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Preaching for Transformation
By: Bill Easum

In my travels as a consultant, I experience a lot of different types of worship services—some excellent, some that basically stink. But one thing I've noticed that is common to the preaching/teaching of every thriving church, whether traditional or contemporary, is the sermon always ends with a "What now?" You can't leave the worship center/sanctuary without a clear expectation of what the pastor expects you do to as a result of hearing the sermon.

I've also noticed a common thread in the preaching in almost every declining church I've worked in – the sermon is basically instructional without any hint of motivation or expectation of personal or corporate transformation. I may hear a good sermon, but I leave asking myself, "What did the preacher expect me to do as a result of the message?"

Preaching Is Primarily Motivational, Not Instructional
It's my contention from reading the preaching/teaching in the New Testament that the speaker should always have a "What now?" in mind. The goal of every sermon should be, "What do you want me to do with what I have just heard?" In other words, biblical preaching is more motivational than instructional. The Apostles were always driving for a response.

I've never understood why so few pastors don't understand the power of preaching that is designed to cause a transformation of either the individual or the corporate church. A pastor has a captive audience 52 times a year. No other leader has such a chance to mold and shape an audience, yet most pastors don't seem to understand the transformative power of preaching/teaching if it has a goal in mind other than purely instructional.

In 1969, I restarted a church that was basically dead. It didn't have enough people to pay my salary or the mortgage on the property, but thousands of cars drove by every day. During my first year, I preached from Acts every Sunday with one thing in mind – to build an army of missionaries who could build a church and transform the city. I constantly focused them on the outward thrust of the Christian movement and the resultant explosive growth of Christianity. I crafted every message to mobilize them, all 37 of them, to grow the church.

My first Sunday morning, I asked them to join me on a mission to grow a church of thousands and transform the city of San Antonio. On the surface, it appeared to be an impossible mission. But we all know that nothing is impossible for God. They needed to hear this since they had failed to launch the church through two previous pastors. Eighteen months later, we had 250 in worship and built a worship center, all because they were challenged and motivated by the Gospel to change their behavior.

A Lectionary Doesn't Cut It
The problem with a Lectionary, any lectionary, is that it's a disjointed series of random Scriptures picked by people who don't have a clue about the needs of your church. The Lectionary is designed to be instructional, to make sure the speaker covers the entire Bible rather than riding the same horse all the time. But that is what a pastor needs to do if he or she wants to shape and motivate a congregation to be a transformational force in its city.

Over the 52 weeks of that first year, I banged away at the same message over and over – God wants us to build a great church and transform the city. Every passage in Acts sooner or later arrived at that mission from God. I anchored the entire 52 weeks in Acts 1:8 and designed a logo that I put up all over the place. I constantly reminded them that this was God's vision for the church – to transform the world. And, I told them it all began with "You" and not the person sitting beside them.

Repetition Is Essential
Salespeople have a saying – it takes six calls to make a sale. The same is true with preaching. Hearing something once seldom transforms a life; hearing it over and over often does. If I had used a Lectionary, I would not have been able to motivate those 37 people into becoming one of the largest churches in the Southwest and having a great part in transforming the city.

Transformational Preaching Can Begin with Discontent
If a church is stuck and/or declining, transformation often begins with helping the leaders see the reality of the situation. People change in direct proportion to their discontent level. If a congregation is content with the status quo, it is unlikely they will change their behavior. But, if you can raise their level of discontent (even fan it), you are much more likely to bring about change.

One of the first things I did on Sunday morning was to show them a graph of what had happened to their church over the past 10 years. You would think they could look around and see the seriousness of the situation, but I have a saying that has proven true over the years: "The unmotivated are impervious to the obvious." So, I motivated them by showing them what they had become over the years and then I waved it in their face till they became so discontent with their plight they were ready for transformation.

Transformational Preaching Can Begin with a Vision
If a church is healthy or it simply needs to jump to a new level, transformational preaching usually begins with casting a vision larger than life. Here is an excerpt from my sermon that first Sunday morning in 1969 as I cast the vision (you will notice I used both discontent and vision):

So, I'm asking you this morning to join me in what would appear to the normal eye to be an impossible mission. I'm asking you to join me in a mission to grow a church of thousands and to transform the city of San Antonio. You heard me correctly: to turn this small band of a handful of people into thousands of people whose actions will transform our city, our state, and our world.

We can do this. You know how I know. Because God tells us we can in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul reminds us that "We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13)." Do we really believe these words? More importantly, how many of us live as if we believe it? All things are possible if we believe. Now I know that is a big "if." But I also know our God is a big God. The only thing that keeps God from achieving His dream for our world is us.

Transformational Preaching Is Always a Moving Experience
Leonard Sweet said something to me that puts all of my thinking about transformational preaching into perspective. Sweet said, "Pastors don't write sermons anymore; they and their team create an experience."Preaching today is more of an experience than an education or a lecture. Today, it takes a communicator who can lift one's spirit by taking them on a spiritual journey in which they experience the presence of the Holy as well as community. It is no longer how well the work is spoken; now it is how well the team creates an atmosphere in which people experience a profound experience of transformation.

Pastor, as you prepare next Sunday's sermon, have a clear picture of what behavioral response you want from the congregation. Write it down before you start planning the sermon. Make sure that response weaves in and out of your message. And, be sure the sermon ends with the "What now?"

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com. He is a consultant, author, ex-pastor, futurist, husband, and father who enjoys releasing Billfish. You can reach him at easum@aol.com and keep up with him at his blog, www.billeasum.com.

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