It is very easy for me to believe that whether or not people are really changed by the Word of God is dependent on how well I teach it. It’s easy for me to think this because (1) this puts me in control, and (2) this is what so many other Christians seem to think.
Don’t you get that impression from the most recent Church growth book? “Your church will grow if you do church this way instead of that old irrelevant way!” Even if there might be some truth to principles in some of those books, you have to admit many of them do make it seem like the effectiveness of the church or of teachers and preachers is on how well we’re doing what we’re doing.
“If you’ll just stop using alliteration, then people will get saved during your sermons.”
“What this generation wants is story. Tell them whatever you’re preaching in a story, and that will really work.”
Is it really all that easy? Is it really dependent on how clearly I enunciate or whether I wear jeans and a button up with a lot of filigree on it? Or for some people, is the effectiveness of my teaching and preaching really dependent on how well I “work the stage”?
It is so easy for me to put too much emphasis on the kinds of things I can control, while diminishing the simple truth that someone will only be changed when the Holy Spirit opens their heart and applies the Word of God to it.
Teaching the Bible is one of my favorite things to do. And the thing I find most humbling about teaching the Bible is that I can’t make someone experience the Bible’s true power. I can try to persuade people. I can cry. I can get softer and louder at the right time. I can try my best to keep their attention. But the Bible is only truly experienced in its intended way when the Holy Spirit illuminates people’s hearts and speaks to them through the text. This is why the Bible exists. And that’s something I just cannot do as a Bible teacher.
Do you really believe that God speaks to people by the Spirit, through the Word? Or does He need something else? Is God waiting on you to become better at what you do before He decides to speak?
If God’s working through the text of Scripture was entirely dependent on how well I do it, then whenever success happens, I would deserve the credit. Maybe that’s why I am so easily tempted to believe the power of the Word really needs me to make it so. Maybe I really do believe deep down that His Word will not return void only if it comes from my mouth.
How foolish of me.
I could be the best, most articulate teacher in history, and God never use any of my Bible teaching to produce effective change in the hearts of people. God could decide to use some kid who can barely pronounce the words as he stutters over John 3:16 in a monotone voice before he decides to use my “eloquent” waxing.
I have to ask myself on a consistent basis, “Do I really believe that God’s power is in the message, and not in how well I explain it?”
For those of you who don’t teach, but who listen to preaching and teaching: Is whether or not God speaks to you really dependent on how well you like the style of the person you’re listening to? Do you really believe it’s the Spirit speaking to you through the Word? Or does your pastor have to “kill it” like Francis Chan in order for the Spirit to really apply it to your life?
Fellow teachers and preachers, should we do our best in studying the Scripture to try to understand it, and should we do our best to communicate it in a way that will hopefully be easy for the people we’re teaching to understand? Yes. Absolutely. It would be unfaithful not to.
But you and I must understand that increasing the Bible knowledge of our listeners is not the goal. You can get people to show up without the Holy Spirit. You can get people to pay attention without the Holy Spirit. You can get people to bring their friends without the Holy Spirit ever speaking to them. You can get people to know the Bible without the Spirit working. But all of those things do not make a church, and none of those things produce heart-change. And Scripture exists for heart-change. And heart-change only happens by the Spirit speaking through the Word.
So let’s study like it’s the last time we’ll ever preach or teach. But let’s also get on our faces, begging the Spirit to make God’s Word effective. Without Him doing so, we’re wasting our breath.