When you think of the term “worship leader,” what comes to mind? Do you think of a skinny college kid who always has his guitar on his back? Maybe you think of a little old lady from your home church who was barely tall enough to see over the pulpit.
I’m curious: Does the image of a pastor proclaiming the Word of God ever enter your mind? If I can make a confession, this is not the first image that pops into my head either. And yet, perhaps it should be.
As you read through Paul’s letters, you will find him often breaking out into praise. In fact, in 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Paul is reminding Timothy of his own testimony. Paul is in awe that God could use him — “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Tim. 1:13). He closes this section with praise! “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).
Now, keep in mind that 1 Timothy was primarily written to Timothy to guide him in his role as pastor at the church in Ephesus. That’s why we say it’s part of the “pastoral letters.” And yet, Paul breaks out in praise. Paul served as a worship leader.
He does it in other places, too. Paul wants his readers to experience the amazing grace of God that he himself has experienced. Read Ephesians 1:18-19; 3:17-21; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20. These are just a sampling of the sections of praise and doxology that Paul includes in his writing. He wants his readers to not just gain information, but to worship this amazing God!
In his book, Above All, J.D. Greear paraphrases D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The goal of a lecture is that people leave with information; the goal of a motivational speech is that they leave with action steps; the goal of a sermon is that people leave worshipping. Gospel preaching will always have Christ-exalting worship as its aim” (Greear, Above All, p. 15, emphasis his).
So then, the question for those of us who preach week and in and week out is this: What is the goal? Do our sermons sound more like a lecture on Scripture? Do they sound more like a Christian motivational speech, encouraging our people to take steps to change their lives? Or do they sound more like a plea to stand in awe of our amazing God?
Now, to be fair, I think every sermon will have some information in it. Preachers communicate the truth of God’s Word. That often includes information about the cultural context in which the original words were written and how the original readers would have understood the text. Every sermon will have some motivational elements. As we hear the Word of God proclaimed, we should recognize areas in our lives that need to change. Action steps are not bad things, but can offer some practical tips on how to implement the truth of God’s Word in our daily lives.
But, ultimately, a sermon is neither just information or motivation. Ultimately, a sermon is worship. Does your sermon cause people to leave with a bigger view of God than when they walked through the church doors that morning? Do they leave understanding that God’s power is greater than their marriage struggles, their financial difficulties, their rebellious teenager, and their overbearing boss? Do they leave understanding that God’s grace can overcome their addictions to porn, alcohol, and self? These questions just might change the way you write your sermon. They’re certainly causing me to rethink how I preach God’s Word.
Ultimately, we can’t lead our people to worship God if we are not worshipping ourselves. We can’t lead our people to be changed by the glorious truth of God’s Word if we aren’t being changed ourselves. We can’t lead our people to be in awe of who God is if we aren’t in awe ourselves. So, maybe that means spending a little less time in good commentaries (as great as they are!) and more time in Scripture.
May you and I be changed by the truth of the gospel, so that we, with Paul, can say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes!” (Rom. 1:16),
Published June 25, 2019