Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Leading and Preaching

What happens in the pulpit when a chaplain becomes a leader?
Leading and Preaching
Image: Amie / Lightstock

Topic: Why being the role of chaplain is not enough for a pastor.
Big Idea: The best way to reach the un-churched culture is to preach as a leader.

Preaching Today Sermons: What are the unique preaching challenges of strong, visionary leaders?

Paul Borden: The primary challenges relate to the pastor's role. Seminaries have historically trained pastors to function as chaplains, responsible for preaching, counseling, and pastoral care. As a result, one of the reasons so few churches grew past 300 prior to the eighties was because that was the most a person in that role could deal with. The church growth movement, however, began to change the paradigm of the pastor's role. If the church is going to be focusing outward, touching an un-churched culture, then the pastor has to take on a different role: the role of leader.

Our churches have also assumed that a shepherd functions like a chaplain, caring for a group of sheep. The biblical model, however, portrays a shepherd as an entrepreneur, who led sheep by still waters and into green pastures so that he could eventually shear them or kill them. In other words, he moved the sheep into zones of comfort in order to prepare them for zones of discomfort.

Very few pastors hold this concept of shepherding. Yet that's the role of a leader. The leader communicates the vision, and then asks the community to take a risk.

This new paradigm must present several challenges.

Yes. The first one is the preacher's responsibility to communicate vision. How does you do this on a regular basis if you're busy preaching on Romans?

A second challenge is the leader's responsibility for the overall recruitment of lay people. He or she is the point person when it comes to motivating, encouraging, and making the vision exciting enough that people want to participate. Those who excel in this role recognize it as more than a once-a-year task.

Third, leaders face the constant challenge of finding needed resources. Our responsibility to be stewards in every area necessitates the leader's regular attention to this theme. Finding resources involves preaching on the stewarding of all we have, whether money, time or talent.

The challenge is: how do you face these unique demands of leadership in light of the traditional chaplain model, with its emphasis on care-giving and teaching? How do you continue to do those things while consistently fulfilling your role as a leader?

Do you have some concrete suggestions for each of these key areas? For example, how do you see responsibilities such as vision being worked out best in the pulpit?

Vision is primarily communicated through stories, specifically the stories of the people in the church that are living the vision out. This is true because story not only communicates information but also volition and emotion. When I tell someone a story as opposed to an illustration, they not only understand the point but they see how other people have lived it out. It touches them at an emotive and volitional level.

Vision is also communicated through a positive persona. The pastors who are most successful are also the most positive. Negativity and guilt pour out of me like sweat on a hot day. I don't have to work at that. Being positive, however, is something I must work at. For people to buy into a vision that is bigger than themselves, there has to be communication from a positive leader.

Finally, visionaries preach to the community as opposed to the individual. This is contrary to how I was trained. Visionaries ask the larger questions like, " What does the community do for families?What does the community do for prayer? What does the community do for Bible study? " They ask the " so what? " question of the text, and then answer it in the plural.

So telling stories, being positive, and preaching to the community all relate to the preacher's role as a visionary.

Would you offer some suggestions related to another task now, such as lay mobilization?

Lay mobilization occurs as the vision is communicated. It happens as individuals are allowed to figure out how their own individual responsibilities relate to their gifts and to where the community is going. Churches that get past the 20/80 rule have a system in place capable of taking people from the pew to actual engagement once the preacher gets done preaching about lay mobilization.

The most famous of these systems is Rick Warren's baseball diamond. It says to the individual " We want you, and will help you all along the way. " The more exciting the vision, the more necessary it is to provide a system that says " When you get done hearing me challenge you to become part of our vision, we've got people in the back of the church who are going to help you do X, Y, and Z. So sign up here. " It's not just the preaching that accomplishes this task. There must also be a system in place so the person is not left hanging when the sermon is done.

Let's focus on the preacher as he prepares his sermon. How does someone who is an expositor, or a topical preacher devoted to developing the intent and purpose of the Scripture, allow this role to impact the way he plans out what he's going to preach each Sunday?

You need to plan your yearly calendar with your responsibilities as the leader clearly in mind. When am I going to address the issues of vision, recruitment, and raising resources? When am I going to address exegeting our culture? When am I going to show how we as a community should reach outside of ourselves to impact the world? The churches most successful in doing outreach are those that have the best understanding of their local culture.

Regarding preaching style, if I'm going to preach with integrity from a topical perspective, I need to preach topical expository sermons. These communicate a practical message that really has its foundation in the heart and fiber of Scripture. They take five or six major passages, for example, and present a grand theme of the Scriptures that relates to where the church is and what it should be doing. The messages are deeply-rooted, however, in textual study that has sound exegetical basis.

If I'm committed to an exegetical book-by-book approach, every time I make a point, I need a positive story of how average, ordinary Christians have lived this out. Steer away from stories about preachers, missionaries, or dear old sainted lay people of the church. Use story after story of real life people. And make the stories positive.

Get to the " so what? " question of the text, and how it relates to the community. When the apostle Paul used the word " you, " it was in the plural. He was writing to the community. Likewise, you should be asking your community, " How is our church, be it First Baptist or First Presbyterian, to live this truth out? "

Finally, preach on the assumption that the people want to do it. I preach very few sermons where I beat the people over the head. In fact, I used to take one sermon a year and do nothing but compliment the congregation. I want the congregation to come out of there saying, " Yes, I can do it. God saved me. He's given me the ability. He's given me the motivation. " To me, the greatest compliment I can get after a sermon is, " Hey, that was motivating. "

Talk a little more about exegeting your culture and reaching out.

I believe the church works with three cultures. It works with a national culture such as the boomer, buster or builder generations. It also works with its own unique church culture. Finally, the church works with the local culture. Whether it's a Lutheran culture of Minnesota, a Southern Baptist culture of Atlanta, or an ungodly pagan culture of San Francisco, every church has its own local culture.

I'm convinced understanding your local culture is more important than knowing about your national culture. I'm working in Northern California, which includes churches in Marin County, Napa County, Vallejo, and churches down in the San Joaquin Valley. Those local cultures are as different as night and day. What attracts some people in one culture turns off other people in a different culture. I find that most pastors and churches have no understanding of the local culture in which they live.

In terms of exegeting culture, how does this impact the way you actually go about preaching a sermon?

I tell stories of how we're going to touch our world; specifically the world in which the church finds itself. I want to make clear that what we may be doing here in Minneapolis is only going to work in Minneapolis, and here's why. You can walk up to an atheist on the street in Minneapolis and ask, " What religion are you? " and they're going to tell you, " Lutheran, " because it's almost an ethnic thing. That's one of the reasons why we're going to have a traditional service.

Suppose you carry this over to communicating vision in Minneapolis. While preaching about worship and music I'd remind people that we're doing a traditional service not because people here like to sing the old hymns, but because we want to reach un-churched Lutherans. This is Paul saying when I'm with the Jews I'm like a Jew, and when I'm with the Lutherans I'm like a Lutheran.

I want people to know that whether it's the issue of worship, music, the way we do outreach, or why we're communicating the vision we do, its determined not only by boomers, busters and builders, but also by local cultural issues.

Okay, explore the same question relating to " reaching out. "

I'm convinced the biggest difference between growing churches and dying ones, is for whom they exist. Dying and plateaued churches exist for the people who are already there. Growing churches exist for people who aren't there yet. Within this latter group the values of the church are consistent with the mission and the vision. The church is also structured to fulfill the mission and vision. Many churches have never thought through the fact that their structure may be hindering their very mission, even though they might have the supporting values.

As I am preaching about change, the direction we want to go, and why the staff is making decisions that were previously made by committees and boards, I want them to understand that we are making every possible decision in the church for the benefit of people who aren't here yet.

Therefore, if we're going to do a traditional service, we do it because we're in the type of community where unbelievers will be attracted by this type of service; not because we have a number of older people who like that style. If we're going to do a contemporary service, we're going to build one that meets our local cultural needs, which might be calling for a less traditional service void of hymns and liturgy.

Will you summarize how this relates primarily to the week-to-week preparation of a sermon on reaching out?

When I'm preparing my sermon, I've got to figure out how to communicate biblical and theological concepts in the language of people who are either un-churched, de-churched, or believers coming with very limited knowledge of the Bible. I never use " the Greek says. " We never talk about terms like " propitiation " and " transubstantiation. " If I want to talk about the federal headship of Adam, I talk about the fact that God created a world much like our government where there was a representative, and Adam got to be my hero. I talk about the federal headship of Adam in a way that will communicate to people who have little biblical background.

So as a preacher, I not only think through what I'm going to say, but also how I'm going to say it, particularly in this new paradigm as a leader.

How would you respond to those who might hear this and react, " Is he saying we should stop preaching the Bible or stop expository preaching of the Scriptures? "

I would say two things. First, if I'm going to go topical I'd better be able to sit down and develop a biblical theology. My big idea must be rooted in exegesis. It has to be anchored with integrity in the text, though it may not come out of one text.

Second, I must do more than simply handle a text with integrity. I must also think about application and how I fulfill my role as a leader. That means I tell stories. It means I'm positive. It means I'm asking the " so what? " question of the community. This helps the church to understand that the vital areas of worship, teaching, fellowship and evangelism are things we do together, not simply as individuals.

I hear you saying that however you preach, whether it's expository or topical, you can preach as a leader if you're focusing on a kind of leadership grid as you prepare. It's as if there are five or six things you're always checking off when it comes to application.

That's correct. Preaching as a leader is challenging but doable if you prepare with these key demands in mind. Prepare with vision, recruitment and resource procurement integrated into your planning. Know your local church culture. Preach to the community rather than the individual. Remember to keep it positive. These are key tasks if you want to preach as a leader.

This interview is a transcript of Preaching Today audio workshop #183. To order thisPreaching Today audio tape, e-mail your request to Store@ChristianityToday.com or visit www.ChristianityTodayStore.com and click on Preaching/Personal Growth.

Paul Borden is executive minister of Growing Healthy Churches and author of Direct Hit.

Related articles

Pressured to Promote

Are church leaders twisting your arm to support their ministries from the pulpit? Here's how to lead the church and remain faithful to the Scriptures.

Communicating Optimism and Hope

The importance and power of a positive perspective.
J. I. Packer

J. I. Packer on Preaching As God's Derivative Word

Can we rightly say that when the preacher speaks, God speaks? What Calvin can teach us about preaching with authority