Many leaders in the church where I minister believe that unless I as the preacher promote their ministry, it will fail. In just one recent week, various church leaders asked me to promote from the pulpit our student ministry, missions budget, small group ministry, and children's ministry. They count on me to be their public advocate. How are preaching pastors to respond to these expectations?
We could simply ignore these requests. For my first five years of preaching, that was my tack. "I'm called to preach the Bible," I responded, "so your ministry is going to have to succeed without my public promotion." My response was inadequate because it failed to understand that preaching is an act of leadership. To fail to address the church's ministries in preaching implies that the preacher has no leadership stake in these ministries. This response encourages ministries to become special interest groups, producing competition for resources.
When I use sermon application to promote ministries, I feel confident and passionate.
Another response is to promote ministries when you feel pressured to do so. Your children's ministry director paints a dire picture of what will happen if more volunteers are not recruited, so before your sermon you take a few minutes to ask for volunteers. Such an approach will probably help, but for many pastors such tactics feel artificial. The long-term effect of such an approach is the congregation will see the pastor's leadership as disconnected from preaching. This is a grave mistake, because preaching is our primary leadership platform.
Another common solution is to preach a special sermon for every ministry each year: a missions sermon, a small group sermon, an evangelism sermon, and so forth. We are nave if we think one sermon a year will keep people fired up about a particular ministry. And as a church grows, the number of these sermons multiplies.
The Answer: Regular Application
A better solution is to include ministry departments in our sermon application process. We may think of application as occurring "out there" in a member's life with family, career, friendships, and community, and fail to think through the relevance of a biblical text for our church environment. Instead, keep a list of church ministries handy as you prepare sermon application. Ask yourself, "What does a response to this particular biblical text look like in children's ministry? Student ministry? Missions? Small groups?"
For example, in a series through 1 and 2 Timothy, which was not designed to meet the needs of any particular ministry, I was able to promote church ministries in roughly two-thirds of the sermons.
In a sermon on1 Timothy 1:12-20 I promoted our children's ministry. The sermon's main idea was, "The good news of Jesus Christ is able to transform all kinds of people." In verses 18-19, I emphasized, "The good news of Jesus Christ is able to transform people raised in godly homes." In describing Timothy's early life, I talked about people who like Timothy were raised in a godly home, which provided a natural segue into our children's ministry.
I said, "Every Christian parent wants their son or daughter to be a Timothy. This is why it's important for our children's ministry to partner with us in nurturing our kids in the faith. That's why we won't put just anyone in our children's ministry. It's not babysitting. This quarter we're short a few volunteers. If you're interested in helping the kids of this church become like Timothy, let us know. We'll provide the training if you have a willing heart."
In a sermon based on2 Timothy 3:10-17, I was able to promote a major change in our church's youth ministry. Our youth pastor felt we needed to better integrate our students with the rest of our congregation, so we decided to eliminate our Sunday morning meeting time for students and encourage our youth to attend worship services with their parents or friends. I preached this sermon a few months prior to this change. One of my subpoints was, "Prepared Christians seek godly mentors." This provided a natural opportunity to talk about the impending change.
"Those of us with students know that in the fall our student ministry is going to move its Sunday morning youth service to Saturday nights. When that change occurs, we will encourage our junior high and senior high students to attend worship services with their parents. One driving reason for this change is to help our students build stronger relationships with adults. Our youth pastor wants to help students find godly mentors in their lives, and he knows that worshiping together can help build these kinds of relationships."
I was able to voice public support of our youth pastor's change as well as anticipate some of the resistance by addressing the purpose of the change.
Finally, in a sermon on2 Timothy 4:1-8, I promoted our small group ministry. My sermon title was, "The Church God Uses," and one of my subpoints was, "God uses churches that are committed to communicating the Bible" (v. 2). Here I spoke about the need not just to hear about the Bible, but actually to apply it and live it. I said, "This is why we offer small groups, so people can gather together and learn to apply the Bible to their lives." I followed this with a story about a person in our church who learned to apply a biblical principle in his small group. Then I invited people to get into a group and gave them a way to respond.
I find this approach helpful because it is proactive. Rather than waiting for church leaders to come to me, I am able to promote their ministries regularly without request. This builds trust. They might say, "We could use a shot in the arm if it fits with your sermon this month," but no longer do they come out of desperation.
This approach also roots my leadership in the Scriptures. When I promote ministries without a scriptural basis, I feel like a salesperson. I'm not a good salesperson, and I don't like the feeling of having to "peddle" the church's ministry. But when I use sermon application to promote ministries, I feel confident and passionate. If involvement in that ministry is a legitimate application of the biblical text, I can speak with authority.
Finally, by connecting ministry promotion to my sermons, I model commitment to the authority of Scripture. People see that I don't challenge people to do whatever I want them to do. As a leader, I live under the authority of Scripture.
Timothy J. Peck is director of the chapel and a lecturer in the school of theology at Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California. He preaches regularly at Christ our King Church in Azusa.