Preaching to Equip Rather Than Engage
Should pastors preach on controversial topics as a way to attract nonbelievers?
Have you noticed the trend over the last few years of preaching on hot-button topics of interest? These series are usually called something like “FAQ” or “You Asked for It” because they’re based on questions submitted from the congregation.
The questions posed range from doctrinal to controversial. Pastors may cover topics such as speaking in tongues or why people sin after being saved. This is also a chance to address cultural issues, like gay marriage, marijuana, politics or gambling.
One thought behind these series is that they’re a great way to attract nonbelievers. If the topic is attention-grabbing, perhaps people will be interested enough to show up. But does this approach really work?
Equip If You Can’t Engage
These series don’t usually gain the attention of nonbelievers as well as we might anticipate. One reason is that most nonbelievers already have a sense of where the church stands on these topics. There’s no surprise, really.
One pastor I spoke to mentioned having a conversation with a local gay couple who said, “We already know your stance on gay marriage. We don’t need to ask you for it.”
Although we in the church may find these topics interesting, most nonbelievers don’t. And if they do, they have plenty of places to go for information outside the church walls. So what should be the objective when preaching on such subjects?
These types of sermons and series have great value. Instead of attracting the attention of nonbelievers, use them to equip your people to engage the unsaved. When you give your people the tools to engage, they can bring unsaved people to Jesus more frequently.
How to Think About It
The first step in equipping your people to engage their nonbelieving friends is to show them how to think. Good pastors don’t make their people dependent on them for all the answers. They teach their people how to gain wisdom and knowledge. When your people learn how to study the Bible for themselves, you are teaching them how to think for themselves.
These types of sermons and series provide comprehensive answers to the questions congregants have been asking. Ultimately, they just want to know. But you can also use your time to show them how you got those answers. This means teaching your people a biblical worldview.
Take the topic of gay marriage, for instance. Rather than just talking about the passages that prohibit homosexuality, walk church members through the Bible and show them what it says about marriage in general. Teach them how to learn a biblical worldview for themselves.
We are equipping our people to win souls, not arguments.
A biblical worldview begins with Bible engagement. Sadly, we live in a world where many people have little knowledge of the Scriptures, even in the Church. Without understanding the Bible, we can’t expect our people to come to the correct conclusions about important topics. Lack of biblical knowledge is spiritually perilous (Hosea 4:6).
These sermons are a perfect opportunity to go deep in Bible engagement. Begin with an overview of the entire Bible, showing people how to find information about a specific topic. Then, walk them through the specific passages related to the topic at hand. Explain the different types of Scripture, whether Old Testament or New Testament, prophecy or poetry, history or epistle.
Once you’ve gotten the overview down, go deep in one area. Choose a short passage to exposit for them. Show congregants the steps you take yourself in your Bible study and sermon preparation. Don’t just tell them; show them. Then they can get the answer themselves from a biblical worldview.
How to Talk About It
Now that you’ve given your church members the basics of a biblical worldview on a topic and taught them how to seek out truth for themselves, equip them to engage their unsaved friends through simple conversations.
Some of your people may be eager to bring up these types of topics, while others will be more reserved. Either way, using simple conversations in the context of relationship is the best way to address them.
The tone of conversation is just as important as the content. As you show congregants the truth and how to find it for themselves, make sure you instruct them on how to share it with others. Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:15 are especially relevant. We must speak the truth in a loving way if the hope is to help others find Jesus.
Many people get upset when we tell them something that disagrees with their own views. A gentle and compassionate spirit is important. Remember, we are equipping our people to win souls, not arguments.
Next, go over ways to bring up truth in conversations via natural ways. Teach church members to listen for moments to talk about Jesus, share their testimonies, and graciously answer questions about what they believe (1 Peter 3:15). Then, equip them to invite others to church or even lead them to accept Christ as divine opportunities allow.
When you show your people how to think about and talk about the truth of these tough topics, they can then engage their unsaved neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members in a caring and compassionate way. Although nonbelievers may not show up to hear your sermon series about challenging questions, your people will, and they can then convey the gospel message in their day-to-day lives.
Living out truth doesn’t just mean knowing what the Bible says. It means walking it out boldly so the world can see the glory of God.