Saturday, May 19, 2012

So what?

In the book Jim and Casper Go to Church Jim, a Christian, pays Casper, an atheist, to attend church services with him.  They visit 12 of America's best known churches, and at the end Casper's question was, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?"  From his experiences in attending these church services it seemed that the primary thing anyone was asked to do was to attend church services.  He felt that if the things Christians claim to believe are true they should be actively doing them.  He wondered why so few sermons challenged people to do something with what they were learning.  I've often wondered the same thing.

My wife and I are in different churches nearly every week, and more than once we've left a service and wondered what anyone would do with what they had just heard since they hadn't been asked to do anything.  For 20 years I was the pastor of one church, and there were weeks when I would review my message and realize it was incomplete.  It may have been biblical and theologically sound, but it didn't ask anything of anyone.  It failed my "So what?" test.  That was the question I asked of each message I preached.  So what?  What is anyone supposed to do as a result of hearing this message?  If I couldn't identify at least one thing I could ask people to do after hearing the sermon I would scrap the message because it had no value.  Most Christians don't need more knowledge; they need to be challenged to put into practice what they've already learned.

It was interesting that an atheist could see this failure on the part of Christians quicker than their pastors.  As Casper heard sermon after sermon from some of America's best known ministers he felt the main thrust of their messages was to be faithful to their churches and to bring their friends to church with them.  He believed that Christ asked more of His followers than to show up for church services once a week.  This non-believer understood that Christ was much more interested in loving and serving people and seeing people introduced to a personal relationship with God, and that was more likely to happen when God's people was involved in reaching out and ministering to people.

Pastors sometimes complain that people in their congregations are not involved enough in ministry, but I'm convinced that many of them are waiting to be challenged to do something.  They may not be sure what they need to be doing, but if someone asked them to do something specific they would gladly do so if they were equipped to do it.  The church I served changed when I realized my primary responsibility as the pastor was to equip the saints to do ministry, and when I began to do so intentionally it was exciting to see how many people responded well to the challenges I set before them.

In the smaller church the pulpit is the one place where pastors have the opportunity to touch the greatest number of people.  It is critical that every message you preach contains a challenge to do something with the information you give them.  It is in your messages that you can set before the church a vision for ministry and why it's important to achieve that vision.  It is through your sermons that you can challenge your people to a greater commitment to God and to serving others.  As your people leave the church each Sunday your message will either inspire them to do something for the Kingdom of God that week or it will inspire them to go home and eat lunch.

Give every message you preach the "so what" test.  If it fails, it's not worthy of you or your people.  Don't waste your pulpit ministry with such messages.  Either change it so it passes the "so what" test or scrap it and start over.   Don't be afraid to challenge people.  Some will accept the challenge and begin doing some exciting things that will impact people and help introduce them to Christ.  Even if only a few accept the challenges you lay before them it will be enough to make a difference.  Remember, even Jesus had many disciples leave Him as His demands became greater, but the few who were left were enough to turn the world upside down.

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