A message must do battle for the will. An interview with author, speaker, and Taylor University chancellor Jay Kesler.
PreachingToday.com: Why challenge hearers?
Jay Kesler: Preaching is distinguished from teaching in that it calls for commitment and attempts to bring people to a point of action.
Somewhere I read about two men. When one man preached, people leaned back and said, "How interesting." When the other preached, they said, "Let's march." To me, preaching is an appeal to the will.
Years ago, Billy Graham said if he preached without an invitation, he felt no loss of energy. But if he preached and gave an invitation, he was exhausted afterward. The demand of preaching toward commitment is much greater. Obviously everyone preaches at times without giving an invitation, but spiritual warfare takes place in a greater way when your appeal could change a person's allegiance.
Someone has said, "Men don't rebel against the ideaof God; men rebel against the will of God."
Tell of a time when you were challenged by a sermon.
One key sermon resulted in my call to the ministry itself. I was a Christian. I felt an urge to reach others with the gospel, but my father, a labor leader, was anti-church, anti-Christian, but mostly anti-preacher. When I felt the call to preach, tension was building in my soul over facing a contest between my father and God.
I went to hear a tent evangelist named Pete Riggs. The theme of his crusade was "Let go and let God." I remember the almost irresistible pull of the Holy Spirit to follow the voice of God.
I walked forward and was surrounded by people who knew me to help me clinch the nail. That night one of the pastors gave me this verse from the apostle Paul: "for though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of, for a necessity is laid upon me, and woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." This has been my sense my whole life—woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.
When have you felt underchallenged?
Living in the world of higher education the last 18 years, virtually every meeting I attend lacks real challenge, because many educators have no idea why they exist. Education today is utilitarian. We leave meetings thinking, I'm giving my life to prepare the workforce for the 21stcentury.Many educators think of relevance only in terms of materialism and upward mobility.
This is very unchallenging to me. We're not human doings;we're human beings. Helping someone to beis what real challenge is all about.
Worthwhile challenges go back to man created in the image of God. All purpose in life is tied to that. Anything that makes man less than that—a means to an end for instance—I find unworthy.
How does underchallenging affect a congregation?
There is tremendous danger of inoculation. As a little bit of cowpox will keep you from getting smallpox, so little doses of the gospel will prevent you from an inflammation of faith. I think it was Tozer who said, "Sermonettes make Christianettes."
A presentation of the truth that doesn't arrive at the place where hearers understand it involves movement or commitment can have an inoculation effect. This is why many people who are orthodox are not evangelical, and why many who are evangelical are not evangelistic.
How do you recognize people who are underchallenged?
When we preach the gospel faithfully, it results in mission, outreach, and evangelistic desire. It has both a vertical dimension of salvation and a horizontal, social dimension of practical charity.
In an environment where people are sitting on the premises rather than standing on the promises, something is usually wrong with the preaching. It starts with the pastor. The easiest thing in evangelism is going down—down to the less educated, down to the youth, down to skid row, down to the impoverished—but unless the pastor has a ministry across to his peers—community leaders and so on—he can't browbeat people enough to get them to do it themselves. He has to lead by example.
Is it possible to overchallenge?
A kid in Youth for Christ camp once asked me, "Would you pray for our pastor?"
I'm cautious of this request, wondering what motivates the criticism or "concern" for a pastor. I asked, "What do you want to pray for your pastor?"
He said, "Every Sunday after he preaches we sing three or four invitation hymns, and it seems like he's not happy until he's got all of us looking at our shoes, until everybody in the place feels reduced to a puddle. I don't understand it."
" What do you want to pray for?"
He said, "Let's pray that my pastor would feel forgiven."
That knocked me out. This kid understands something deep. The pastor is trying to exorcise his own guilt through catharsis of some kind as opposed to understanding grace.
Gilbert Beers said, "Even Moses moving the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land had to move at the speed of the smallest lamb." Pastors need to sense when people are overloaded.
There are certain people you have to take aside and say, "You need to spend more time with your family. I know we've got a church work day this weekend, but I don't think you ought to come. You need to take your kids fishing." You need to know your congregation enough to know which ones need challenge and which ones need rest.
Are there other soul issues at the heart of a wise, challenging preacher?
It sounds silly to some, but as president of Taylor I drove around the campus in a circle, like Joshua around the walls of Jericho, and I prayed, "Lord, here's the circumference of this place. Please, God, do something. I need you." No pastor can effectively challenge people or move people toward God without the power of prayer.