Less Joe, More Jesus
Less Joe, More Jesus
What is the present passion of author and Moody Bible Institute president Joe Stowell?
In your preaching, what are you most passionate about?
Joe Stowell: Calling followers of Christ to a renewed commitment to focus their lives and aspirations on the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, " If I be lifted up, I'll draw all men to me. " One of the preacher's dilemmas is that preaching is so much about us. Preaching has a way of sucking us down into the bog of Who am I preaching to? Will they like me? Will they listen? That's the pre-agony. The post-agony is Did I do well? Did I get my point across? Oh, I should have said it this way; I should have said it that way. If we're not careful, preaching becomes all about the preacher. I have been convicted about that, and though I don't have any easy formulas on how to extract myself from these demons, I do know that my preaching must be more and more about Jesus.
Issues like, Did I lift him up? What would he have thought about my sermon? Did my listeners see him more clearly? Do they find him more compelling because of my sermon? Did I represent him and his calling in our lives in a winsome and yet authoritative way?
Preaching needs to be Christocentric. Jesus is the storyline of the Bible, the Creator of the universe, the pinnacle revelation of God. The Holy Spirit within me does the ministry of glorifying Jesus Christ, and Jesus shows me what God the Father is like. Jesus really is the focal point.
But so often, Jesus gets lost in it all — in our preaching and in our churches. Instead it's the worship group, the music, the setting, the auditorium, the preacher. Everything is man-centered. I wonder if Jesus feels like the body at an Irish wake: Nobody expects him to sing, but they can't have the party without him.
When Marty and I escape to England every once in a while, we attend a tiny village church where about 20 villagers show up. The pastor stands off to the side. The organ is behind us. The main image that catches your attention is a statue of Jesus on the cross. A woman and a man are on each side looking up in adoring awe at Jesus on the cross. I think that's what we miss. We haven't worked to create church and to drive our preaching in ways to draw people's hearts and minds to Jesus Christ.
When I turned 50, I realized I'd been very busy for God, working, working, working. Suddenly I had this longing for God that my busyness had buried. I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to know Jesus like Paul says in Philippians 3, that I would count all things loss — that I would finally get me out of the way and know Jesus in my life. I thought, This is what it's really all about, isn't it? That began to impact my preaching. When people hear me preach on a regular basis, my prayer is that they hear more about Jesus then they used to. And that their hearts and minds are drawn to him, his character, his call, and the beauty of his holiness in a life transforming way.
At the end of the day in my sermons and ministry, I hope people forget who I am and see Jesus Christ.
What practical things are you doing to bring that about in your preaching?
I find myself going more to the narrative texts in the Gospels to where Jesus is in action. I'm also more intent to see all of Scripture in its Christological flow, from Jesus as Creator in Genesis 1 to ultimate Redeemer and consummator in Revelation 21. Whether in the Old or New Testament, I want to end up at the Jesus issue that is in the text and draw a life-changing application based on him.
I'm doing a couple of messages with our students in Psalm 15 on drawing closer to God. " Who shall dwell in my holy tent? " Our closeness to God is really about our relationship with Christ. To David, it was God who lived in a tent in the tabernacle. But we are the tabernacle now, and it is Christ who dwells in us. So I'm taking Psalm 15 and drawing us back to Christ.
Any other passions in your preaching?
To equip saints to live their lives so well that the world takes notice, as Peter describes in 1 Peter 2:12. Peter writes to Christians in a pagan environment much like ours today. We live in a postmodern, pluralistic paganism where everybody's god is in vogue. It's okay to be religious again, but Jesus is odd man out because his exclusive claims rain on the parade of paganism, just as it did in the first-century.
As Peter notes, Christians are often seen as the bad guys because we oppose the " cultural progress " of issues like abortion, the normalization of gay lifestyles, and so on. But as our world spins out of control and moves more deeply into the despair of the moral chaos that inevitably comes from ignoring God's law, our lives well-lived will catch the attention of a hopeless heart, and people will say, I've been watching you. Where do get the peace and purpose that drives your life? How did you get a family like that? What do you have that we don't have? And then we can tell them about Jesus. That's Peter's strategy for doing Jesus in a non-Jesus world.
So, preaching for me today is equipping followers of Jesus to look more clearly toward him and to live compellingly righteous lives. In the text, Peter uses the word kals for good deeds, not agathos. Agathos is the Greek word for the rules. I can't go up to a pagan and say, " You ought to come to Jesus Christ and then you can start tithing, " or " then you wouldn't have to swear on the golf course, " or " then you wouldn't have to sleep around " . Pagans don't want to tithe, and most likely they want to swear now and then and sleep around when it's convenient. Our agathos, as important as it is, doesn't usually hook people. What hooks people is good deeds, the kals. It's reaching to our neighbors, being there in a crisis, showing them the peace, purpose, and hope of our lives. That opens up the door so we can speak to them about Jesus.
If I were back in the pastorate again, my preaching focus would be to lift Jesus up and to train people to engage their world with the good deeds of righteousness and compassion, that our world might be drawn to the authentic Jesus living through our attitudes and actions as the answer to their needs.