Recently I was invited to attend a conference on church planting. The conference looked helpful. It had many well-known speakers and numerous breakout seminars on all things church planting. But one topic was curiously absent—preaching. Should church planters not be concerned about this ministry? Yes, they should!
If the church planter sees the relationship between disciple-making and preaching in general and the importance of leading a newly formed congregation from the pulpit in particular, then he will see how vitally important it is to become a faithful and effective expositor.
Preaching as Macro Disciple-Making
What we typically understand as preaching—a public sermon to a gathered congregation—is only one form of the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:2; 8:4). There should never be a season in which the church planter is not thinking about how to make disciples by explaining and applying Scripture.
Early on in the church plant, the planter will be spreading the Word to individuals or in evangelism, maybe leading a Bible study with a handful of people, or equipping the core team. We could call this micro disciple-making (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 18:26). But micro disciple-making is not radically different from expository preaching; it still requires the basic skills of interpreting, explaining, and applying the text. So the planter should value the task of Word-driven disciple-making and seek to do it well.
Later, as the number of disciples grows, the organization of the church will have to become more structured and formal. The planter will need to think about matters like leadership development, biblical church membership, and healthy systems for building up the body. The church will eventually gather for weekly corporate worship, sitting under the Word and practicing the ordinances of the church. In this season, the planter’s function will become more pastoral. His ministry of the Word will become more macro disciple-making. It will involve expounding the Word to a large group of people in the context of biblical community (1 Tim. 4:16). Micro ministry should not cease, but macro teaching will occupy a lot of his attention.
“Every sermon is about making disciples.”—Tony Merida
Aspiring church planters should be ready to do both types of Word-driven ministry within the various seasons of the church: micro disciple-making in the early phase and macro disciple-making later on. Some groups tend to magnify one type of the ministry of the Word over the other, but we should simply see them both as being vitally important, indeed, central to the work of church planting and pastoring.
Preaching as Leadership in a Newly Formed Congregation
Once a new congregation is formed, the planter-pastor has an exciting and challenging task ahead of him. Unlike micro disciple-making, there are many unique responsibilities to lead through pastoral preaching. Allow me to simply highlight two of them, both pertaining to leadership, in the form of encouragement.
Preaching Is for Believers and Unbelievers
First, expound the word for the believer and unbeliever in each sermon, for their good, and for the good of creating an evangelistic culture in the church. In the words of Tim Keller, “edify as you evangelize, and evangelize as you edify.”1
Speak to the unbeliever every week in the introduction. Help them to know that the sermon is not just for insiders. Then, have a few asides during the sermon to deal with possible objections they may have. Do this with truth and grace. At the conclusion, address them again. I have found that this type of preaching creates an evangelistic culture in the church. Once you start doing evangelistic exposition in your sermon, unbelievers will start showing up because you are speaking to them, or, more likely, their friends will start bringing them because they know that you will speak to them. The last thing you want to do in a new church is give the impression to an unbeliever that biblical exposition is only for insiders.
You do not have to give up biblical exposition to speak to outsiders. You simply need to be ready to address them. Assume biblical cluelessness. Anticipate competing worldviews. Be clear. Show the grand narrative. Preach with both warmth and force.
Every sermon is about making disciples. That involves reaching people who are not disciples and maturing those that are. Speak to both types of people in the sermon, and remember that both need to see the Savior (Col. 1:28–29).
One way to improve your ability to preach to unbelievers is by actually being around unbelievers during the week. You tend to preach to the people that you talk to during the week. So diversify the kinds of people you spend time with between Sundays. Get involved in the community. Coach little league. Get a gym membership. Walk your neighborhood. Participate in city events. Frequent “third places” (i.e., places where people hang out). Get to know the idols, worldviews, objections, fears, and hopes, of people around you. This will make you a better preacher. Sermon preparation is not only about exegetical precision; it’s also about missional living. All of life is sermon preparation.
Preaching Is for Casting Vision
Second, practice the “drip method” of application, as you cast vision for the church’s ministries. This is true of every church, but especially a new congregation: we must cast vision from the pulpit. Leadership is about creating culture and new churches do not have a culture yet. You must create it. How? Should we do a bunch of topical sermons? Should we do a big “State of the Church” address once a year? I think the wisest approach is to drip the vision of the church in your exposition, as you apply the text. Don’t just apply the text to individuals. Apply it corporately also.
If you only do the fire hose method—preaching on the vision of the church once a year (or just periodically)—it probably will have limited effect. Dripping vision allows people to hear it repeatedly, enabling them to get it and communicate it. So if you’re trying to create a culture that makes disciples, practices evangelistic hospitality, integrates faith and work, does mercy and justice ministry, pursues racial diversity, or lives as a missional community, then let me encourage you to consider making these types of emphases part of your regular application of the text.
Should church planters emphasize their preaching ministry? Absolutely. Preaching is crucial for church plants.
- Tim Keller, Center Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 79. ↩