Why My Role in Preaching Is Not Enough

Bethlehem Small-Group Leaders Meeting

This is a very encouraging meeting to me, not only that it exists, but that there’s so many of you. This is the number we used to get, maybe more, when all three campuses came together before. So this campus focus feels significant to me. There’s an identity here. You have your elders here. You have pastors here, and by pastor I mean, there’s a campus pastor. So Dan is the campus pastor north, Kenny is the campus pastor downtown, and David Livingston is the campus pastor south.

That role will become increasingly significant, much like a senior pastor, with me as the trumpet of the vision. So lean on Kenny for what you want to see happen at this campus, and I’ll show up whenever I’m asked.

The Pulpit is Not Enough

The topic I want to speak about is why my role as a preaching pastor is not enough. I think I have two or three answers with a bunch of sub points. So this package right here should last about 15 minutes or so.

1. Preaching is a God ordained part of the corporate life of the church.

So first I’m defending myself before I sound inadequate. I believe in what I do. And here’s why. Second Timothy 3:16–4:2 says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word…

So he’s talking to Timothy in the context of Timothy pastoring the church at Ephesus, and he’s telling him the foundation of his ministry, which is that all Scripture is inspired. Then, without any break, in one of the most amazing charges — in the presence of God and of Christ, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing — preach the word, Timothy. That lands on me in my role with weight. And so I’m just saying, I believe in it.

But the Bible makes clear that preaching is not enough, and here are some reasons:

1. The church is a covenant community in which all members are ministers.

Ephesians 4:11–12 says:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

How many times have we heard this for decades? I remember having it clobber me very powerfully by Ray Stedman, who pastored in the San Francisco Bay area. He just stressed that the people are ministers and we are the equippers of the ministers. And that’s what that passage says. So that’s the first reason why a preacher isn’t enough — all the saints are ministers.

2. The Holy Spirit ministers to the body through each member.

First Corinthians 12:7 says:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

That’s probably the most important verse in 1 Corinthians 12 through 14. Just think of it — to each without exception. If you’re in Christ, if you are attached to Jesus, and thus attached to the body, you are given a manifestation, a showing. I think Don Carson’s book title on these three chapters is called Showing The Spirit. It’s a commentary on 1 Corinthians 12–14. So every one of you is given a showing of the Spirit. Why? To show off your gift? No, it’s for the common good.

If people get healed when you pray for them, or if people get amazing guidance when you point them to a word, if people are starting to come to you for a particular gifting that you have, it’s not a thing to boast about. This is about the common good. So the common good is what the church is about, and I want to contribute to the common good. And I hope every single one of you does, and that you will teach this to your small group. We all have a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

So everybody in your group should come to that group, bringing a manifestation of the Spirit. Get them to pray that way. Get them to pause for just five minutes before they come and say, “Lord, what manifestation of your Spirit may I bring to the group tonight?” God will answer that prayer. He loves his church. He loves to flow through the body to the church. So why would he withhold that manifestation when the Bible says you have it?

3. Every member is indispensable for the church to be what God calls it to be.

So I’ve argued that everybody has a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good, and now I’m saying they are indispensable and there are three texts that show that. First Corinthians 12:22 says:

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

There are people who are a little dysfunctional that hang around our church. They’re indispensable. They seem not to contribute anything, and that’s their contribution. They call out of us extraordinary patience in prayer meetings, and so on. You’re going to have some people like that in your group that they seem to be dysfunctional. And you might think, “Oh man this thing would go well if they weren’t here.”

I don’t know what else this text means, except that those that seem to be weaker are indispensable. Why would he say that? It’s probably not because of what they’re bringing so much as what they are bringing out of you.

I dealt with a woman after the service this morning, who was kind of a proxy for another woman who was ticked off about some things I said two weeks ago about healing, because her son hasn’t been healed. And she said, “Now what should I tell her? She asked me to ask you this.” Though I hate my words to be transported by somebody else, because I don’t know how it’s going to go, I told her to say that this son of yours, who will probably die in five years, is a gift to you. He’s a gift.

I pointed over to where John Knight was sitting with his blind, autistic son. If you want to have your faith strengthened, listen to the way John Knight talks about that boy, and what a gift he is to the world and to his family — not an easy gift, but a magnificent gift. So that’s who they are.

And the second text on that point is 1 Corinthians 12:15, which says:

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

So here’s a person in your group who’s saying, “I don’t have anything to give.” That’s what they're saying. “I’m not a hand, so I don’t belong to the body. I’m not needed here.” And then here’s the opposite in verse 1 Corinthians 12:21:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Somebody says, “Right, you don’t need to be here.” So the first person is saying, “I don’t need to be here,” and then the other person is saying, “You don’t need to be here.” Both of those are dead wrong. That’s the point of these two texts. So you get two kinds of people. One who will say, “I have nothing to give,” and the other who will say, “I don’t need others.” So clearly the point is that the ministry of every member is indispensable. Nobody should talk this way.

4. The ministry of the word is commanded from all the members to the other members.

All the members who are in your small group are commanded by God to minister the word to each other. Hebrews 3:12–13 says:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

So the one-anothering in the group shouldn’t just come out of your own head. It should come out of God’s head based on the word. Your wisdom is not what counts here. God’s wisdom coming through your wisdom, rooted in the Scriptures is what counts. The more the word you know, the more you’ll be able to say appropriate things to people and exhort them to press on in the faith.

Or consider chapter Hebrews 10:24–25, which says:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Literally it says, “Let us consider one another,” that is, study one another in order to do this. I grew up with that text being used to tell me to come to church on the weekend, year after year, but it's a one-another command. Stir up one another to love and good works and don’t neglect to meet together. So this is about the closest thing you have to command for some kind of small grouping in the church to do what we hope will be done.

2. Experience teaches us that the one-another ministry is a necessary partner with preaching.

I thought of seven subpoints in relation to this.

1. The Crowd

One, the impulse to disappear in the crowd is very strong on Sunday morning.

The impulse is to just come put in your time, listen to the sermon, and disappear. So many, I would probably say maybe 2,000 people at Bethlehem, treat the church that way. They just come and vanish into the crowd. They may like it, or they may not like it. They may authentically worship, they may not. There may be blind spots or whatever, but it’s just easy. It’s easy to do church that way.

You probably do church that way on vacation, right? On vacation I want to disappear. I want to be left alone and not have people recognize me. I want to go to a nice liberal church where nobody knows John Piper. Hopefully, I can sneak in and hear a little bit of good teaching, and then sneak out again, having learned something about a mainline denomination. That’s okay on vacation, but steady state life like that is bad.

2. Passivity

The tendency toward passivity in listening is very strong.

I am so discouraged right now about something Paul Petersol told me about. There was a couple that was going to have their baby dedicated and Paul interviewed them, and he asked them, “How’s your marriage?” They said, “We’re not married.” So they’ve got a baby, they’re living together, and now they’re going to dedicate their baby in the service. They were on my list. And he got that and intervened through a painful phone call, saying, “No, that doesn’t work here.”

And I asked Paul, “So how long have these people been listening?” And he said, “They’ve been here for three years.” And I said, “I just want to go home. I just want to quit.” I asked Noel this yesterday, “What have I done wrong? What is wrong with me? How can I preach for three years and have a couple somehow not get the message that you don’t have babies, you don’t have sex, and you don’t live together if there is no covenant bond between you called marriage?”

That’s why I need you. I mean, I’m obviously failing. I’m not getting it done. And so, yes, we’re together in this. I think I want to just start next Sunday’s sermon and say, “Excuse me, it’s wrong to live together if you’re not married. Okay, we got that clear in this church?” I won’t do that, but that’s what I want to do. So passive listening is a real thing.

3. Evading Redemption

Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises.

And what I mean by that is, when the Holy Spirit starts to move in your life to expose something it’s easy in a big group to shut that down and move on. In a smaller group, with everybody watching you, watching the eyes tear up a little bit, the sensitive people in the group will be on it, either afterwards or right in the moment when you can be on it. And there’s no escape here. We love each other, so we’re not letting someone go there. They can ask that person, “What was that about? What were those tears about right there?” So it’s easy to escape in a big group, but let it not be easy here.

4. Personal Application

Listeners in the large group tend to neglect efforts at personal application.

I’m not a big applier anymore. What did I do this morning? I just dumped six textual observations on you with hardly any applications. I have a deep conviction about how that works. I’m not ashamed of what I did this morning, but I know CJ Mahaney would be on my case to say, “You need another 10 minutes in that sermon of particular application to consciences.” And I’m telling you when those 10 minutes are missing, I’m leaning on you.

Not that you have to build your small groups around the sermon, but that applicatory talk is what small groups are mainly about. Not more theology only, but applicatory talk — asking how it’s working out in their lives. So if you had a small group tonight, you might say, “Did that make any difference to you this morning? Would you do anything different this week? Does it affect your marriage at all? Anything about your parenting that would be impacted by what he said this morning? Any practical effect?”

And if the answers are all, “No,” then you email me and tell me it’s not working; that nothing is going on out there in the lives of people. I don’t think that’s true, but small groups are the place where those things will be focused on more than I do.

5. Growth

Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing.

I don’t take questions after a sermon, but in these small groups you do, I hope.

6. Accountability

Accountability for follow through on good resolutions is missing.

Suppose somebody does resolve, “I’m going to do something to change,” is anybody following up, anybody asking, anybody helping?

7. Prayer

Prayer support for a specific need or conviction. Prayer is a huge piece of small groups — praying for each other.

Now I’ve got another sheet here, but I’m not going to do it because we’re almost out of time. I’m a small group leader now. I lead the pastors group that Kempton and his wife are in, Bud is in, David Livingston is in, and now Toms are in. And so I feel responsible for how I guide a conversation. How should you get people from the supper table to the living room? How do you get them into the CJ Mahaney book without it becoming just an analysis of CJ? How do you get to their hearts? How do you stop so you get to prayer? How do you end with being on time so the babysitters are okay?

I’m into all that painful stuff. It’s not the sort of thing I like to do. I’d rather be upstairs studying, preparing to preach, instead of trying to think of the timing and the stuff in small groups. But I love this group. I love to be together with these people, and somebody has to do that. The burden of leadership is a burden. The others, they’ll just come and say, “Go ahead and lead me. I hope he makes it good tonight.” We have to pray, think, plan, and hope it goes well.

Working Together on Practical Needs

I stand and I pray with people, I was there for an hour after the second service. There are long painful stories. So I’m doing counsel and prayer for an hour after the second service, it was 1:30 p.m. when I got home. And it’s tiring, because I’ve been standing up and doing this for a long time, but it’s right and it’s rewarding, painfully rewarding.

Here are two final things. This is the kind of thing I want you for. Maybe even take these two from me as you go.

Does anybody know Belinda from Togo? She’s really sweet. She’s in nursing at Normandale and is from Togo. She speaks French, but she’s got perfect English. And she said, “I need your help. My father has died now, and I don’t have anyone to turn to for counsel. And I have so many advice questions.” So Jonathan got her email, and I said, “We will work on this.”

Okay now, how are we going to work on this? We will get this solved. She’s in the church. This should not be a problem. And so, we will probably go to Mary first, because an older woman will likely be the most effective. This young woman will not be difficult, I don’t think, on anybody. She will not be calling you 10 times a day, or be a psychological basket case. She just seems to quite simply say, “I used to ask my dad things, and he’s not here anymore. And I don’t know where to turn.” And she’s in another country. So if anyone wants to help with Belinda, then talk to me or talk to Jonathan.

She’s also the one who I mentioned was healed three weeks ago. She came with a very bad knee, and she was sitting in the balcony. She came up to me afterwards, radiant, because when I preached on the healing from the at Bethesda, God made her knee get very warm and she stood up and there was no pain after that. There hasn’t been since then. So that’s where Belinda is.

Now the other one is more challenging. It’s a couple, and I won’t mention their names. They’re from India. They’re both doctors, and they’ve been married for several years. She did a 12 year residency in India and came here to get away from the marriage. And she was just weeping. So here’s a sophisticated Indian couple, weeping in front of me with him standing there knowing he’s the problem, I think, because he said, “I think I’ve been hard to live with.” This is very serious. It’s not a small time problem. They did not walk out together. She went one way and he went the other way.

I was amazed they were there. She said, “I don’t know if God wants us to stay married. I came here to get away from him. He came four months later, and we’re trying to make it work, but it isn’t working.”

Here I was with a line of people behind them, thinking, “What am I supposed to do?” So I have their emails and I have their names. I said to her, “I will put somebody in touch with you that I think,” I said, “I know God’s will for your marriage — that it works. I know that. And I believe He can do this.” But they’re not well connected. And they don’t have anybody. They are probably at each others’ necks.

The way she put it was, we came from two very different cultures. So he’s probably got a massive set of expectations, maybe domineering and bossy. But maybe it is the reverse. It’s just two Indian cultures and they’re not blending, but they need great grace. So if any of you want to tackle this, I would guess they are in their thirties, early thirties, and they’re at the university. I have emails there.

So that’s the sort of thing I need. I need partners Sunday after Sunday, so that I can just send people to people, because I can’t bear everything that’s coming at me at the end of these services. Some days and some weeks I have a tiny avalanche of pain. And that’s why we have these pastoral guys. Nathan was there this morning and Jonathon was there, and I’m there to hand off people to them to get information. So somehow maybe we can increase our partnership along those lines.

But the main thing I want to communicate is that I am not the only, or I would even say main way, that the Word of God works in this church. I am a strong, forceful up front way, but there’s thousands of ministers with manifestations of the Spirit, called to exhort one another every day. That’s tens of thousands of expectations during the week that the Holy Spirit will anoint as we asked him to. So thank you so much for being here. It’s so crucial what you’re about.