Crafting Messages for Worship, part one
I am quite possibly the world’s worst salesperson. There are only a handful of things that I would be any good at selling because I am genuinely excited about them. One of those things is Disneyland. I love Disneyland. No, you don’t understand, I LOVE Disneyland. My husband and I honeymooned in Disneyland and upgraded our tickets to annual passes. We took several additional trips to Disneyland the first year we were married.
When I get home, I’m already planning the next trip. In fact, I’ve looked in to working at Disneyland and/or moving closer, just to spend more time in the park. I’ve read books about Disneyland, talked to friends about their experiences and insights, and poured over websites to learn tips and tricks. When I talk about Disneyland, my excitement is infectious. I not only love to go, but I love to paint a picture that draws people in and makes them want to go, too.
In thinking about teaching the Gospel message, I am saddened to realize that we don’t always approach it with the same excitement. Often we approach the subject as if it were an intellectual talking-point: “You see, the Bible says…” The words are dull, lifeless, and meaningless to anyone who doesn’t take the Bible seriously (which is an ever-increasing percentage of America’s population). As a longtime Christian, even I have to stifle a yawn. Is this really all we’ve got to offer as preachers and teachers?
Then, we break up spiritual growth into wooden steps that lead straight to the ceiling, like something out of the Winchester Mystery House. To inspire and ignite passion in people, we can’t make faith about the steps to take. Spiritual maturity is not a checklist. Besides, with that model, the steps become the end, not the means to an end. We’re no longer leading people to Christ, but to busy work in the name of checking off boxes.
I read a quote recently that said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” (Antoine de St-Exupéry)
To change the quote above for the church, “If you want to lead others to Christ, don’t herd people together to listen to you talk about abstract concepts and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the God of grace.”
I maintain that the only way to preach life-changing sermons is to go there. Go to the life-changing, awe-inspiring, God of grace and be transformed. People don’t listen to me about Disneyland because I’ve read books or websites. Ultimately, they listen to me because I have a lot of first-hand experience. This is a place that I have explored over and over again.
People will listen to me about God only if I have seen and touched–experienced–him over and over again. The more I grapple with the enormity of God and the depth of his grace for me personally, the more I am excited about sharing that message with others. God is no longer a product I’m selling to an unbelieving world, but someone I want to introduce to others. I ask, “Have you met God?” not because I want notches in my spiritual belt. I ask because I want you to get to know God. I can’t believe how amazing he is on a personal level. I want you to be awed in his presence, too. It’s not forced or boring, but the natural consequence of my relationship with God. I just can’t keep my excitement in.
Chances are, if you are in a position to be preaching and teaching, you have had first-hand experiences of grace that have transformed you as well. I add that we can’t always live in the distant past when we talk of God’s grace. As you endlessly recount the story of your conversion years ago, imagine your congregation, arms crossed, thinking, “What has God done for you lately?” You should be asking yourself the very same question: “God what are you doing in my life today?” If you have no answer to that question, how relevant is the message you’re conveying to others? How can others long for the God of grace if your story says only one visit is necessary?