by John Meador
Over two years ago, I began this column with the headline, "Hard Times for Expository Preachers."
That article opened with the following lines: "Expositional preaching has fallen on hard times. In an entertainment-hungry world, and with an increasingly entertainment-hungry church, it would appear that there is just too much serious stuff in exposition for it to appeal to anyone today. We think it doesn't have the pinpoint zing' that we can create by delivering message candy of hot topics and controversial issues, so pastors are rejecting exposition in growing numbers, it seems."
So, what's changed? Maybe, just maybe, something significant is about to shift. I've just returned from Willow Creek's REVEAL Conference. Over the last two or three years, key leaders from that church (notably Greg Hawkins) and others, dissatisfied with mere attendance numbers as a measure of Church health, have been exploring ways to evaluate and improve the way they disciple people. When you ask the right questions, good things happen. I think they asked an amazingly important question. Not just, "How do we reach them?" but also, "How do we disciple those we reach?" The resulting REVEAL surveys that hundreds of churches took led Willow to a series of conferences and books. They are well worth your time to attend and read.
REVEAL categorizes spiritual growth into four areas: 1) Exploring Christ, 2) Growing in Christ, 3) Close to Christ, and 4) Christ-Centered. Based on congregational surveys, REVEAL helps churches diagnose what percentage of their people fall into each category. They have yet to give tools to improve any particular area, but that (to me) is really good. Because REVEAL is saying, "Instead of a conference where we tell everyone what we are doing, how about if we feature churches who are really making disciples well?" Great idea.
The conference I just attended brought churches that ranked high in these categories-churches of all sizes, by the way-and put them on the platform at the conference, along with common principles that these churches deemed successful. I won't go into all those common characteristics, but each of them are biblically relevant and would be well worth your investigation.
Here's the rub: one of the four characteristics of churches that they deemed to have successfully discipled their people was "embed the Bible in everything." On the stage at Willow Creek with thousands of church leaders in attendance, here's what I heard that this means-we, among other things, must not shy away from expository preaching. Yes, I heard that from the Willow Creek stage. The leaders of the REVEAL movement recognize there is a non-optional element of spiritual growth-a healthy dose of God's Word in preaching and teaching. One of the featured church leaders has a banner over his sanctuary that reads, "The Word of God is the Answer." You've got to love that kind of guy.
Another key leader, the session leader and pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in America, said that the REVEAL survey led him to increase his biblical depth and content in messages more than 30% in order to better feed the people toward spiritual growth. Still another, a strong leader in a non-denominational mega-church, said that his only two responsibilities are to "feed and lead," and that he spends half his day everyday in preparation for preaching. Now, I know this guy, and I've heard him preach-he does indeed focus on the Word.
What is so significant to me about the REVEAL Conference is that the church most noted for leading the "seeker movement" is now declaring to anyone that will listen that what people really need is the Word of God! Even more significantly, they are changing their focus to reflect that and calling to every church within their realm of influence to do the same.
The tide may be changing-and not a moment too soon. Christianity needs something that is radically missing today-life transformation. Only the Word can do that. One of my closing paragraphs two years ago read: "His Word does what only the Word can do. The Word builds faith; it increases one's knowledge of God; it builds endurance in times of temptation; it gives direction and guidance for everyday living. It convicts of sin and corrects into the right way of living. In a word, it transforms."
It is time to "preach the Word" like never before. May we do this with renewed passion and in increasing number. It is inevitable that the cry would be heard once again for the Word. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of God abides forever."
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.