Archives For Preaching

We recently finished up a sermon series on Faith & Science. It was one of the most well-attended, and highly invitational series in recent memory. Now that it’s over, I thought I’d offer a few reflections that come to mind.

#1: Congregants are more motivated about this topic than you think.

This was an easy topic to choose because we live in the backyard of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and as such, a large percentage of our congregants and neighbors have occupations that intersect the sciences (e.g., engineers, astronauts, scientists, medical personnel). But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the subject of faith and science is one in which you should pass because your demographic may differ. I discovered that just as many people from non scientifically-oriented backgrounds were also deeply drawn to this series. If philosopher Dr. Charles Taylor and his critically-acclaimed book A Secular Age‘s description of modernity is accurate, we live in time where atheistic materialism has come to full flower. It is the explanation for everything. Science is king and Christianity, by contrast, is harangued as a pale imitation for understanding our world. These are the waters in which all of your congregants swim. It’s the fight they deal with as they disciple their children who are indoctrinated into the secular age. It’s for reasons like these that your people thirst to know how the Christian faith actually engages science instead of tucks tail and runs.

#2: It’s a perfect opportunity to deconstruct the stereotypes the unchurched have about Christianity in general and the church in specific.

Throughout our series, I had the opportunity of conversing with scores of folk who identified as unbelievers. Most were from scientific backgrounds. For example, I spoke with an MIT-trained scientist who was not only impressed that a Christian church broached the topic of science and its relationship to faith but that, by and large, demonstrated how Christianity isn’t monolithic on secondary and tertiary issue (e.g., the interpretive stance of Genesis 1-2). Many skeptics, especially the scientifically-minded I’ve spoken with, tend to paint all churches as anti-intellectual, anti-critical thinking, anti-science communities that is generally evidenced in Christian fundamentalism. A series on faith and science however presents them with a different narrative that forces them to re-think their presupposed categories and biases. Indeed, it pushes them to employ their critical skills to re-evaluate not only the church but Jesus Christ himself. And that deconstruction can reboot the spiritual journeys of more people than you might think.

#3: You may save the faith of some.

I anticipated a lot of different responses to this series, but I was surprised to see how many tears came from it. They weren’t tears of anger but gratitude. One gentlemen found me in the lobby between services and soberly remarked, “You have no idea how this series has helped me.” I said thanks but he grabbed my arm and with tears forming in his eyes continued, “No. You don’t understand. I grew up in a church that told me science was evil and to ask questions was wrong and a lack of faith. Consequently, my whole life I’ve thought I’ve betrayed God because I wanted to know more about how the universe works. I thought I had to pick Jesus or science. And hearing from you that we, as Christians, don’t have to think in such binary terms has been oxygen to my soul. I’m sure this series has helped many people to work out their faith, but for me, it’s saved mine.” How many folk in your congregation have been given the same soul-crushing burden of thinking they must choose between their Savior and science? Rescue them!

#4: Pastors can help their people build better bridges between faith and science than the one they’ve likely been given.

Christians have been given too little discipleship that intersects with science, if anything at all. For many, their church’s unfortunate strategy concerning science was “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And those churches who did try to equip their people often did so using tired and outdated argumentation that tends to be peppered with ad hominems, red herrings, and straw men which won’t last three seconds into a college biology class. Don’t use that ineffective playbook! You might fool the majority of congregants who just accept those old arguments prima facie, but those with even the slightest level of advanced scientific education won’t. Far from winning the scientifically-minded, you’ll only confirm their bias that Christian pastors, like their flock, still have their collective heads in the sand when it comes to how the world really is. However, a series on faith and science can point out the shortcomings of a fortress mentality that retreats from scientific dialogue and reorients followers of Jesus on how a person of faith fairly and intelligently engages science. It can help them answer questions they were too afraid to ask in the past and free them up to pursue relationships with both the sciences and those who work in them. Simply put, it’s a series that helps them become better missionaries because it builds better bridges to cross.

#5: If not you, who?

The most popular question pastors have asked me concerning this series deals with how much more preparation did I have than a “regular” sermon series? While I’m sure my study might have taken a few more hours than potentially a different topic, don’t let that stop you. My question to you pastor is, if you don’t shepherd your congregation in the intersection of science and faith, who will? That’s your job. Don’t let secularists and materialists be the only voice they hear! In fact, I’d bet your congregation can deal with one less sermon series on marriage, family, or parenting this year (which, I’m sure, they’ve heard more than once) and have it replaced by a series on faith and science they’ve likely never heard before. Will it be challenging? Sure. But if part of the difficulty of that challenge is because you don’t know how to think about faith and science for yourself, then you know where you need to grow as a teacher and congregational leader. Whether you like it or not, your calling as a pastor is to be a Christian thinker as well as a Christian communicator. You aren’t called to think for your congregants (that’s their responsibility). You are called to equip them in their thinking. And it’s hard to train your people to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) if you aren’t working hard to get your own head around how to biblically engage the world, and that most definitely includes science which is the religion of the secular age. So if a series on faith and science for your congregants demands you first need to figure out what faith and science means for you, then get to it. If you don’t do it for your people, just know the world has been doing it for you.

Okay. I’m writing down and posting right now how I think about this (so forgive the half-baked nature of the writing, no image header, typos, etc.) because I don’t want to miss out on what’s going through my mind as I experience this. While I want to abide by the counsel I give, I’ll risk losing where I’m at in this specific sermon in order to help my fellow preachers for the long haul. Here’s the counsel:

If in sermon study, you find your heart beating faster, tears of joy/sorrow/excitement forming, and you feel led to worship God, stay right there! Don’t move! For you stand upon the ground whence the heart of the sermon should flow.

This is happening to me right now as I’m preparing the message on Luke 8:22-25. I’m not even in that specific text but doing work to help unfold that text for modern hearers. I’m working through a biblical theology, if you will, of God, water, and chaos.

The Bible is clear: God is Lord over chaos! And to see the litany of works where Yahweh not only conquers the waters but uses them to do his bidding (and looking forward to the day where “the sea was no more”) – has overwhelmed me. I’m in tears. I’m overwhelmed with the greatness of God (and him in Christ!), the goodness of Jesus to me, the grandness of the plan of redemption being workout out in history, and more things that I can piece out from what my heart is aflutter with.

It leads me to worship right now! To put on music that gives a soundtrack to what my heart is feeling and my head is awash in.

And I don’t want to leave my computer. I want to stay here. I want to preach whatever this is as the emotional heart of my message. Whatever I say on Sunday (which is obviously connected to what I’m studying), I want my hearers more than to know what I’m feeling, I want them to feel what I’m feeling. I want to share it. I want them to also experience the wonder and glory and grandeur of God in Christ.

If you get these moments in study. Stop. Don’t move. Stay right there. Soak up every feeling, every tear, every hand raised, every knee dropped on the floor, whatever the response, just know you’ve hit upon the greatest emotional center that you can discover in a sermon – your own!

Now, pray that God would be as gracious to the congregation in the preaching of the message as he’s been to you in the preparation for it.

Preacher, seek to be overwhelmed in your study and be grateful for the gift that it is.

Okay…back to the study.

Book Update: A Great Start

January 3, 2018 — 2 Comments

Yesterday my new book Preaching That Moves People was released. Within 24 hours it had become Amazon’s #1 Hot Seller and, even better, Amazon’s #1 Bestseller in the field of preaching books. Granted, it’s a fairly narrow field but I’ll take what I can get. 😉 The book has received a warm welcome and I hope God uses it to bless many pastors, church planters, and seminarians for years to come.