and just give the outcome of that work instead of sharing how we got to the outcome. I do think understanding the process can be helpful to model good study practice and invite others to take similar journeys. But again, never at the cost of application and life change.
True deep teaching moves us, calls us to action, invites us to surrender to Jesus and engages our hearts. Don’t fall for the evangelical trap of putting someone teaching “in a box”/ category just because it sounds a little this or that. Allow God’s Spirit to open your heart and mind to what He’s trying to do in your life. Too often we “miss” Him because we get caught up on styles and preferences.
Check out parts 2,3, and 4 for more posts on preaching at Grace Church….

2 Comments

  1. I have often wondered why this topic is hotly contested among Christians. You are starting with a great point of defining what “deep” means. It has been my experience that people who are often looking for deeper teaching, often can’t define in concrete terms what they mean. Thanks you for defining “deep”.

    A few quick observations about our culture that feed into this topic:

    Western thought plays heavily into our churches. Evangelical churches tend to have a hierarchy of Paul’s letters, the Gospels, other New Testament writings and the Old Testament last. We tend to like the passages with straight forward, systematic passages over stories because it fits how our thought process works as a culture.

    Story telling has evolved in our culture in the last few decades. Old sitcoms used to have what I call the “Johnny…so what endings”. They would ask Johnny, what did you learn today? Sermons used to be constructed the same way. Read the passage, give the historical context and give the “Johnny…so what” principle. New story telling in our culture doesn’t always give the easy answer or it’s a story that may take weeks to tell. Preaching still needs to be absolutely grounded in the Bible, but we might not be able to wrap some passages up with a nice little bow. Certain topics or passages might not lend themselves to just one 35 minute sermon.

    The “deep” debate has reared its head in worship as well. People compare hymns and modern worship choruses and declare one to be deep while the other is emotionally driven. Christ stated that we are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and as long as worship accomplishes those objectives, we are doing pretty good. Preaching and teaching should be the same way. Preaching should make us evaluate truth, drive our passions and change our actions. If preaching and teaching misses any of those characteristics, we are missing the mark.

    Thanks for bringing all of those into your teaching Jason.

  2. Thanks Jason –
    To me deep = transformative. It’s that simple. I don’t care how many big words or fancy theological constructs are in a sermon if it doesn’t change behavior. Such messages are fun intellectual indulgences, but if they don’t change our lives there’s no real value.

    I sat through a sermon once (not giving away the church or pastor in these days of the blogosphere!) where the pastor quoted 13 different people (yes, I counted) ranging from Homer Simpson to Aristotle. There may have even been a scripture in there. He was a very gifted speaker who was very learned – but all that sermon did for me with all the quotes, Greek, Hebrew, etc…was to imprint that the pastor was well-read. I know that wasn’t his intention. On the other hand, I’m sure that many walked out thinking that was deep teaching. If it never gets further than your head, it can’t be deep. Our intellects, even for the smartest of us (a group of which I won’t claim to be!) are too shallow.

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