This post is part of a teaching series on Catalyzing Mission through Preaching.
Read part one, part two, part three, and part four.
Preaching to catalyze mission requires the preaching to be thinking about the mission of God, the particular nature of mission in their church, and the people God has given the preacher to be on mission to.
If you have the mission at the forefront of your mind, you’ll be aware of your church’s missional effectiveness when you preach. I believe we need to not only spend time studying the text, we also need to study the culture, study our city, study your church, and ask: “Holy Spirit what do you want to say to us today in light of what we are doing or not doing to be faithful to Jesus’ commands?” When that’s in front of you, your prep time changes. Here are key questions we need to ask as we craft mission activating sermons: How are we doing with mission? How will this sermon create movement toward mission? How will this sermon illustrate the mission? How will this sermon equip us for the mission?
How are We Doing With Mission?
There are days when I get up and go, “Man this is such a great passage I can’t wait to preach it, it’s just full of so much good stuff.” The Spirit will often say to me: “Okay who are you preaching to, you or to a people that need to be moved towards obedience and faith in Jesus.”
When you’re preaching with the mission as the goal, you will evaluate your congregation by asking: “Where are we in our mission effectiveness? Where are we in obeying Jesus’ word? Where are we moving the gospel towards our city within our neighborhoods and through the activity of our church?” Then, consider what encouragement, challenge, or equipping the text you’re preaching connects to where your church is at living on mission.
How Will This Sermon Create Movement?
Then start thinking about how the text and sermon can create movement this week. Consider writing out a “movement goal” for your sermon instead of simply making the goal of the sermon to teach the text. What next step does this text provide? What inspiration does this sermon give to a church full of missionaries? How could this sermon call people to live in light of their role in the Missio Dei?
How Will This Sermon Illustrate the Mission?
Your illustrations will be a guide to your church on what mission looks like in your city. Stories, insights, and moments from the mission are, perhaps, the most catalyzing aspect of a sermon for mission because they help people conceive of a life on mission. Illustrations help people imagine themselves and their lives on mission. However, many times we fall into a rut of using sterile examples or illustrations that don’t paint a picture of the mission or community. In fact, based on our sermons, it can often seem like we live our lives in silos with our families, in our cars, or in a book. We need to rethink and chose missional illustrations that help our people move from mission theory to mission practice.
If all you talk about is what you do as a family you know what I believe? That your mission all week long is only your family. If all I hear you talk about is the latest theological debate you are engaged in and it comes out in your preaching, you know what I think you are doing all week? You are having debates with theologians around the country.
You can pay attention to people’s illustrations generally and find out what they are doing. Some people just read books and find good stories and I know what they are doing, they are just reading all week. They are probably not on mission and their church is probably not on mission.
What if our illustrations became more like this: “Let me tell you what it was like this last week as I was trying to love my neighbor…we had a really difficult time and it was really frustrating. But in that frustration, I realized the Spirit of God needed to confront me and help me in my love.” An illustration like that teaches not just about the Spirit’s work in empowering us and confronting our selfishness, it also helps our church continue in mission. They will walk away saying things like: “Wait a minute our pastor is actually doing what we’re talking about.” or “I guess it is normal to be frustrated, but that doesn’t mean we quit.” Your illustrations reveal that your life is the very life that you are asking your church to be about.
What Makes a Good Mission-Catalyzing Illustration?
Context of Mission
Even if the illustration is not about mission, consider using illustrations that put you in an outward or missional context: “I was at a BBQ with my community”, “I was at the park when I noticed”, “I was talking with neighbor and learned ____,” “The other day at dinner with a couple we love, we noticed ___.” These illustrations show a life and context of mission and help paint a picture of the everyday life. It’s as the Apostle Paul writes, “You knew me, you know how I lived amongst you and you saw my life.” They knew what it looked like to be a missionary because they saw Paul’s life, that’s what we still get to do for our churches, too.
Don’t just quote St. Patrick, Jonathan Edwards, and Hudson Taylor, explain their lives and the ways they lived the mission. It’s important to give clarity that missional living is a rooted historical outflowing of the church–not just modern day. Immerse yourself in movements of the past, whether it’s in the early church, the Moravians, the Jesuits, or churches in the last century.
Stories from Your Church
Share stories from the people in your church who are struggling, succeeding, and learning in community and on mission. As you, your elders, and your staff coach and train leaders, be on the lookout for tangible stories of ordinary people living out the mission of God in the places God has called them.
Thinking Through Your Prep Time
Lastly, I want to ask preachers to do an exercise to refocus your prep time for each sermon. If you’ve been preaching for a while you likely have a rhythm of study, prayer, outlining, writing, and practice. However, considering what I’ve outlined in this series and blog post, what changes do you need to make? In your weekly prep, how would you have to prepare differently if the goal of your preaching was making disciples and all of the stuff that I just talked about; being evangelistic, understanding the context enough so you are speaking to the real stuff that people are going through, knowing how well you are doing on mission so you are speaking to what’s going to get the ball further down the field.
How would your prep change if that’s what you are aiming for on Sunday? Take some time to think or talk through with your fellow elders or preachers and make a plan to reimagine the pulpit as a catalyst from mission. I’d love to hear back from you some of the things that you came up with, because I’m still learning, too!
How would your prep change if catalyzing mission was what you are aiming for on Sunday?