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Four Keys to Spiritual Formation (part 3)

To read part one in this series, click here.
To read part two in this series, click here.

Verdict – Demanding

If I am to preach in a way that results in spiritual formation, my sermon must demand a verdict. This principle of preaching isn't in the same category as the first two principles in this series—that preaching be Bible-based and Spirit-energized—but it does reflect what Bible-based, Spirit-energized preaching is all about.

Spiritual formation is change, and change takes place when choices are made.

Preaching for a verdict is one of the things that distinguishes preaching from teaching. Teaching is aimed at the mind, preaching at the heart. Hold on! When I teach, I'm seeking to move my hearers to action, and when I preach I'm educating my people in the truths of the Word. Of course. Good teaching is aimed at change, and good preaching is solid teaching.

Why, then, the distinction? Several major streams of influence in preaching hold that the correct homiletical approach is verse-by-verse exposition of a text, teaching as many truths as the author may pack into the passage. I would say that is better described as teaching. But when the preacher pulls together the teaching of a passage toward a single goal that calls for response, or marshals evidence from various passages of Scripture to drive home a point that requires action, that's preaching that demands a verdict.

In my student days, a favorite teacher used to thunder, "Young men, don't ever fish with a slick line!" Our aim is not merely to fascinate the audience—entertainers do a better job. It should not be our aim just to add to the store of accurate biblical information—a book or computer might serve that end. What we're after is change. If the audience leaves stirred, or more biblically literate, but doesn't change, there's been no spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is change, and change takes place when choices are made. Preaching that demands a verdict is critical to spiritual formation, or, as Paul would put it, to transformation.

Paul is even more specific. He calls us to transform our minds—reformat our mental programs—until we display an accurate depiction of God's good, acceptable, and complete will (Romans 12:2). How does that happen? "I plead with you by the mercies of God to make a grand presentation" —a sacrifice, in fact (Romans 12:1). Paul's charge was verdict-demanding. Change comes by the Spirit's power when choices are made, so preaching must be verdict demanding if spiritual formation is to occur.

Perhaps you're saying, Bible-based, I can see, and Spirit-energized sermons—those are pervasive in Scripture. But where do you get this requirement to be verdict-demanding? There may not be many instructions to preachers to preach that way specifically in Scripture, but virtually every preacher in the Old and New Testaments followed this principle. When they opened their mouths, they demanded a response. Their preaching was verdict-demanding.

Audience – Connected

I was with a practical theology professor recently, discussing over lunch a colleague named Jack who has a powerful, life-transforming ministry to teens and young adults all over the world. Jack is over 60, but he connects. As we talked about the impact of this old man, my lunch mate launched into a strong speech about how Jack belies all this talk about a generation gap. "You have to understand the postmodern mind and connect with it?" he said. "Rubbish!"

I was astonished to sense the intensity of his feeling about the error of trying to be relevant in different ways to different audiences. I was also bemused to think that represented Jack's thinking, so I called him to find out. He laughed. "Just the opposite," he said. "I study and work hard to understand postmodern thinking, learning how to connect with a totally different mindset."

The responsibility of the preacher is to get inside the head, indeed inside the heart of his audience, and communicate in thoughts and words that can be understood, that connect, and that move to action.

Robertson McQuilkin is a writer and speaker, and president emeritus of Columbia International University, in Columbia, South Carolina. He is author of Understanding and Applying the Bible (Moody).

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